Post-Injury Exercise: Listen to Your Body … Don’t Push It!

Last night was very exciting for me. For the first time in more than a month, I taught Piloxing as it was meant to be done – barefoot. I have what you could call an all-in, do or die, hardcore attitude when it comes to exercise, so in early February, when the nagging (okay, stabbing) pain in my left foot was still nagging after two or three weeks, I finally made an appointment to see a sports doctor. The verdict: stress reaction. Tone it down and WEAR SHOES until the pain goes away. Completely. It should be healed in another three weeks or so or it could turn into a fracture. Awesome. If he had told me to stop completely, or put me in a boot, I would have cried.

As a very active person, there’s one thing that I’ve found: getting older kind of sucks. Granted, I’m 31 and probably in the best shape of my life … but since I hit about 27, I feel like I’ve found myself plagued with one injury or another. But as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I have realized one thing – sometimes it’s not best to “work through it” (which doesn’t mean do nothing … read on), but instead to suck it up and let your body heal. It took until last year, but I finally learned my lesson regarding getting back onto the treadmill, or into the saddle, or, in my most recent case, out of my shoes.

First things first: if it still kinda, sorta, a little bit hurts, you’re still injured. I learned this after I reinjured my hip flexor for the THIRD time within the span of a year. If it was the type of injury that only one activity bothers, you still have a bunch of options. For instance, with the hip flexor and the foot, I couldn’t run – but I could still cycle or jump on an elliptical. No, it’s not the same … but it’s good cross training until you can get back to what you really want to be doing. That said: find what you can do (as long as your doctor doesn’t suggest otherwise), continue to ice or heat, stretch, and be in tune with your body.

Once you are completely pain-free, there are a few factors to keep in mind as you resume your regularly scheduled activities. Number one, start slow. This is one I have struggled with – I used to figure if I was running 5 miles two months ago, why can’t I go back to running 5 miles now? Hence the year of hip flexor injuries. Look at it as you do when starting anything new – take it slow, and build up your mileage, time, whatever you use to quantify your workouts, and work your way back to where you were over the course of a few weeks – not a few days. It’s not being weak (as I would have said in the past), it’s being SMART!

You also want to be aware of your form as you return – is your body still compensating for your injury? When my foot was still in the felt like I was being stabbed with every step stage, I could feel that my gait had changed to avoid my foot rolling out (and put pressure on the irritated bone).  That said, as you’re starting slow, survey your form. Are your knees/hips/shoulders/etc. in alignment? If they aren’t, you could still be compensating for the injury – and setting yourself up for another one.

Finally, you may have to warm up a little longer than you are used to, and you will want to be sure to actively stretch throughout, and especially at the end, of your workout. The warmer your body is before you begin your “real” workout, the less prone you’ll be to injury. Also, by taking adequate time to stretch your muscles, the more flexibility you’ll build – which will also keep you on track to stay injury free.

Like I said, it took my years to realize that you can’t go all out, all the time … especially post-injury. Take the time to let your body repair itself, come back slowly and build up at a pace at which your body is comfortable. You may not immediately be as strong or as fast or able to go as far as you had before your injury – but that’s okay. You’ll get back where you want to be!

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