By Katie Knapton, MSCP HCPC founder of PFO.
How quickly you can get back into exercise after you have been injured depends on the severity and nature of the injury.
If it is a very recent injury the best advice is to protect and optimally loading (so as much pressure/weight as is comfortable), along with ice, compression and elevation.
The plan is to help reduce swelling and start as quickly as possible to regain normal movement and function. Use ice or an ice pack for 10 minutes at a time and elevate above hip height.
If your injury is particularly swollen and painful we would advise a medical review as you may require an X-Ray. If the acute swelling and bruising has eased then it is important to ensure you have regained your full movement back and then gently start working into some stretch.
Any return to normal should be done with caution and you need to check you are ready and have regained as much strength as required. If you get increased pain or aggravate the swelling you are probably progressing too fast. Monitor response to your activity and adjust accordingly. If one exercise or activity is making things more painful then ease off and reintroduce again at a later stage.
If it is a recurrent injury you will also need to check you have addressed any balance deficit to avoid further damage. For example a recurrent ankle sprain is an overstretch of the ligaments of the ankle. This means you lose some of your balance sense (proprioception). To avoid this you need to retrain and strengthen the surrounding muscles to compensate. The exercise can be as simple as standing on one leg. Remember, it can take 3 to 6 months to regain your full function if you have had a significant sprain/strain or tear. The path to recovery is rarely linear.
Getting back into exercise
If you are returning to more high-level activities and you have been resting and doing reduced workouts there are certain things to bear in mind. You may well be desperate to return to what you love such as running or cycling but you need a steady and well-structured plan in order to ensure that you won’t be not to be sitting on the side lines again.
Have you strengthened and regained full movement in the injured area. Has the pain, swelling, and stiffness improved considerably? It is generally a good idea to check this with your doctor or physio before you start. Pushing yourself too soon could make your recovery take longer or make your injury worse, so be sure you get the green light from an expert.
Questions and prep for return
Was the injury preventable? Did you push your body beyond its limits? Did you have the right equipment or take enough time for rest and recovery? Did you do enough mix of training? You might not have done anything “wrong,” but sometimes there’s a lesson to be learned from an injury episode.
Maybe you used to run 5 miles a day or were the star of your local football team. You’ll likely be able to get back to where you were, but you need to be patient. Focus on staying positive. Most injuries are temporary, so remind yourself that you will be able to return to the sport or activity you enjoyed. It’s just going to take some time to regain the speed and strength you had. A good guideline is to start at about 50% of your “normal” level and increase only 10% to 15% each week — assuming your symptoms don’t flare-up during or after each session. You also need to take time to warm up before your activity, cool down after, and stretch. Warm-ups and cool-downs should last about 3-5 minutes, or for however long your doctor or physio recommends.
Remember your body has likely been out of exercise for a couple of weeks or more and it could be a little weaker.
Doing a variety of activities that work different parts of your body is key. It helps you stay fit while the part of your body that’s injured regains strength. It can also help you avoid getting injured again. If you hurt your knee while biking, for instance, consider adding a low-impact activity such as swimming to your routine. Or if you fell and hurt your wrist going for a match-point shot in tennis, hiking or another lower-body activity lets your injury heal while you keep moving
Listen to your body
A little discomfort is ok – a lot is not. If you feel a slight pain while exercising, pushing past it can help you make gains. But you should never be in agony, and you should feel better soon after you stop moving. As a general rule any discomfort should settle within 2 hours and should not carry onto the next day.
Begin with lower impact work
This could be a gentle walk which is a great way to keep active. Swimming is also a great form of gentle exercise. See how your body feels and gradually increase your time spent doing it. You can do exercises and walking or indeed jogging in water.
Although pain is not necessarily indicative of damage it is recommended that you monitor the response during and following exercise. If you are concerned then seek professional advice.
Think outside the box
Balance is hugely overlooked and can make a huge difference in recovery. Working on this will help strengthen your whole body and if you have any ligamentous damage it will make you less likely to reinjure yourself. A strong body is key to avoiding injury.
Eat well and keep hydrated
Food plays a big part in the body’s healing process and helps to make your joints strong again. Stay away from alcohol and any junk foods during this time. Eating whole, natural foods, and drinking plenty of fluids will help speed up the process.
Consider getting further advice
If you are concerned or not progressing as expected an expert opinion may well be beneficial to guide you to recovery.