When you are injured you may think you must stop everything, it’s time to become one with your couch and watch an unprecedented amount of television. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. You do need to stop putting stress through the injured body part or parts. However, maintaining a good level of fitness during a rehabilitation period can be instrumental toward getting better. The amount of rest you take is proportional to the severity of your injury. For example, if you sprained your ankle with a grade II sprain you can and should definitely keep yourself strong and continue exercising without putting stress on the injured ankle. If, on the other hand, you are the victim of a motor vehicle accident, and have sustained multiple injuries, then you do need to stop and be guided by your health care professionals (doctor, physical therapist) as to when and how to return to exercise. In addition, if you have just had surgery you must take it easy, follow your rehab protocol and slowly return to exercise when cleared by your physician and physical therapist.
Why is it important to maintain fitness during rehabilitation for an injury? By exercising throughout the rehabilitation period you are maintaining or improving your lung capacity and endurance and you are staying strong or getting stronger. If you stop exercising completely your endurance and your strength decrease rapidly and when you return to exercise there is a greater risk for injury.
So how do you remain fit when injured? Using proper alignment and body mechanics in all activities is crucial (Check out my blog entry on finding proper alignment dated 10/24/14). Continue where you were before you were injured, so long as the activity does not put any stress on the injured body part. For example, if you injured your knee you can still do most of your upper body, core, and opposite lower extremity exercises. Never, never work through pain of the injured body part. Every time you feel pain there is a possibility that you are re-irritating tissues. For anyone serious about exercising you need to be able to distinguish the difference between injurious pain and muscle soreness.
What about the injured body part? The injured body part must slowly return to activity and exercise should be guided by a health care professional specializing in rehabilitation such as a physical therapist and your orthopedist. Once you are no longer in pain it is easy to get excited about going full force ahead and trying to do too much too soon. The problem with this thought is that when you take time off your muscles weaken very quickly and are not capable of working at the same intensity you used before you were injured. When you are cleared to begin exercising, using efficient alignment, you first try to get full range of motion back. If you strengthen without full range of motion you are practicing staying in a restricted range of motion and, over time, that could become more difficult to change. Not having full range of motion can be problematic in many ways. So first get your full range of motion back. Then using proper body mechanics begin to strengthen at an appropriate level for you. After exercising stretch and roll out appropriately and then ice the injured body part for 10 to 15 minutes. Over time increase the challenge to your tolerance. You should not have any pain as you challenge the formerly injured body part. That would be a signal that you are doing too much too soon.
Finally, when recovering from an injury it is a good time to look at why you got injured in the first place. If it was a freak accident, like someone dropped a weight on your foot, than stay away from that person, especially if they have a weight in their hand, and move forward with your rehab. If it wasn’t a result of an accident but more a result of repetitive strain and faulty body mechanics now is a great time to change old habits and reduce any risk of a future injury. Think of this time as a gift: Stay strong, work well, and move forward.