It happens. You twist your ankle running over a pothole or you simply pull something while getting up gardening. Maybe you reach too high and your shoulder torques. Perhaps you throw your back out at the gym. People slip and fall all the time. Whatever the case may be, you’ve been injured.
Apart from pain, injuries can be frustrating because they tend to limit your ability to perform normal activities while you heal, including your fitness regimen.
So what will it take to get back in shape after an injury? Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to get back on track after you’ve recovered, regardless of what you’ve pulled, torn, broken, sprained, or strained.
Check out these tips for getting back in shape after an injury.
1. Move Slowly
A common rule of thumb to follow is to do at least 20 per cent less than you feel like you are able to when first getting back into the swing of things. If your injury is serious or you’ve been out of commission for a long time, you’ll want to do even less than that.
That’s because even if you’re “feeling up to” running mile, or you know that you can tolerate the pain of simple exercises, your muscles simply won’t be where they used to be — you’ll need to ease into it. With your body already a bit broken down from injury, it’s best to be cautious.
As you find ways to exercise while healing, go slowly. Whether you’re lifting weights or going for a walk, move cautiously and tread lightly. Take breaks and rest as needed. And of course, avoid any activities that seem to strain injured tissues. If you feel any pain, stop immediately. This is not the time to be a hero.
2. Ice, Ice, Baby
You’ve probably already been icing your injury throughout the recovery process, according to your doctor’s instructions. Ask your doctor if you should consider icing your injury immediately after exercising as well.
Many athletes use icing methods to help prevent muscle soreness after an extensive, intense workout. At the same time, many medical professionals recommend icing to reduce swelling and ease pain after injury.
Just be warned: for injuries more than a day or two old, heat may be more helpful than ice. This depends on the type of injury you have and the pain you are experiencing. Ice (or heat for that matter) won’t work for everyone, or for all kinds of injuries, so ask your doctor about what works best for your specific injury.
3. Stretch It Out
Injuries require some stabilization and immobilization during the recovery period. However, keeping muscles completely static for extended periods of time can cause some major issues down the line.
Rather than allowing your muscles to simply break down and get stiff, take extra time to stretch. Gentle stretching helps to keep your injured muscles fit and can lead to a faster, smoother recovery.
4. Take It Easy — But Not Too Easy
Resting during the recovery process is crucial, but it is possible to spend too much time doing a whole lot of nothing. Just like muscles can become stiff from being immobilized too much or too long, your injured tissues can get very weak if you never exercise at all while recovering.
Using very light weights, work your injured muscles as soon as the doctor gives you approval. Perform aerobic, non-intensive exercises often, rather than intense exercises less often, to prime your body to get back in shape.
Keep in mind that other muscles may be overworking in order to compensate for an injury. This can lead to muscle imbalance. If you have a long recovery ahead, get into physical therapy as soon as possible or work with a trainer to create a plan that straightens out any possible imbalances and keeps the injured tissue healthy.
5. Get Swimming
If you can’t wait to get back to the gym after injury, start by visiting the pool. Water offers buoyancy, which takes the pressure off of injured tissues and sore muscles, even while you’re getting a workout in by swimming some laps. Even people with spinal injuries can sometimes exercise in water, because the motions are so gentle.
Many physical therapists have developed specific workout plans for injury recovery in the pool for this very reason. Regardless of the season and your limitations, find out how much you can do if you perform an aquatic workout.
6. Consult Your Doctor
Every injury is unique and different, and so is each individual’s body. Your recovery process will have its own course, schedule, and limitations. One of the biggest risks you take when trying to get back in shape post-injury is re-injury. Just a little too much strain or a minor accident on a weak muscle can make an injury astronomically worse and hinder the healing process.
Always check with your doctor for specific instructions about staying fit while injured or recovering from an injury, as well as for the best way to get back into shape once you’ve healed. Call your doctor if you have any questions about getting back to the gym or preventing further injury while exercising.