5 Things to Do When Recovering from an Injury
You’re hurt and you want to get better. It’s only natural. It doesn’t matter whether your injury is a minor muscle strain, a fractured bone, or a torn ligament—injury recovery is still a major annoyance when it keeps you from living the life you want to live, the way you want to live it.
Unfortunately, you don’t have the luxury of just pushing through the pain until the magical healing is done. You can’t keep doing the same things that got you into trouble in the first place, at least not for a while. For optimal injury recovery, you’re going to need to make some modifications. And you need to accept that healing will take some time.
Every Injury Is Different
There’s a lot to take into account when recovering from an injury. What is the nature of the injury? Where is it located? What caused it? Did it occur gradually or is it the result of sudden trauma? Other than the injury, are you in good physical shape? Are you young, old, or in between? Do you exercise regularly or do you prefer the couch?
A plan for injury recovery needs to take all of this into account, so there’s no one-size-fits all piece of advice. You shouldn’t just throw some ice on every injury and hope for the best. But there is some general guidance that everyone would do well to follow.
Steps to Injury Recovery
1. See Your Doctor
Not every injury requires a doctor. Minor acute injuries often heal on their own with rest and time. But for more serious, incapacitating, or persistent, chronic problems, you would do well to seek advice from a doctor or physical therapist.
Often you won’t even know what your injury is. It’s just pain associated with a body part or activity. An accurate diagnosis from a doctor can go a long way towards starting your recovery. A doctor can discuss with you options for pain relief, treatment, and steps you can take specific to your needs and the nature of your injury, whatever it might be.
Rest is critical to recovery. Your body can do miraculous things, healing damaged tissue like torn muscles or broken bones often without any outside assistance. But you need to allow the body to do its work. Injuries will never heal—or they won’t heal properly—if you continuously aggravate them before the process is complete.
But how much rest is enough, and how much is too much? Again, it really depends on your circumstances, but most people—especially people who consider themselves fit and active—tend to err on the side of not enough rest. They fear getting out of shape during their convalescence, and so they force themselves too soon into activities that don’t give their injuries time to heal.
This might sound like the opposite of rest, but functional exercises and exercises that promote the healing process are encouraged. You still want to avoid painful activities and those that aggravate the injury, especially in the first couple days. But early movement that does not overload the injury ensures a good blood supply and encourages healing. Assisted exercises for shoulder injuries are one example; and for back pain trouble, going for a walk is often preferred over bed rest. Gentle stretching can be good for injury recovery, along with walking, swimming, and other functional exercises that don’t aggravate your particular injury—and again, as long as you don’t overdo it. You’re not training to set any personal bests here, you’re just trying to get yourself back to health.
4. Listen to Your Body
It’s natural to push ourselves too hard, too soon. We want to get better. But it’s not going to happen if we don’t let ourselves heal fully. So listen to your body. If you’re still feeling pain, even subtle pain, that’s a clue that the injury isn’t ready. Lower your intensity levels. Work back into things slowly. Rest. Let your body tell you when it’s time to increase the intensity.
5. Focus on Nutrition
One of the biggest concerns people have about injury recovery is that they’re going to come out of it in much worse shape than they started. All the gains they’ve made through exercise will be lost. People are afraid they’ll get fat. The good news is this isn’t true. Taking it easy for a few weeks isn’t the end of the world. Restarting an exercise program after injury can be annoying, and you’ll be sore for a while, but it won’t take you long to regain your fitness as long as you don’t injure yourself again.
For those worried about gaining weight, though, remember this old adage: abs are made in the kitchen. It’s not a temporary lack of exercise that adds on the pounds; it’s poor dietary choices. Sticking to a healthy diet is important at all times, but especially so during injury rehab. If you’re less active than you were, you might need to dial back accordingly on the calorie intake. And healthy, nutritious foods—whole grains, fruits, vegetables, you know the drill—provide nutrients that can actually enhance the healing process.