How to Cope with an Injury

Sports injuries can happen even to the most advanced athletes.  Such injuries vary in severity from those that need surgery to those that may simply require a break from routine workouts and activities.  In either case, how can you cope with an injury while still wanting to keep active?

Injuries can really be a hindrance to staying active.  They can greatly limit what you are able to do.  Nonetheless, most physicians and physical therapists encourage certain exercises, even with an injury.  Exercises promote healing, as well as muscular strength, stability, and flexibility.

The nature and location of your injury will determine what exercises you can and cannot perform.  With the advice and direction of your doctor and/or physical therapist, you should be able to determine which activities are best suited to your situation and which ones you should avoid.  If one part of your body is completely immobilized, there is still probably some sort of exercise you can do to maintain a reasonable level of fitness.

Core Exercises
Core exercises are vital in any rehab program following a sports injury, and they are a welcome addition to conditioning and prevention programs. A strong and stable core will help improve your performance, while preventing and treating injuries.

The great thing about core exercises is that some can be performed anytime, anywhere, unbeknown to others.  Simple, isometric contractions (tightening and relaxing) of the lower abdomen can really help tone and strengthen the core without too much effort. 

The abdominal crunch is another great core exercise, when done properly.  (There are several variations on the crunch.  The best ones will effectively target the lower abs, the hips, and the lower back.)  Pushups can also strengthen the core muscles. 

If you are unable to perform any other exercises due to a sports injury, you should at least strive to maintain a strong core.  Building abdominal strength is essential to developing stability and balance throughout the rest of the body.  A strong core helps you to get more power from your arms and legs.  Even if your injury has incapacitated one of your limbs,  it is essential to work on having strong abdominal muscles.

Engaging in Cardiovascular Workouts When Recovering from an Injury
As you recuperate from your injury, it may become necessary to take an extended break from certain exercise routines to protect the injured body part.  In situations such as this, substitute exercises that you CAN perform for those that you were accustomed to performing prior to getting hurt.  According to fitness studies, you can maintain your current level of cardio fitness by exercising at 70 percent of your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) as little as once per week.

If you are suffering an injury to your knee, ankle, or leg, performing high-impact workouts are generally discouraged.  According to the Stretching Institute’s, The Stretching & Sports Injury Report, swimming, rowing, or bicycling might be good alternatives to walking or running.  Injured athletes who are in considerable pain often find that swimming or deep water exercises work best.  Swimming, rowing, and bicycling all provide decent cardio workouts minus the high-impact created on hard surfaces.

Elliptical trainers also provide good cardiovascular workouts while eliminating the impact to the legs, hips, and joints.  Many injured athletes have found that they could comfortably exercise on an elliptical trainer during their recuperation periods.  As a result, they were able to maintain their fitness levels without aggravating the injuries.   

Because elliptical trainers provide excellent low-impact, weight-bearing, cardio exercise, they have become quite popular means of training at home and in gyms.  Among healthy individuals, the elliptical machine can actually help prevent sports injuries to the lower body.

Stretching Exercises
Stretching exercises done before vigorous workouts can warm up the muscles, improve one’s range of motion, and prepare the body to perform optimally.  Gentle stretching exercises done after workouts can prevent muscle soreness.  Even with an injury that prevents you from doing vigorous workouts, engaging in routine stretching exercises can help to keep you limber and toned.  Just be sure not to overstretch to the point of feeling pain!

Strength Training Exercises
Post-injury strength training exercises should be performed cautiously and under the guidance of a physician, physical therapist, or personal trainer.  If you try to engage in strength training too soon after the injury, or if you do the exercises improperly, you risk re-injuring yourself.

When the injury involves a limb, care should be taken to train each limb individually.  Otherwise, the stronger limb will compensate for the weaker, injured limb…contributing to continued strength imbalance that was caused by the injury.

According to James Wilson, creator of the MTB Strength Training System, you should follow the “Weak Side Rule” when rehabilitating from an injury.  “Since the injured side is usually weaker, it is important that you do not unknowingly continue to reinforce the strength imbalance.  To make sure that you do not fall into this trap, do your weaker side first in order to let it dictate the load and reps for the stronger side.”

Take Time to Heal
No matter how frustrating it may be to cope with an injury while wanting to be active, remember that it takes time to heal.  Do not attempt to perform any exercises that may prolong the healing process or lead to re-injury.  Avoid doing more than you can safely do.  Above all else, heed your doctor’s advice!  
Written by Cyndi Waters
Fitness Writer and Researcher

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