Injuries, unfortunately, are fairly common in the world of exercise and sports. Muscle strains, shin splints, hairline fractures, plantar fasciitis, torn rotator cuff, tendonitis, knee problems, etc. are all common injuries that occur during or as a result of exercise or sports.
Some of these injuries occur when people do too much too quickly, when their bodies aren’t ready for the load applied; some happen from plain doing too much, resulting in overuse injuries; and some injuries happen out of sheer bad luck.
We could have a whole discussion on injury prevention, but today I am going to talk about how to continue exercising once an injury has occurred. Injuries are frustrating and often mess up our training goals, however, they are also great opportunities to learn new exercises and train often neglected muscle groups.
While playing a tennis match in high school, my elbow began to throb. Over the course of the next few days, it didn’t get better, and hurt more and more with every movement – I had developed tendonitis. Unfortunately, this meant no more tennis matches and no more practicing the way I was used to every day. But this didn’t mean that I had to stop practicing! Injuring my dominant arm gave me the opportunity to train my non-dominant arm and focus on my footwork. While it did limit my match play, I ended up becoming a better tennis player because of changes I made to avoid aggravating the tendonitis in the future.
Similarly, when I was in college and training for a half marathon, I ran more than I was prepared for and strained a tendon in my foot. I could hardly walk for a whole week, let alone run. I was supposed to run my half marathon that month, but was unable to participate. Instead of sitting at home feeling bad that I couldn’t train, I went to the gym and kept working. Since my foot hurt when I was running and walking, I tried cross training with the elliptical and stationary bike. I continued to lift weights and participate in Pilates. I kept myself moving and gradually eased myself back into running and eventually into a half marathon.
Both of my stories illustrate a valuable concept – injury doesn’t need to halt your training, it just modifies it.
Depending on your injury you’ll need to make different modifications. For an upper limb injury (arm, elbow, hand, shoulder) you could still perform lower body strength and endurance exercises, trunk exercises not using your arms, walking and jogging (depending on your injury), coordination and balance exercises, and much more. If you injured your dominant side, you can continue to train your non-dominant side, as it is usually weaker and needs more attention than we usually give it.
Lower body injuries often seem more limiting as they usually affect our ability to get around. People also feel like they can’t get a good cardiovascular workout in. But guess what?? You can get a great cardio workout using just your upper body! For an example of an upper body only cardio workout, check out the link below. Another great option to continue training with a lower body injury is to utilize water exercise. If you have a foot injury like the one I described above, water running is a great way to take the load off your lower body while still allowing you to train with the same movements. Besides water running you can also participate in water aerobics, swimming, or even gentle stretching to get your limbs moving with less load applied to them.
If you have injured your back or neck or have recurring injuries, it is best to see a doctor and/or a physical therapist. Physical therapists will help you learn safe exercises to treat your injury as well as how to prevent injury in the future. You can often coordinate efforts between your trainer and your doctor/physical therapist to ensure continued training in the safest way possible.
While I definitely hope you never get injured, if you do, DON'T LET IT STOP YOU! Find creative ways to train, watch others train in your sport to get ideas of how to improve, strengthen areas you often neglect, and keep moving in any way you can!