Injuries happen. It is unfortunately part of sports and exercising. It doesn’t matter how much preparation you do; sometimes accidents or injuries just happen. Whether you are a hobby jogger, gym rat, weekend warrior, or professional, at some point in your career, the injury bug will bite you.
How you handle the setback, both mentally and physically, will determine how quickly you can return to form. Listening and learning will give you the skills you need to return to 100% so you can get back to chasing your goals!
Here are my 5 tips for returning from injury:
See a professional
If you are injured and you can’t complete your desired movements without pain, it’s time to seek professional help. No, I don’t mean your friend who had a similar pain, or that bro-science guy in the locker room. I mean a licensed medical professional. That could be a certified athletic trainer, a physical therapist, an orthopedic, or a sports medicine doctor. So don’t wait. The longer you wait, the longer it will be before you can return to exercising.
I recommend starting with a Physical Therapist (PT). Find a PT who has experience with injuries related to your activity. If you don’t know one, ask around. If you exercise with a group, I guarantee that someone will have a recommendation. Many minor injuries can be rehabilitated without having to see a doctor or specialist.
If your injury is more serious, it might require surgery or casting. By starting with a physical therapist, they will be able to recommend you to a local orthopedic that they trust. Again, do not wait. If the pain you are experiencing lasts for more than 2 days, pick up the phone and get an appointment.
Do your Rehab
After you have seen a licensed medical professional, they will likely prescribe a rehab protocol. They don’t print off those papers for you to toss them in the trash on the way out the door or leave them stuffed in a pocket in your car. The rehab routines have been perfected over years of research and experience. In addition, the exercises are designed to strengthen the injured area and the surrounding muscle groups. If you don’t follow the rehab protocol, your risk of reinjury increases dramatically. Many injuries occur from an underlying weakness or tightness in one area. Following the rehab protocol will ensure that once you do return to full strength, your body is strong and stable. Furthermore, your body will be ready to handle the load of training.
Pain is your friend
It should probably go without saying, but pain is bad. However, pain is also good. Pain lets you know when something is wrong. Without pain, we would be a constant danger to ourselves. As athletes or exercisers, we must learn to ignore pain. Most of our gains come from pushing our bodies when they are exhausted, which is painful. We have to learn to decipher good pain from injured pain. The burn of a good workout versus the pain of an injury.
Completely ignoring pain is not a strategy for success and longevity. If your pain is causing you to limp or not be able to complete your movement without favoring an area, then see item 1: go see a professional.
Listen to your body. Upon returning to exercising, pain must be your guide. If you still have pain in your movements, chances are the healing process needs more time. You have to respect the pain and not continue to push or you will be in danger of prolonging the injury time.
We all have our preferred methods of exercise. When that modality is taken away, we can become neurotic and restless. Cross-training needs to become your friend. Ask your PT or Doctor what modalities of exercise you can still perform while you are recovering. Being condemned to an alternate form of exercise like the bike, the elliptical, the row machine, the hand bike, aqua jogging, etc… is never fun, but it can make your transition back to full activity much easier. If you sit around for 2-4 weeks or even 6 weeks, you will lose most of the precious gains you have worked so hard to acquire. While it might not be fun, what’s even less fun is having to start your fitness routine completely over again. Find exercises you can do and attack them with vigor.
Once you have been given the all clear from your medical professional, it will be easy to jump back in full steam ahead. DO NOT DO IT! This is a recipe for disaster. The golden rule I learned long ago as an athlete and coach is to take one more day. If you feel like you are ready to go, take one more day. In the moment it will feel like eternity, but I’ve learned the hard way too many times to count. I don’t care if you’ve been out 2 days or 2 months, take an extra day.
If you think you are ready, you will definitely be ready in one more day. Take baby steps. You have missed time and your body won’t be able to handle the training load you were capable of previously. Most likely you’ll have to start at 10-20% of your normal volume, time, or weight.
As you return to strength, it’s wise to follow the 10% rule.
To ensure that your body can handle the load and recover properly, don’t increase your training load by more than 10% per week. That’s the 10% rule, tried and true.
For example, if you are starting at 20 minutes per day of running (for a 7-day total of 140 minutes), the second week your volume should be 154 minutes (up to 22 minutes per day). The same applies for weight. If your starting weight for your exercise is 20 lbs, the second week you should be at 22 lbs, and the third week 25 lbs. Those first few days and weeks are going to seem like you will never return to your previous form. However, usually by the 4- to 6-week mark, you are firing on all cylinders again and can return to your normal load.
Following these simple steps will ensure that you are out for the minimal amount of time with your injury.
Remember you must to be smart. You have to listen to your body. It’s easy to push too quickly. Have confidence that you are going to be back and take the time that you need to recover. In the long run, your body will be glad you did!
And a final recommendation beyond those five: proper nutrition can accelerate the healing process. Think about it this way: your body is in an extended state of recovering. Just like after a hard workout, you should make sure you are fueling correctly. So, make sure you are eating properly. Seek a professional certified nutritionist to assist you in your nutritional needs.
Brandon Hudgins is an Elite Track Runner. He became the 448th American to break the 4-minute mile barrier. His passion for the sport overflows and shows in his desire to elevate the sport to new levels. Brandon also strives to raise awareness for the rare autoimmune disease that he suffers from through his association with the Vasculitis Foundation.
Brandon is also a published author. You can buy his latest book here: Going the Distance.
All bloggers receive a small compensation for their contributions.*