By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
It's a sad truth that most regular exercisers find themselves recovering from an injury at some point, either fitness-related or otherwise. The decision to pull back or push through the pain can be a tough one. When recovering from an injury is your top fitness priority, how do you choose your next step? Here are three tips to recover from an injury, as well as prevent future injuries.
Avoid Injury. Common sense advice is smart, but can be forgotten or overlooked, so start with the basics. Take time to warm up and cool down before and after exercise, no matter the level of intensity. Maintain regular moderate physical activity throughout the course of the year rather than striving for sudden bursts of high demands, then taking a few weeks off. Supplement days you can’t make it to the gym with easy at-home workouts using bands or body weight for resistance. If you typically exercise outdoors, a piece or two of indoor fitness equipment, like a treadmill or cross trainer, will keep you on track when the weather will not cooperate. Lastly, listen to your body closely.
If you notice ongoing, nagging aches and pains, it's better to seek the advice of a Physical Therapist early. A good Physical Therapist will assess your movement and anatomy and provide simple recommendations for injury prevention through stretching and strengthening exercises that complement your regular routine. Click here for more on the benefits of physical therapy. Another article from the New York Times offers some advice on separating the witchcraft from the science and advice on finding a good physical therapist. Finally, click here for more tips on avoiding injury.
Treat Yourself Well. When recovering from an acute injury, remember the acronym RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). For the first two days, try to avoid any activities that increase soreness, ice the area for no more than 15 minutes at a time multiple times throughout the day and consider applying compression using a compression bandage or brace (available through most drugstores or pharmacies). Many people find that elevating their injury and taking Ibuprofen, if approved by your doctor, is also helpful in reducing painful inflammation.
After two days, try to gradually return to your regular activities. If you find that your pain is getting worse or feel that you are re-injuring yourself, it's time to seek medical advice. Find more information on diagnosing and treating sports-related injuries through the National Institute for Health.
Don’t forget to eat well. Maintaining a healthy diet that includes the proper nutrients and vitamins is a good rule of thumb for everyone, but especially for those who exercise frequently or have suffered from an injury. Drinking an extra glass of milk or eating a container of yogurt will not speed up the process of healing a broken bone, but it will provide the calcium you need to keep your bones strong and avoid osteoporosis.
Vitamins are also essential, but look for vitamin-rich produce before buying a bottle of supplements. Also, look for mineral- and protein-rich lean meats, yogurt and milk. Your muscles rely on the essential amino acids found in complete proteins to rebuild and recover from tears and injuries, among other things.
Stay Fit. Once you make it past the acute part of your injury and are maintaining fitness as you recover, you'll find that your home fitness equipment provides great options for reducing or removing the impact of your workouts. If you're used to running outside, using your treadmill and elliptical trainer for running or walking indoors can provide a lower impact option, as well as reducing the likelihood of slipping due to inclement weather. If you're not up to the impact of a treadmill or the upright position of the elliptical, recumbent exercise bikes offer a great workout for your heart without stressing your low back, knee or hip joints. Indoor fitness equipment also provides the peace of mind that you don’t have to struggle to find a way back home if you’re unable to complete a workout.
As you recover from an injury, emphasize quality over quantity in your workouts. Focus on the purpose of each workout, rather than logging a lot of "empty miles." Try to give yourself more days off between tough workouts so that you can use the extra time to heal. If you're used to running every day, add in more walking and elliptical or recumbent workouts, with one or two quality running workouts per week. Adding in cross training activities, such as yoga or weight lifting can help you avoid re-injuring yourself and fill out your workout week during your recovery. Click here for more tips on training through injury.
Weigh in: Have you found yourself recovering from an injury while working out at home? What frustrations and successes did you experience?