The Best Way To Start Training After An Injury
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The Best Way To Start Training After An Injury

Just because you have an injury doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your training.

A lot of people can be scared to move after an injury, but getting back into exercise as soon as possible can prevent the injury from happening again and improve your recovery.

When to begin training after an injury

What type of damage you have and how you did it will dictate when you should start training after an injury. It is important to relieve pain and swelling during the first 24 to 48 hours through RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation [1]. This will speed up your recovery by promoting healing and reduce the risk of further damage.

But this doesn’t mean you have to restrict all your movement until you are completely pain free. In fact, once initial inflammation has gone down it is better to start moving as soon as possible.

Why should I get moving?

Movement will help with active recovery and rehabilitation. Active recovery is when a person uses non-strenuous exercises, such as stretching or walking to keep blood and other bodily fluids flowing. Stimulating blood flow will speed up the natural healing process by delivering nutrient-rich blood and oxygen to the affected area [2]. If you are sedentary it can cause the muscle to deteriorate or seize and for scar tissue to build up, causing stiffness [3].

The key to using active recovery for an injury is finding exercises that will increase circulation, without causing further pain. For example, if you have a sprained wrist, train your lower body.

Beyond just active recovery, exercise will allow you to maintain health and fitness. Strength training is particularly useful for injuries because you can select and perform movements which do not use the injured area. This means you will be able to continue progressing, regardless of the injury.

How to structure your training after an injury

Getting back into training after an injury safely and effectively is all about structure. Through correct technique and regular strength training, you can build the weaker muscles and correct imbalances. This will make your body more functional and resilient. It will also mean you will be able to handle more load next time, so won’t succumb to injury as easily.

This also applies to chronic injuries. Regular and targeted strength training will build muscles in the surrounding area and provide support. This will better equip your body to perform everyday movements. For example, one of our clients at age 26 had a disc injury and simple tasks such as doing the groceries caused excruciating back pain. We started by training his core to work in synergy with his hips and focused on improving his breathing mechanics. He began doing deadlifts on blocks to strengthen the lower back muscles, glutes and hamstrings and gradually improved his strength and range of motion. Now, he can deadlift 130kg and do the groceries – and more – completely pain free.

Understanding the injury

To promote optimum recovery and prevent reinjury, you need to first identify and understand what the injury is, and what caused it. For more complex or reoccurring injuries it is helpful to see a health professional such as a physiotherapist or chiropractor. Diagnosis will help you return to training in the safest way possible.

This will help to identify any triggers and select exercises which put you on the quickest route to full recovery.

Training around the injury

Depending on the injury, it’s often possible to restructure your program to train other areas of the body at maximum capacity as soon as you return to the gym. This will give your body all the benefits of your usual exercise routine and active recovery, without causing further pain. Make sure you listen to your body and if your pain gets worse, you need to change your approach.

The next step is reintroducing exercises which target the surrounding area. The goal is to start easy and strengthen the surrounding muscles. You should start small and slowly build up the load in a controlled manner. For example, if you have back pain you may start with bodyweight exercises which target the muscles around the painful area such as the lats, glutes, hips, legs and core.

Once initial inflammation has gone down and range of motion has improved, you can gradually reintroduce training to the affected area. Begin by doing exercises that use the injured muscle in a way that doesn’t cause pain. Then, as your pain improves, you can gradually increase the load [4].

Choosing the right intensity

When you first get back in the gym you will need to lower your intensity to slowly rebuild your strength. Each time you reintroduce a movement or an exercise, start at a lower intensity and increase it over time. For example, start with bodyweight and when that feels comfortable, gradually add and increase weight.

Don’t forget nutrition

If you want a speedy recovery, getting the right nutrition is important. The body uses protein to build and repair muscles, so it is especially critical that your get the right intake when you are injured. You should ideally also avoid inflammatory foods such as alcohol and eat foods that you know your body digests well. By eating well, you will allow your body to perform optimally, and in the process will enhance recovery. For more about how your body uses different nutrients, see our blog Nutrition Essentials Part 1: Macronutrients and Micronutrients.

Remember every injury is unique

You need to treat each injury in context. A whole range of factors will play a part, including your previous fitness and activity levels. While these general approaches will apply to many injuries, working with a Personal Trainer will see you make the safest and most efficient return to normal movement. They will be able to assess your movement and create a program tailored to your type of injury and circumstances.

If you would like help getting back on track, book an appointment at Plexus.