As someone who works out regularly, there’s nothing more frustrating or dreary than having to put fitness on hold for the sake of an injury. After just two to four weeks, you can start losing your conditioning and strength, which can make you feel like you’re also losing part of yourself. Without your workouts, you may not know how to continue leading a healthy lifestyle. You may also try to exercise even if it means making your injury worse.
While it’ll take some creativity, it’s possible to live a healthy, active lifestyle while healing and to safely kickstart the physical recovery process. Let’s cover some of the best ways to stay active while recovering from an injury:
This is the perfect time to exercise the muscles and parts of your body that you don’t usually focus on. For example, if you’ve sprained your ankle, you can do yoga or weightlifting specifically to strengthen your upper body. If you usually lift weights but you hurt your wrist, this is a great time to do cardio workouts.
Overall, you want to isolate the muscles that aren’t injured and work on just them. If you have a trainer you work with, ask them to modify your regular workouts to account for your injury. It’s possible you’ll find alternative workouts that you like and continue doing long after you’ve healed.
Swimming also tends to be an excellent workout when you’re recovering because it offers resistance without impact. You can get a cardio workout while you also work out your muscles against the resistance of the water. Since there’s no impact, swimming is a great workout for people who have joint problems, either due to injury or simply because of aging. If your injury is something you’ll have to live with for months or years to come, or if it’s something that will never fully heal, consider buying a pool so you always have access to its health benefits.
Some injuries are less serious than others. Pulling a muscle during a workout or aggravating a lifelong knee problem can put you off of working out for a few days, but such injuries can also be dealt with at home. For example, you can work out tender areas with a foam roller or elevate and ice the body part that hurts. If you actively work on the problem and commit to not straining it while it hurts, you could be back to your normal routine in a matter of days.
If you have back pain after an accident or injury, for example, you may want to start strengthening your core. While it doesn’t seem like it at first, a strong core — which includes your stomach, hips, back and glutes — can improve back pain. It’s best to work with a professional who can show you core-strengthening exercises that won’t worsen your injury. The reason for your back pain has to be addressed before it can be worked on. If it’s simply a strain or sprain, working on your core could help. If there’s a problem with a disc or your spine, though, you could need more specialized treatment. Always consult your physician or physical trainer if you’re uncertain about the extent of an injury.
Exercises to Help With Common Injuries
As you can see from the above example, certain exercises can help improve recovery from specific types of injuries. Here is a list of some of the most common physical injuries sustained during athletics, as well as corresponding exercises that can help reduce pain and improve strength:
- Rotator cuff injuries: If you play a sport that involves repetitive overhead motions, such as baseball, you may have experienced a rotator cuff injury. Once you’ve managed swelling, try:
- Doorway stretches
- High-to-low rows
- Reverse flyes
- Lawn mower pulls
- Lateral epicondylitis: Known as “tennis elbow,” this occurs when you strain the tendons in your forearm. Some exercises to help include:
- Elbow bends
- Fist squeezes
- Wrist turns and lifts (add light weight when you’ve strengthened your muscles)
- Wrist extensor stretches and flexes
- Gluteal tendinopathy: If you experience an injury to your glutes and they fail to heal properly, you may experience this condition. It’s very important to be careful to not overwork injured muscles when trying these exercises:
- Side stepping
- Using banded sliders to stretch your legs
- Side bends
- Side plank static holds
- Knee patellofemoral syndrome: Often felt as pain in front of or above the knee, this condition can cause severe pain. This is often referred to as “runner’s knee,” as it often affects those who run professionally. Exercises to address it include:
- Calf stretches
- Hamstring stretches
- Straight leg lifts
- Wall slides
- Medial tibial stress syndrome: Commonly known as “shin splints,” this is a common problem for athletes who don’t use proper running shoes or fail to warm up or cool down when exercising. Useful exercises are:
- Toe curls and walks
- Heel drops
- “Monster walking” with resistance bands around your thighs
- Shin stretches
If you’ve experienced one of these injuries, give these suggestions a try. Of course, it’s always wise to consult with your physician or physical trainer before beginning any fitness routines, especially if you begin experiencing unexplained or severe pain.
When your new workouts are different from what you’re used to, progress isn’t as obvious. For example, if you usually hike or run but you can only do upper body workouts for now, you may feel like you’re slacking because your lower body isn’t being used as much as normal.
A fitness app or tracker will help you visualize just how much you’re doing, even when it doesn’t feel like you’re making progress. Furthermore, you can also use some apps and fitness trackers to stay on top of your nutrition. Plus, with some fitness tracking tech, you can monitor water intake and sleep habits, and you also schedule a time for meditation and deep breathing.
Today’s more advanced apps and trackers give a well-rounded view of health instead of only tracking steps or specific workouts. This accessibility to your health data provides a rewarding feedback system and can help keep you on track even as your goals fluctuate. They are an effective aid to keeping informed about your health.
Even if you’re not losing any of your strength yet, you may feel less strong simply because you can’t exercise. It’s important to stay in shape mentally while you’re healing from an injury. Do other things that make you feel strong and healthy, like eating a healthy diet or doing physical therapy exercises for recovery.
Further, stay connected with your workout pals and go to the gym with them, even if you’ll just sit on the sidelines. You don’t have to completely lose your social life, identity or interest in wellness just because you’re out of commission for a while.
Also be careful about how you handle pain resulting from your injury. Should your injury require the use of medication, know that many pain meds — particularly opioids — can be addictive. If you need assistance with your mental health or handling addiction, there are many resources available.
Being injured stinks, and it’s not easy to be patient while you heal. However, this is an opportunity to find new workouts and give some of your infrequently used muscles a challenge. This is also a prime time to get some extra rest and squeeze in more recovery. You may be surprised at how much you excel at your next workout when you have some R&R in between. This is your chance to fully heal, and if you don’t give yourself the time you need, you could be sitting out of your workouts for even longer.