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“What can I continue to do?”
This is a very common question I get during my physical therapy sessions. I usually expect it from the athletes I work with. Not being able to regularly exercise or play sports while rehabilitating from an injury can be very frustrating. Continuing to exercise or train in some capacity can make the process much more bearable. It can even give you some added benefits.
I want to share some basic recommendations that I give my patients when it comes to exercising and training when injured.
Before I share, make sure that you are addressing the pain you are having with a medical professional first. There is a difference between “tough and dumb” when it comes to working through pain with exercise and sports. What recommendations apply to you can be individually specific so working with a healthcare professional is always a good plan.
It must be Pain-Free
The first recommendation is that whatever exercise you are doing while injured must be pain-free.
For example, you may be recovering from a sprained ankle. Doing a bench press could hurt your knee when you are pushing off the ground. You should stop doing this exercise. Or maybe you are rehabilitating an elbow injury. Riding a stationary bike might cause your elbow pain. You should stop this exercise.
Continued irritation to a healing tissue (even mild consistent pain) can prolong recovery time. Here is a good rule to follow:
If there is no pain during the exercise and no pain or soreness after the exercise, then it is usually safe to perform.
If you ride your bike hard on Monday morning with no pain but cannot walk on Tuesday because you irritated your sprained ankle, this exercise cannot be considered pain free.
Modify, Modify, Modify
The second recommendation with training or exercising while injured is to modify, modify, modify! You can modify specific movements you are doing to make sure they remain pain-free
Here a few examples of how to modify your exercises to become pain-free:
1. You may be doing full squats and find them to be painful. Try completing the squat into a shortened range to make the exercise pain free.
2. You are doing planks in the push-up position and find that painful. Try the plank with your knees on the ground to eliminate the pain.
3. You find that while lifting weights, sets of 5 overhead presses are painful. Modify this by lightening the weight and doing sets of 15 – 30.
4. You are playing racquetball and doing backhand shots becomes painful. Try doing only forehand shots in the short term until you have recovered.
5. You are playing soccer and find full speed shooting drills to cause pain. Modify this to only doing passing drills during practice.
Finding movements you can modify to make pain free is a key part of continuing to exercise and train while injured.
Another part of your training is to modify the volume. Simply decreasing your running distance from 30 miles a week to 15 miles a week may allow you to run pain-free while rehabilitating your injury. Decreasing the load placed on a tissue can help prevent tissue damage. This can lead to prolonged injury.
Maintain your cardiovascular health
The third recommendation I give my patients is to maintain their cardiovascular health while taking time away from a sport or activity due to injury.
I usually recommend they find a non-painful or non-impact form of cardiovascular exercise and use that to maintain their fitness levels. Using a rowing machine or biking instead of running are easy ways to maintain fitness levels without creating impact or irritation on an injury depending on its location.
Here is an example of a workout you can do on a rower or bike:
10 rounds of 1 minute hard and 1 minute easy
If you go all out on the 1 minute hard part, I guarantee you will get a good workout in as little as 20 minutes.
Performing pain-free cardiovascular exercise can also help to prevent unwanted weight gain. This is frequently a side effect of having to stop your usual exercise routine because of an injury.
Another benefit of cardiovascular exercise is that it will increase your overall blood flow. This can help bring oxygen and nutrients to the injured area and help with healing. I have also found the biggest benefit of maintaining cardiovascular health while injured is that it will help control the often increased stress levels that come along with an injury.
Focus on core/hip strengthening while rehabilitating
The fourth recommendation I give patients is to focus on core and hip strengthening if their injury is preventing them from participating in their sport or activity.
I frequently add some form of core strengthening to my rehabilitation for every patient I treat. There are very few injuries that will prevent you from doing this.
One way to strengthen your core with little movement is to perform 5-10 sets of 15-30 second front planks. You can also check out my previous blog “Don’t Forget Your Hips” which has great examples of low impact hip strengthening.
Once again I recommend you work with a healthcare professional who can guide you through what specific modifications you can make for your specific injury which will allow you to continue to train while rehabilitating an injury. Here at 3Dimensional Physical Therapy and Sports Conditioning, we specialize in working with active people and athletes and allowing them to continue to train while injured.