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FEB 2, 2024

Exercising Safely While Injured: A Journey of Patience and Perseverance

When it comes to our products, we continually strive for excellence. We know it because we live it. But hearing that from other people? That always makes our day.

Read time: 7 minutes

Story time: I work out on a regular basis but, being tall and getting into my forties, I also suffer from sciatica. For those lucky enough not to know, the sciatic nerve runs from the base of your spine down your leg and can become trapped or irritated. The pain can be excruciating and sends a sharp electric punch through your lower body. It comes and goes and I have to be mindful of it when exercising – especially when lifting. Recently I’ve suffered a flare up that has stopped me hitting the gym for a few months. And, to be frank, it’s incredibly disheartening. So let’s talk about it.

The Frustration of Injury: A Roadblock to Fitness Goals

Any fitness enthusiast is all too familiar with the invigorating rush of endorphins from a good workout. Not only the satisfaction of hitting new personal bests, but the joy of feeling strong and healthy. So when this journey is hit with an unexpected roadblock like an injury, what can we do? Because it's not just a physical setback, it's a mental and emotional challenge that can leave us feeling frustrated and disconnected from our fitness routines.

For many of us, injury can often come without warning, and when it does it derails our fitness plans and leaves us feeling stuck. Suddenly, the ability to engage in our regular exercise regimen is gone and can be deeply disheartening. So much so that we find ourselves grappling with the desire to push through the pain versus the fear of exacerbating the injury. It's a tricky balance, and if you’re anything like me, you may want to ignore the pain and continue as usual. But this is where we need to pause and rethink.

The Importance of Restraint: Why Pushing Through Isn't Worth the Risk

The first and most crucial step in dealing with an injury is accepting the importance of not pushing ourselves too hard. It's a test of patience, requiring us to listen to our bodies and respect its limits. After all, the risk of aggravating an injury is real and can lead to more severe damage, prolonging recovery time and potentially causing long-term harm.

Understanding that rest and recovery are integral parts of our fitness journey is essential. And remember, it's not a sign of weakness but a testament to our commitment to your long-term health and fitness. Similarly, pushing through the pain isn't a display of strength, it's a risky gamble with your wellbeing.

Consulting the Experts: The Role of Medical Professionals and Personal Trainers

Before even considering getting back into any form of exercise, it's imperative to seek guidance from medical professionals. A doctor or a physiotherapist can provide a clear diagnosis, helping you understand the nature and extent of your injury. They can also offer invaluable advice on the dos and don'ts, guiding you on the path to recovery without risking further injury.

Eventually, once you have the medical go-ahead, consulting a certified personal trainer can be immensely beneficial. Trainers with experience in dealing with injuries have seen it all and can help design a workout plan that respects your body's current limitations. What’s more, they can ensure that you engage in safe exercises, reducing the risk of re-injury.

Navigating the Workout Landscape: Safely Exercising Around the Injury

Ok, you’ve got professional advice in hand, now what? Well, you can then explore safe ways to stay active while avoiding adding stress to the injured area. The key here is to focus on what you can do rather than what you can't.

For example, if you've injured your leg, you might still be able to engage in upper body workouts or certain types of low-impact cardio like swimming.

It's also an opportunity to discover new forms of exercise. Activities like yoga and Pilates can be excellent for maintaining fitness while promoting healing and flexibility. And they can be adapted to various fitness levels and injuries, making them a safe choice for many.

This period of recovery can also be more than physical healing. It has the potential to be a time for mental and emotional growth. By teaching us resilience, patience, and the importance of listening to our bodies. Think of it as a reminder that fitness isn’t just about the highs of achievements but also about navigating the lows with sense and patience.

The Psychological Strain of Stepping Back

For many of us, the gym isn't just a place to work out, it's a familiar sanctuary for mental wellbeing, a space where stress melts away, and a community where we find motivation and support. So to suddenly have that stripped away can feeling like we're losing progress, losing friendships, and just good old fashioned FOMO. All of which can take a significant toll on our mental health.

This is why the frustration of not being able to exercise can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Especially as the gym often provides a sense of routine and accomplishment, and without it, we might feel a loss of purpose or identity, especially if fitness is a big part of who we are. Which many of us acutely felt during the longest stretches of the pandemic.

But it's so important to remind ourselves that recovery isn’t a backward step but an essential part of our fitness journey. Being out of the gym is temporary, and with patience and the right approach, you will return stronger and more resilient.

Healing and Managing Pain: Ice, Heat Pads, Braces, and Wraps

Ok, let’s circle back to the pain itself. Too many times we can make things worse ourselves by failing to understand how to manage physical pain with the correct healing process. In other words, knowing when to use ice, a heat pad, a brace, or a wrap.

Ice: Reducing Inflammation and Swelling

Ice therapy is best used immediately after an injury occurs and for the first 48 to 72 hours after. It helps reduce inflammation and swelling by constricting blood vessels, which slows down blood flow to the injured area. That said, ice packs or cold compresses should only be applied for 15-20 minutes at a time, but several times a day.

Heat Pad: Easing Muscle Tension and Pain

A heat pad is great once the initial swelling has reduced. It helps relax and loosen tissues, thereby relieving pain. Heat therapy essentially stimulates blood flow, which aids the healing process, and is particularly effective for muscle stiffness or chronic pain. As with the ice, it should be used for short periods, typically 15-20 minutes.

Braces: Support and Stabilization

Braces are designed to provide support and stability to an injured area. They’re particularly useful for joint injuries (knees, ankles, etc.) as they limit movement, prevent further injury, and give the area a chance to heal. And it’s also very important to choose the right kind of brace and to ensure it fits correctly.

Wraps: Compression and Support

Wraps, like elastic bandages, provide compression and support to injured muscles or joints. They help reduce swelling and offer support during movement, which can be crucial for a gradual return to exercise. However, it's important not to wrap an area too tightly, as this can hinder circulation.

Conclusion: Finding Strength in the Journey

Being sidelined by an injury is challenging and we’ve likely all been there. But it's also an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of our bodies and our approach to fitness. As our bodies undergo strain and various life-events, things can change. But by taking the right steps, seeking professional advice, and focusing on what you can do, you can continue to nurture your health and wellbeing throughout recovery. Remember, every step taken towards fighting fitness, no matter how small, is a step towards your ultimate goals. So stay patient, stay positive, and most importantly, stay safe. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some stretches to ease this pain.

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Written by Matthew Stogdon

Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.

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