Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. L2 Strength & Conditioning Coach.
Getting back into a fitness routine after an injury can be a difficult and frustrating process. You may be ready to jump back into your old routine, but your body may be telling you to slow down.
Rushing things won't help you recover faster. It could make your injury worse. That's why it's important to listen to your body and take it slow if you're recovering from injuries.
Depending on the seriousness of your injury, there may be many steps you can take to kick off the recovery process. Here's a look at 13 tips for working out following an injury.
1. See Your Doctor
It's always a good idea to see your doctor if you have an injury that affects how you function day-to-day. Putting off medical attention can make certain injuries worse.
You may need surgery or physical therapy for a full recovery. There's no way of knowing this without a trip to the doctor.
Self-diagnosing injuries is never a good idea. Many fitness injuries have similar symptoms, so it's always best to get a professional opinion.
Your doctor will consider your fitness level before your injury to determine the best time frame for getting back to your normal routine. In the meantime, there are alternative exercise options that may be good for you.
Remember to start small and don't push yourself in the beginning. It may be frustrating, but any type of movement or exercise you can do safely is better than nothing.
2. Take It Slow
After an injury, it's important to ease back into exercise with caution. If you haven't been as active as usual, your body may not be ready for vigorous activity.
Heading back to the gym right away or resuming your fitness routine can make your injury worse and set you back even longer.
It's okay to slow down and ease your body back into some gentle movement. Depending on your injury and what you can tolerate, you can increase the intensity of your workouts little by little.
Avoid exerting all your energy at first. This will only make you weaker and will nor speed up your injury recovery time. Your body needs rest and gradual steps to rebuild after an injury.
3. Start Stretching
Stretching is one of the safest exercises, to begin with. No matter what exercises you plan to do following your injury, start with some gentle stretching.
When you flex a cold muscle, it increases your risk of injury. But if you stretch, it helps you relax and warm up while elongating the muscle.
Stretching makes your muscles more resistant to injury and can help ease the stiffness and soreness following an injury. Some of the many benefits of stretching include:
- Natural stress relief
- Increased flexibility
- Increased blood flow to muscles
- Improved exercise performance
- Preventing or easing back pain
- Resistance to exercise injury
Depending on your type of injury, it may be a good idea to consult a physical therapist or personal trainer to help guide you back into your fitness routine.
4. Listen to Your Body
When you feel pain, your body is telling you something is wrong. Depending on your injury, your doctor may have prescribed painkillers.
But using painkillers can be dangerous before a workout. Masking the pain may lead you to push yourself to work out when your body isn't ready.
Avoid using pain medication before you exercise, and let your body lead the way. A little discomfort is normal as you recover from an injury. If you feel extreme pain, stop, and rest.
You may need to lower the intensity or give your body more time to heal before pushing it any further. Masking your pain and pushing through workouts may lead to further injury and more time away from the activity or sport you love.
5. Take Walks
Walking is the most natural movement of the body. If you're unable to work out in your usual way, walking can keep your body moving while you recover from your injury.
Walking has cardiovascular benefits and can help fight the blues of being unable to lift weights, play sports, or workout at the gym.
Depending on your injury, you may be able to increase your pace in stages. Swimming is a great way to get some exercise without putting stress on your muscles and joints.
Hydrotherapy is relaxing and soothing for sore muscles. If you can't handle walking or swimming following your injury, gentle hydrotherapy is a great first step on your road to recovery.
6. Change Up Your Routine
If you're a die-hard fitness buff, it can be hard to turn your regular routine down a notch while you recover. Your body will let you know what you can and can't handle.
You may be able to work through some mild pain and soreness, but if your pain is serious, don't try to push through it. Find some alternatives in the meantime.
Try choosing exercises that are less challenging or limit the amount of weight or range of motion you use in your workouts. Focus on duration rather than intensity. This is probabaly not to time to try and calculate your v02max!
Choose lower impact moves and gradually build up your strength and endurance. It's important to protect your injury until it has healed.
Circuit training may be an option. This will help you stay fit and conditioned while you heal from your injury.
You may have to be a little creative as you figure out how to work around your injury.
The goal is to maintain strength and good health while allowing your body the time it needs for healing.
7. Go Light With Weights
If you lift weights on a regular basis, you want to make sure you don't jump back in too soon. Make sure your doctor or physical therapist clears you for weight training before you hit the heavier weights.
Start slow and light until you build back up to your normal routine. Lifting heavy weights too soon can make your injury worse and put too much strain on your body while it heals. This is especially true if you've had a back injury.
If you've been away from weight training for a month or more, your body needs time to adjust to weightlifting again. So, start low and slow and gradually build back up to where you were before your injury.
8. Focus on Nutrition
Proper nutrition and hydration play a major role in recovery from an injury. Healthy food and natural supplements help your body heal and help you keep your weight in check when you aren't as active as usual.
Your first instinct after an injury may be to lower your calorie intake. Although you may want to modify your diet to some degree, you should not drastically reduce your calorie intake.
Dropping your calorie intake too much can cause muscle loss and lower your strength and energy levels. Your best bet is to eat a healthy diet, including lean meats, leafy greens, and anti-inflammatory foods.
Make sure you stay well hydrated to speed up the healing process. Stay away from junk food, sugary drinks, and alcohol as well.
9. Practice Active Recovery
After an injury, active recovery can help you heal faster and reduce your risk of reinjury. Depending on your injury and your prior health status, active recovery can take many different forms.
Common components of active recovery include:
- Cryotherapy (ice packs)
- Good nutrition and hydration
- Gentle exercise
- Physical therapy
If you suffer an injury, it's best to consult your doctor before attempting any form of exercise. Some injuries, including neck and spinal injuries, aren't always noticeable at first.
10. Remain Optimistic
Dealing with an injury is hard. Sometimes recovery is even harder. When you're used to a very active lifestyle, it's easy to let an injury get you down.
There's a psychological effect to an injury. If it's keeping you down physically, it can affect you emotionally as well.
Instead of focusing on your injury as a setback, try to keep a positive attitude knowing you will recover in time. If you're feeling low, try to find activities you enjoy.
Maybe you need some long-overdue rest or finally, have the time to read or catch up with friends. Focus on improving your nutrition and eating a healthy diet to speed up healing.
Stay as active as possible and be kind to yourself and your body. Even when you have an injury, you can stay positive and keep working on your fitness and your recovery.
11. Be Patient
After an injury, it's normal to experience a wide range of emotions. Many fitness enthusiasts experience a grieving process after a serious injury.
It's normal to feel frustrated when you can't perform your best or maintain your previous level of fitness. But the body takes time to heal, and you should try to remain patient during the process.
You don't have to deny your emotions. It's okay to feel down about an injury. But your state of mind does affect your recovery. You have to acknowledge the problem and take the necessary steps to deal with your injury and your recovery.
Don't make the mistake of trying to do too much and push through the pain. This can make your injury worse or extend the healing process. Know your limits, follow your doctor's advice, and practice active recovery.
Being patient and setting realistic goals can help you cope with your injury and persevere through the recovery process.
12. Get Some Rest
You may be in a hurry to return to your old workout routine, but don't dismiss the healing power of rest. It's a critical part of recovery.
Depending on the extent of your injury, you may need to rest for an extended period. This can be hard for a serious athlete who isn't used to taking many breaks in their fitness regimen.
Even after you've recovered from your injury, resting between workouts will be more important than ever. This allows your muscles time to recover.
Resting between workouts helps prevent future injury and helps you perform at your best.
13. Go to Physical Therapy
If your doctor recommends physical therapy, be sure to attend every appointment. A physical therapist can tailor a recovery program specifically for you.
This is one of the safest and most effective ways of recovering after any type of injury. A physical therapist can monitor your recovery and guide you back to your workouts when you're ready.
A common mistake athletes make is to jump back into hardcore training too soon. This often leads to reinjury, more pain, and a longer recovery process.
When your health and fitness are at stake, you should listen to the experts. Following through with your physical therapy program will get you back to your workouts in the safest way possible.
Recovering From Injuries
When you suffer an exercise injury, your first instinct may be to get back to your fitness routine as soon as possible. Recovering from injuries takes time, so rushing things is never a good idea.
It's important to deal with the emotional aspect of an injury, take charge of your recovery, find safe ways to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and get enough rest.
Be sure to follow your doctor's recommendations about when it's safe to resume exercise and whether you should have physical therapy as you heal. Don't push yourself too hard or too soon.
Take things slow and allow yourself the time you need to recover. This is critical for getting back to the physical activities you love. Be sure to take a look at our health supplements that can assist you on the road to recovery.