The most important thing to remember about returning to exercise and activity following an injury is that it’s always best to listen to your body.
There isn’t an exact timeframe or formula that everyone can follow, because every injury and individual is different, but there are some basic principles that you should consider.
When should I return to exercise and activity?
You should assess if your injury has improved and if it is feeling good enough to try movement and exercise again.
It’s generally a good sign if swelling has subsided and you are able to complete basic day to day activities comfortably again.
If you have followed the correct management advice below then you should have a rough idea of how far along you are in the healing process:
- How to treat an acute soft-tissue injury (including muscle sprains and strains)
- Managing a painful or injured joint
What should I start with?
Returning to exercise doesn’t mean going back to your normal routine straight away.
Injured body parts often lose their balance or what we call proprioception. This is why you should start with smaller movements and exercises at home as soon as you can to rebuild strength and stability.
If you have seen a physiotherapist they will have offered you advice about exercise therapy and guidance that you should follow at home. Sometimes we call this a rehabilitation plan.
What can I expect from an injury rehabilitation plan?
The first step might be something as simple as tensing the muscle without moving the injured body part or making circular movements with your ankle whilst lying down.
This will help to restore basic movement and function to the area if it has been immobilised for a while. You may also be given stretches to reduce tension.
The next stage will be to increase what we call the loading of the body part, which essentially means increasing your strength and ability to weight-bear on the area again.
This may include resistance activities with bands or props.
Once you can work the muscle without pain, getting back to normal movement is the key.
I was active before, when can I return to my normal routine?
Once you have established normal pain-free movement again you can try returning to exercise, the gym or sports if you were active before, but pace yourself.
Start with shorter sessions and low impact activities such as swimming or the cross-trainer.
If this feels comfortable then progress and work towards your pre-injury level, but don’t train through pain or push yourself too hard.
I tried exercise and felt pain, what should I do?
Sometimes a minor ache or tightness can be worked through, but if you feel a sudden increase in pain then stop exercising and try to identify the source.
On a lot of occasions, a couple of days rest may resolve the problem completely, but if it doesn’t then get some specialist advice from a physiotherapist.
I am struggling to get back to my pre-injury level?
If you are very active or sporty then you may need additional support to regain the speed and strength demanded by your sport.
Muscle injuries can often take longer to recover and may reoccur if you are very active. This is because small injuries can lead to compensation or imbalance in other areas, which can affect the biomechanics of how your body functions as a whole and your overall performance.
Talk to a physiotherapist about your goals and they will be able to help you breakthrough any performance barriers.