Staying fit when injured
Injuries are an all too common aspect of exercise. It’s normally a byproduct of over-training or under-recovering, depending on how you look at it.
But even those runners who rest often and work on injury prevention protocols can still pick up injuries.
There are so many types of injuries out there, with different levels of severity and multiple potential causes, that it can be hard to know what to do.
Here are five steps on what to do when you pick up an injury, and how to stay fit during recovery:
It’s really important to get the right diagnosis of your injury so you can make a recovery plan and set a realistic time to return to action. When you pick up an injury you can experience a roller-coaster of emotions: as well as the potential pain and discomfort, you’ll probably feel disappointed and frustrated, and may struggle with motivation. The recovery plan will help with that.
The easy thing to do when you pick up any injury is nothing. But if you do nothing you’re missing a big opportunity to maintain and improve your mental and physical strength.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with the injury, you can discuss a suitable rehab plan with a professional. This will normally include an initial rest period, various strengthening and flexibility exercises, and a gradual progression to get you back to running.
Find highly skilled fitness professionals to work with you. They’ll make sure you progress gradually and make you stronger than before. They can also help manage expectations on recovery times, and make sure you don’t start training again too soon!
Now that you have a plan, it’s time to put it into action. Stay positive and be determined – you’ll get there!
The majority of running related injuries will be some form of lower body injury. While you may be initially advised to avoid load-bearing exercise through the injured areas, there are still areas that can be worked and improved upon.
Once you’re at a stage of your rehabilitation where you can engage the affected area again, the work you’ve been doing will enable you to have a quicker training response to the strength work, and get you back running in a shorter amount of time. You’ll also feel much better for it.
Here are some things to incorporate into rehabilitation:
- Resistance training: Regardless of the injury (apart from maybe a few exceptions), there’s always some form of resistance or weight training work you can do. If your injury is lower body, then work your upper body. Upper body strength is under-used (and under-appreciated) in a lot of runner’s regimes. It can improve running technique, posture, and breathing. If you have an upper body injury, then train your lower body. Strengthening your legs and glutes will also greatly improve your running and help with future injury prevention. If you’re unsure about what to do, chat to a fitness professional like a personal trainer or physio, and get them to put a few programmes together for you.
- Non-impact cardio: Gym machines such as a cross-trainer, rower, or exercise bike are extremely useful when it comes to rehab. They can work your muscles, heart and lungs, increase blood flow throughout your body, and help with flexibility – providing that none of the movements will aggravate your injury.
- Swimming: Another great way to reduce the impact forces associated with running. It’s a popular prescription physios give clients going through rehab. Using floats can help target healthy areas while limiting movement of any injured area.
- Body maintenance: Regular foam rolling and flexibility work is a must when recovering from injury. Towards the latter stages of recovery, it may also be a good time to join a Pilates or yoga class. Long muscles, healthy joints and increased flexibility will go a long way in recovery, and reduce the chances of future injury.
Something to really take note of is your nutrition. When an injury occurs there will generally be tearing, over-stretching, swelling, bleeding and inflammation. Having poor nutritional intake will prevent the body from healing itself in the most efficient way. Having processed foods and drinks will actually increase the inflammatory response in the body. This will then slow down the recovery process and negatively affect your health. Certain foods can help decrease the inflammation in the body. This includes oily fish (such as salmon), green vegetables (such as broccoli and spinach), and nuts.
You should be eating clean, non-processed foods and drinking suitable fluids to enable the body to repair itself. Anything else will set you back.
Not only this, but if you eat the way you did before regular exercise, you may gain fat. This will affect you mood, motivation, and will make it harder to start training again.
Once you’ve completed your rehab, the injury has fully disappeared and you’ve addressed the factors that caused it, then you’re ready to go. Just make sure you get sign off from the professionals you’ve been working with.
After a long period of time away from an activity you enjoy, the temptation is to do too much too soon. But it’s important to focus on slow and steady progression: keep a training diary, and make sure you give yourself plenty of recovery days.
- An important part of your recovery is finding out why you got injured, and learning how to prevent this going forward. As already mentioned, work with some fitness professionals and get them to help identify the root cause of the problem. Take a look at the injury prevention section to help injury proof your body.
- If you’re training for a race then remember this: it’s better to be slightly unprepared but injury free when on the start line, than to overdo it and start the race with problems!