How to avoid injuries and how to recover properly!
Today we'll be talking about injury prevention and recovery. I believe most people have experienced some sort of an injury at one time or another. Either during training, in an accident or simply during everyday activities. And because even the smallest of injuries can be devastating to your work-out performance and your overall fitness level, I believe it to be prudent to look this topic over and give some recommendations.
We'll be concentrating mostly on injuries resulting from physical activities, though I imagine you can apply these suggestions to most injuries.
There are many different kinds of injuries and many different ways you can get injured. But in this article we'll just cover it in a broader sense.
Poor technique is one of the main reasons for injuries during training. When you exercise, you are utilizing specific muscles in every exercise. When you consciously or subconsciously put the pressure in the wrong area, use too much weight for your muscles/ligaments to handle or the movement itself is wrong – you risk injury. Thus, it is important to learn the correct technique from the start. We can also add the lack of a proper warm-up to this paragraph. If you go all out on the very first exercise you do, you are increasing the odds of an injury taking place.
Even though it is often over-emphasized, it is still a valid concern. A constantly exhausted body is much more susceptible to injuries. Your recovery is often hindered, you may develop inflammations, and injuries may occur even during movements usually considered safe. Always allow yourself enough rest.
The way our muscles work is that there are muscles that pull certain body parts in one direction and there are muscles that pull in the opposite direction. This allows for very versatile movements.
However if our training or daily activities are favoring certain muscle groups, in a certain movement direction – we are risking muscle imbalance. In this case, our muscles are stronger when pulling in one direction and weaker in the opposite direction. That creates constant tension, often results in chronic pain and increases the odds of injuries.
Avoid training only your favorite muscle groups and using nothing but your favorite exercises. Aim to train all muscles equally and use a wide selection of different methods to do so.
Hopefully you'll now have some idea how injuries can happen.
But what if you already have an injury, what to do then? Let's talk about that.
During the first 48-72 hours, right after the injury has taken place, start with concentrating on giving the injured area rest. Probably not a difficult thing to do cause an injury is often painful. In the case of injured joints, it is also recommended to wrap the injured area in a bandage to avoid involuntary movements and limit further irritation and swelling.
Next up is ice. Many options are available – ice packs, ice gels and so forth. The idea is to reduce swelling and inflammation, reduce pain and set up the injured area for faster recovery later on. It is suggested to ice the area for 10-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. But usually with 1-2 hours in between, depending on the severity of the injury.
Furthermore when possible, elevate the injured area – again this is done to reduce swelling and inflammation by reducing blood flow.
A few days later when the worst has passed, it´s time to start with active recovery procedures. It is still suggested to give the injured spot plenty of rest, however now it's time to switch from ice to heat. You can use simple wraps soaked in hot water for example – take care not to burn yourself, use heat that isn't overly uncomfortable. The goal now is to increase the blood flow to speed up recovery. You should also try to massage the area gently, again with the goal of increasing blood flow. Similarly to icing, you can utilize these methods 10-20 minutes at a time and several times a day.
When you feel like the injured area no longer causes any pain and allows fairly free movement, you should immediately start with dynamic exercising. Meaning that you should start moving the injured area in normal movement patterns and you can even try adding some resistance training if you feel up for it. Keep in mind to start very light and increase the load very slowly – the goal here is to not only improve the blood flow but to also start utilizing the muscles, bones, joints which tend to rapidly atrophy when not in use. Stop immediately when you feel pain.
If you fail to start with such physical therapy early on, you may prolong the total recovery time considerably.
As the injured area atrophies, it will get harder and harder to begin using it again. And a severely weakened muscle or joint is much more open to subsequent injuries. So start with physical therapy early and also keep massaging the area and adding heat to improve recovery.
It is important to note that many serious injuries require the attention of professionals. You should seek help from a professional sports doctor or a physical therapist when these basic methods fail to provide sufficient relief or when the injury appears serious. At times a surgical intervention is needed or a much stricter supervised physical therapy. Also there may be drugs needed to manage the injury that aren't obtainable over the counter.
The longer an injury goes untreated, the harder it may become to do so and in the case of some injuries, taking too long to seek help may result in permanent damage.
Definitely, do not train through the pain.
And until the nature of the injury is clear, it's best to stop training altogether. Later on, when it is clear what type of injury you are dealing with, it is possible to continue regular workouts while avoiding the injured area (for example an injury to the ankle will still allow you to exercise the upper body and perhaps even parts of the leg).