No one likes or plans getting injured or hurt while exercising. However, from people in peak physical condition to your casual exercisers, everyone will at one stage probably experience a pull or a tweak. And this will slow them down or cause them to re-evaluate their exercise regimen.
And it sucks.
All those gains and progress are put on hold. Or worse, will disappear. Having to stop exercising as the result of the injury can have psychological effects, too.
The release of endorphins, the “feel good” natural chemicals produced in the brain—that runners call “Runners High”—become a necessity for exercisers. As a result of not being able to work out, a reverse of positive results and no endorphin production, people have reported feeling depressed.
Fear not, though! It’s not the end of the world! There are ways to continue to work out. It will require a different approach and an adjusted attitude, but it can be done. And here’s how.
Before You Go Back to the Gym
No, really. Before you go haring off to the gym to work through the pain, talk to your doctor. A doctor will usually err on the side of less-than-more for exercise, but they know the full extent of what your injury will allow you to do.
You may fancy yourself an accomplished gym goer, fully versed in all types of exercise equipment and training techniques. However, your doctor will tell you what you should and shouldn’t attempt so as not to aggravate your injury further.
Types of Exercising Injuries
It’s good to know what you’re up against in terms of your injuries, how long you might need to recover, and what that means in terms of your exercise routine.
- Acute injury—happens immediately, followed by sudden, severe pain, swelling, and redness.
- Usually present a month or less
- Normally serious
- Heavy exercising is not recommended.
- Chronic injury— an ongoing, long-term injury
- Anything longer than 3 months
- Needs to be monitored and addressed
- Can lead to more serious damage if not addressed
- Exercising should be done with a medical professional’s guidance and supervision
- Sub-acute injury—this falls somewhere between acute and chronic.
- Usually present or 1-3 months (after which it is considered chronic).
- Can become serious if not addressed
- Exercising should be adjusted to account for type and location of pain.
Seek Expert Help
Ok, so it is clear that you are committed to (reads: dependent on) your favorite piece of exercise equipment or routine. Now it is time to talk to an expert to help you find alternatives.
It may cost a little extra to talk to a sports medicine physio or someone who specializes in getting people like you back into the gym and back into shape. But it will cost you more if you try to devise your own routine and do further damage.
A professional specializing in injury and recovery should be able to tailor make an exercise plan, using the correct exercise equipment, that will cater to your needs while aiding in your recovery.
Thinking that you know what you need (or internet searches) is a sure fire way to keeping you on the sideline and out of the game.
You’re only Hurting Yourself
You might be able to tell your doctor, physio or another medical professional that it “doesn’t hurt too much” but you won’t be able to fool your own body.
If you’ve exercised before, you’ve probably experienced some type of pain. Some of it is part of the deal. But if it hurts, and continues to do so, it might be more than just something you work through.
Don’t ignore the pain and hope it goes away or just keep plowing ahead with exercise business as usual.
How do You Know You’re Injured?
Without the obvious snapping, crackling or popping, you still might’ve injured yourself exercising, and these are some signs that you can’t (or at the least shouldn’t) ignore.
- Reduced or limited range of motion
- Radiating, burning pain
- Persistent, nagging pain
- Pain that spikes
- Pain that lasts longer than 3 days
There is a difference in working through a pain threshold to break through a plateau and pain that stems from an injury. Both require a recovery period. One will be more involved and take longer than the other. You shouldn’t rush either or your recovery could take longer. Listen to your body and your doctor. Just this once.
This doesn’t mean stopping everything completely.
You can look at methods of accelerating the healing process that involves activity (and for athletes it usually means a lot), but healing properly often involves adjustments to habits or lifestyle (like changing sleep patterns and diet).
Now That You’re Exercising Again
Test, Test and Test Again
Once you determined that this is more than muscle recovery pain and have gotten an idea of what to do, test your body. And do it without weights or extra resistance.
You need to see what your range of motion is before adding any additional stress. If it hurts, stop.
Go through a full diagnostic of the types of motion you will need, too. There may be some exercises that you had planned on doing without considering how your injury might affect those motions, too.
One of the prime reasons for picking up injuries in exercise (or athletics) is being stiff and jumping straight into the workout.
Take a little extra time to get loosened up, first. Ten to fifteen minutes will usually help activate those injured, weak or already tired areas. It is also helpful in avoiding new injuries.
Lower and Slower
If it’s weights you are using on the affected area, use less weight and use slower motion to complete the rep. Don’t use jerking or sudden motions. Keep it slow and steady, and really focus on the area that is injured.
Same thing if you are just getting back onto your cardio machine. Not need to hit the highs you left off on.
Gain or Maintain?
This is an important facet of exercise while recovering from injury. The prime concern for many who are used to being active is losing gains instead of creating a mindset where as close to a full recovery as possible is the goal.
Exercising while injured requires a shift in expectations. The projected upward curve in fitness, weight loss or strength gain might have to flatten out while the injury heals. Focusing on maintaining (or near enough) what has already been achieved is a healthy way to avoid disappointment.
Consider the Alternatives
This is where talking to someone who is familiar with the full range of exercises that can accomplish the same or similar outcomes can be extremely helpful. You may find that you are not as creative as they are.
If you can’t use pulling motions, pushing might be an option. If it hurts up top, use below to stay fit and active. In fact, you should take advantage of this “negative” and work on some exercises and muscles that you may have ignored in the past. It might make you a more balanced person.
This follows from the last (as they often do). You may love to get on the treadmill, and really dislike that ergometer, but in the interests of fitness, you might have to develop a love for it. At least temporarily.
Focus on Form
This is another culprit in injury. Incorrect form (usually coupled with heavy weight or an extended period of poor form) is another leading cause of injury.
When you are working through an injury, focus on getting the form right. A personal trainer can be helpful with this as you are performing the exercise.
Don’t Get Lopsided
If your left shoulder is not working at optimal levels or you have been told not to use it as a result of injury, don’t continue to work the other shoulder out at the same levels. This can lead to overuse (or overtraining), which only sets you up for future injuries on the other side as well as in different, related areas.
Our bodies are a mass of interrelated systems. Abusing one area can lead to distress in another, so be aware of overdoing on one side or one area of the body.
Again, look for that balance and other exercises that can work sympathetically with your goals without risking another injury.
So in short, be smart about your injury, listen to the experts and get creative about the best way to stay active and healthy without making your injury worse. Working out hurt is possible, as is staying in shape with an injury.