Exercise After Injury

Ankle Injury

Sports Injury

I had a patient tell me this the other day:

“How long does it take to get back to exercise after an injury?…

…I hurt my ankle a month ago, and want to know how long it’ll take me to get back to running. It’s frustrating not knowing if it’s safe to get back out for a run because I have a race coming up in a few months…”

First off, I get the frustration.

When something like ankle pain strikes, or an injury hits you out of the blue, not being able to exercise like you used to, and not knowing when it’s safe to get back into it, is annoying.

And although I know you’re itching to get back into it, hold the brakes a minute – injuries are no joke. They are your body’s way of sounding an alarm telling you that something’s not right, so we shouldn’t start back full steam ahead right away.

Instead making an intelligent comeback to running, or any form of exercise, after taking time off due to injury requires a gradual approach.

And although you’re dying to get back to normal and waiting is frustrating, ask yourself this:

Would you rather make slow, pain-free progress towards building a healthy running, or exercise, base so you don’t risk another injury?

Or jump back into your exercise routine and possibly experience a set-back that leads to pain that lasts even longer, or another injury?

During recovery it’s important to listen to how your body feels. You can trust it. It will tell you when it’s ready to get back to doing certain things and when you’ve done too much.

Other factors that will have a significant impact on your return to exercise include things like your age, how long you’ve been suffering from your injury, and what you do to get back to physical activity safely.

With that said, here’s 6 steps you can take to get back to exercise safely, after an injury:

1. Take It Slow

It’s easy to want to go back to exactly what you were doing before an injury put you out, but not so quick! If you go back to running how you did before right away, or if you go back to the gym and exert all your energy, you run the risk of making yourself weaker which means a higher risk of another injury!

Not good.

Add to that your body has likely been out of exercise for a couple of weeks or more, it could be a little weaker.

Take it slow and go back into it gradually, and if you feel pain…

Stop.

2. Modify, modify, modify

Just because you can’t run doesn’t mean you can’t do other activities.  Take a look around at other types of exercise like cycling, elliptical, swimming, rowing, weight lifting, etc.  

There are so many things you can do to keep your cardio output high but not irritate your injury.  Be creative and remember the first rule, take it slow.

See how your body feels and gradually increase your time spent doing it.

3. Remember, Pain is Pain

While some people live by the motto ‘no pain, no gain’, when it comes to an injury nothing could be further from the truth.

Pain is the body’s signal that you’ve gone too far or done too much.

Rest and recovery are just as important as re-introducing exercise. Give your body time to recover so you can return to it safely.

4. Work On Your Balance

This might not be something that comes to mind right away, but doing exercises to improve your balance in turn will improve your posture AND strengthen your core – which is essential to exercise safely.

Without a strong core, you run the risk of injuring yourself quick.

5. Eat Well And Keep Hydrated

Eating well and keeping yourself hydrated are key to recovery.

Food plays a big part in the body’s healing process and helps to make your joints strong again.

Stay away from alcohol and any junk foods during this time. Eating whole, natural foods, and drinking plenty of fluids will help speed up the process.

6. Consider Getting Help From A Hands-On Physical Therapist

A hands-on therapist can provide you with a step-by-step program tailored specifically to you and your needs, to help get you back to the exercise you enjoyed in the quickest, and safest way possible.

A physical therapist will also be able to assess when you’re ready to get back to it safely, and will help make sure the injury doesn’t re-occur.

When it comes to your health, fitness and lifestyle, it’s important to listen to expert advice – that way you can be sure to get back to running and activities much quicker and safer like you deserve.

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Nick Hunter, PT, DPT
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