Should I exercise if I have an injury?

This is a question we hear very often at Singleton Physiotherapy and the short answer is YES! However we need to shed some light on this area.

Coming back from an injury can be frustrating and challenging both physically and psychologically. Many people assume that resting the injury is required to allow for healing, however studies highlight that exercise is much more beneficial for promoting healing and returning to pre injury levels! There are some things that need to be addressed before rushing back into your old exercise routine and some may need to be discussed with your Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist.

The type and extent of your injury will determine what exercises you should or shouldn’t do at a given point in time, and this will vary greatly between person to person and injury to injury. One of the main things to keep in mind is to listen to your body’s warning signs. We commonly hear the expression “no pain, no gain”, however this is a common misconception. Pain is our friend and is often the body’s way of signalling that something isn’t quite right. Listening to these warning signals can prevent future injury and stop your current injury from worsening. So long as the pain is only mild and not significantly worsening after your session is a general guide.

What type of exercise?

Strength training is crucial when recovering from an injury and some studies have classed it as a “miracle drug” when prescribed correctly. Form and technique should be addressed first and foremost, but load management is also very important.
Load management refers to starting your exercises at the correct intensity (weight, sets, reps, frequency) and gradually building and increasing intensity at the correct rate. This means no big spikes in intensity and not rushing to get back to where you were pre injury, but also not being afraid to increase the weights when your body is ready. Your body then positively adapts to these incremental increases in work load.

Where to start?

Start with a 5-10 minute warm up to prepare your body for the exercise it is about to perform. A light walk, bike ride, or swim is generally a good way to warm up. While the body is warm add some flexibility training- this is best done when the body is warm when the muscles are more elastic and ready to be used.

When returning to strength based exercise you may need to opt for an easier variation, or less weight or range of motion. For example, you may have used to perform heavy squats but your new knee injury is preventing this. An easier option may be bodyweight squat to a high box/chair. This exercise is still targeting key muscle groups but with a reduced load and range of motion, making it more manageable on the joint.

If this reduced movement is still aggravating you may need to choose a different, pain free exercise. Following on from the above example, if you are continuing to find the modified squat painful you could opt for an exercise with less demand on the knee joint, like a deadlift or a good morning.

Alternatively, this may be a good time to step outside of your comfort zone try something different. Why not try out Pilates and Yoga, or a hydrotherapy and aqua-aerobics class? You may even find a new style of exercise you enjoy.

Finding the right exercise for yourself can be difficult and making sure you are performing them with the correct technique can be even more difficult. This is where you may need to speak to an Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist to ensure you are performing the correct movements and in the correct way and also assist with your planning and programming.

The take home message is that you should still exercise while injured wherever possible as this will most likely speed up your recovery and will reduce your risk of re-injury in the future.

Emmalee Harris
– Exercise Physiologist

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