Blog Post

How to prevent an injury from derailing your exercise regimen

Maaaaaannnn, aint that some s#!t?!

You tried to do the right thing…

You tried to follow the doctor’s advice…

You joined the millions of Americans that start a workout regimen each year to get healthy…

…And you injured yourself.

But don’t fret. Don’t quit. All your hard work isn’t lost. You can still salvage this situation and make a comeback without reverting to your 2018 self.

Here’s how.

1. Assess the situation

Did your pain come on slowly over time, or even the next day after exercising? If so, you may have an overuse injury.

Or, did it come on suddenly, immediately, acutely while you were exercising? If so, you may have a traumatic injury like a muscle strain or ligament sprain. Such injuries will often be accompanied by lots of swelling and may some bruising.

2. Apply first aid

For overuse or traumatic injuries that just happened within the last 3 days, ice may be helpful to relieve pain and reduce swelling and inflammation.

If you have a traumatic injury that is really painful at rest and/or makes it really hard to move it may be advisable to see a healthcare professional like a physician or physical therapist and determine if your injury needs skilled medical intervention. (Note: You can see a physical therapist without a doctor’s prescription.)

3. Relative Rest

Relative rest is different than absolute rest in that with relative rest you are doing less with the injured area or modifying activities, but not necessarily completely shutting down all activity as you would with absolute rest.

For instance, an overuse injury will need to be “under-used” to allow it to calm down. So avoid the aggravating activities as much as possible. (If it’s not obvious what those activities are, a physical therapist can help.)

However, you can still do other things while your injured part is healing. If your right shoulder is hurt, you can still do lower body and core exercises. You can even continue to do left arm exercises.

One of the reasons elite athletes are able to recover in what seems like less time than the average person is because they never stop exercising completely. They just modify their exercises to rest the injured part. That way they don’t lose a lot of fitness while recovering.

4. Return to modified activities and progress prudently.

Once you’re past the early stage of injury and feel that you can move your injured part with minimal discomfort you’re ready to begin exercising it again. The time it takes to reach this stage really depends on the severity of the injury. There’s a little wiggle room here for overuse injuries. But, if you sustained a traumatic injury you may want to wait to be cleared by a physician or physical therapist, since the tissue may still be healing even though it doesn’t hurt anymore.

That said, you have a few options for how you can begin to exercise again.

Move lighter: This one seems obvious to most people. When you begin exercising again, you’ll want to start with very low to no weight. If you feel fine you can increase the weight a little more each time, but don’t jump up too quickly or you could have a painful setback.

Move smaller: Some injured body parts will feel fine in a particular range of motion, but hurt if you move beyond that motion. Therefore, you can still do some exercise within that smaller, pain-free range of motion. For instance, you may do arm exercises for a painful shoulder below shoulder height because overhead still hurts. Or you may do mini-squats for your knees because going deeper hurts. That’s fine. You push to the edge of discomfort as you exercise and over time you can go farther as your body allows.

Move slower: Fast movements put a lot of stress on healing tissue, but you may be able to do the same motions slower and pain-free. Again, find a comfortable place to start and if your body allows, speed the movement up slowly over time. An example could be that jumping hurts, but you can squat without pain. So start with squats and progress faster and faster over days to weeks until you finally leave the ground and are jumping.

With all strategies, but particularly with the last one, make sure to monitor your symptoms the next day and be sure you’ve recovered from any soreness before progressing.

So, don’t let that injury derail you and reverse the hard work you’ve put in this year. You can make a full recovery and be stronger and healthier than ever.

If you followed this advice and you’re still struggling then you may need a little professional help. Seek out a physical therapist in your area. If you’re in Manhattan, come see the movement and exercise experts at Gotham Physical Therapy in Union Square, or click here to learn more.