working out with an injury, advice from a physical therapist

If you’re a regular exerciser, have an active profession, or enjoy playing some type of sport, you have probably done a little too much and been sidelined with an injury at least once. Of course we try to prevent injury when we can, but it can happen to anyone. More than likely, you will seek medical attention for a moderate or severe injury, but some folks try to work around relatively minor injuries and or even “train through the pain” when working out while injured. This begs the question, “If I’m injured… can I still work out?”

As occupational and physical therapists, we get asked this all the time. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t want to stop our patients from exercising and doing what they love. More often than not, our answer is an enthusiastic “YES!” Exercise, in fact, helps with the healing process. While you’ll need to protect the injured area, the rest of your body should keep moving. However, some modifications to your routine may be in order. 

How does exercise promote healing to an injury?

As we all know, exercise is good as a preventative tool to keep our bodies functioning properly and maintain an ideal body weight. In addition, exercise is essential in promoting longevity and quality of life by decreasing our risks of complications with comorbidities. Some of the metabolic disorders caused by poor diet and lack of exercise are cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. Our occupational and physical therapists demonstrate to our patients in treatment that exercise decreases healing time for musculoskeletal injuries.   

Not only does the effect of exercise on our cardiovascular system reduce our chances of heart disease – blood carries oxygen to the tissues in our extremities when we are physically active. Increased blood flow results in improved oxygen exchange within our muscles, promoting enhanced healing to injuries involving muscle, bone, tendon, and ligaments. Increased blood flow also results in the formation of new cells and a decrease in inflammation. By keeping the inflammatory response in the body down, this allows for the injury to heal at a faster pace and may reduce the pain being experienced from the injury itself. 

We especially recommend exercise to promote healthy bonesSignificant research has shown that exercise is known to stimulate bone growth across the lifespan. As we age, our bone density diminishes, resulting in osteoporosis and increased risk of fractures, even more so when paired with a poor diet. A light resistance workout program, using bands or weights, performed just twice a week can reduce the signs of osteoporosis and decrease the incidence of falls and fractures. By establishing a safe exercise routine with your occupational and physical therapists in accordance with your doctor’s plan, this can aid in further injury prevention as well. 

Not all positive effects of exercise are physical

Aside from exercising helping you heal faster and preventing further injuriesroutine exercise is significantly linked to a sound mind and spirit. We all have a mind-body relationship that is tied to our cognitive state. Exercise increases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, working as a natural anti-depressant.  When our mind is clear and our stress is reduced, our physical health is better overall.  With the boost in those “happy” chemicals from exercise, our tendency to worry is reduced, making healing from an injury less daunting and more manageable.  In addition, our minds often perceive pain as danger. Continuing an exercise routine while recovering can decrease the threat of pain and discomfort, thus decreasing the mindset of suffering from an injury. 

How does my injury affect my ability to work out? 

Because we know how much our bodies need activity, we as therapists will encourage exercise as soon as the healing process allows. This healing process is highly individualized, so we take your personal circumstances into account with every decisionAfter we assess your injury, we can discuss with you how to safely continue an exercise routine with your current symptoms.  In the early phases, we may ask you to “take it easy” while the tissue calms down in order to reduce the chance of experiencing increased inflammation, more pain, and further injury.  However, with open communication, adjustments and modifications can be made to your workout routine to get you back to being physically active as soon as possible

Our ultimate goal is to keep you active and safe while incorporating therapeutic exercises to promote recovery from your injury.  Keeping in mind that healing changes from day to day and routines may need to be altered or temporarily put on hold, your therapist will help you back to a normal routine as quickly as they can.  Patience and communication with your therapist and physician are key in being able to maintain an active lifestyle while recovering from injuries and reducing set backs. Know, however, that some injuries can require you to take a break from physical activity altogether. Working out while injured is not always advised. Your doctor’s advice about exercising with an injury will depend on the location, nature, severity of the injury, as well as your overall health.

Take precautions to prevent future injury

Taking some time to assess your fitness routine and identify why the injury occurred, as this will help you prevent future injuries. Your physical therapist will assess your risk level and help make any modifications that you mutually agree may be necessary like more rest, cross training, and incorporating balance and flexibility centric movements. We recommend taking a close look at the frequency and type of exercises you do – you may be giving too much attention to one specific area of your body. Ask yourself some questions or talk it through with your therapist.

  • Did you overdo it and push past your limits?
  • Would having a spotter be beneficial?
  • Do we need to make improvements to your form?
  • Do you have an adequate warm up process?

Fact: Exercise promotes healing.

If you’re dealing with a nagging pain or recent injury, you do not have to suffer through it or sideline yourself. An Axes occupational or physical therapist can help you rehabilitate the injury, stay active in your recovery process, improve your regime, and get you back to doing what you love without restrictions. Request an an appointment at one of our 12 locations today.

Sarah schroeder physical and occupational therapist in st. louis missouri

To schedule an appointment with Sarah, request an appointment online today.