“No pain, no gain” doesn’t apply to post-injury exercise.
Having an injury can be frustrating to fitness enthusiasts, but it does not mean you have to abandon all physical activities. There are ways to ensure safe participation in exercise following an injury, or while still battling with certain aches and pains without making matters worse, according to Alicia Hirscht, DPT, SCS, CSCS, director of physical therapy at ONS Stamford.
Whole Body Health
Following your physical therapist’s home exercise program or consulting with your physician is a vital first step to proceed in the right direction. “It’s most important for you to start very slowly. Pay close attention to how your body and pain levels respond to the increased physical exertion. This will be your indicator of whether you need to scale back for a while, keep at your current exercise level, or increase you activity,” said Hirscht. For example, if you have mild pain at the beginning of a run that goes away within 1-2 minutes, it’s probably okay to continue. However, if the pain worsens over time, or does not go away with rest, you are not ready to perform that exercise. It is equally important to follow a modified conditioning program of strengthening exercises and stretches that promote whole-body health.
Knee, Shoulder, Back Exercise Advice
“Someone with chronic knee issues should be careful with high impact and weight bearing activities like running and contact sports. Biking, walking, and swimming are safer options,” said Hirscht, who recommends knee patients follow to a lower extremity strengthening and stretching program that targets the core and lower body. “Building up the core and lower extremities will help ease the stress on the joint and stabilize the knee.”
People with shoulder issues should be careful with overhead activities, such as racket sports and freestyle swimming, she said. Opt instead for a strengthening program that emphasizes the rotator cuff and shoulder blade muscles, combined with a stretching program to open the chest and shoulder muscles.
With back pain, there’s a good chance your core muscles are weak (abdominals, back muscles, hips and hamstrings). “Swimming is an excellent activity to strengthen your back and maintain cardiovascular fitness,” Hirscht said. “Exercises that focus on the core and safely engaging multiple muscles, like planks, are extremely beneficial for the back, too.”
All in Good Time
Regaining your previous level of fitness after pain or injury can be discouraging because healing does take time. “It helps to remember how far you’ve come rather than how much farther you have to go,” said Hirscht. “Taking a smart and steady approach that allows for one day of rest between outings, a nutritious diet, proper sleep, and stress management will all help you get better faster and back to doing the things you most enjoy,” she said.