Gone are the days of lying immobilized on the couch, wasting away your summer waiting for that pesky sprained ankle to heal. The previously prescribed approach to healing injuries known as R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) has now widely been replaced by M.I.C.E (movement, ice, compression, elevation). Sounds simple enough, but the question is: how much movement and what kind?
Depending on such factors as your level of physical activity before the injury, your mindset, your personality, and of course the nature and degree of severity of the injury, you may find yourself over-exercising and pushing through the pain or becoming sedentary and inactive to avoid the discomfort.
There are serious setbacks caused by both strategies to an injury. Pushing through pain will exacerbate tissue damage, prolong healing time and risk further injury. Your body will create compensation patterns, some very subtle, that compromise numerous muscles and joints. And, although you may not notice, your overall movement patterning starts to change. Calling it quits on exercise is not any better. Moving less will inhibit blood flow to the injured area, which is necessary for tissues repair. You also start to lose muscle strength and mobility around the site of injury and beyond.
A more tempered approach may feel slow, but is a win-win overall.
Here are three fundamental principles to help you make gains as you recover from your injury. When these are put into practice, you can heal faster, improve function, rebuild your strength, and prevent future injury.
1. Exercise without pain
Your best approach to exercise while you are injured is to focus on moving smartly. It starts with a shift in mindset. Less is more in the initial stage of recovery. It is not uncommon to want to regain strength and flexibility after getting hurt but focus on restoring movement mechanics at the outset, will help you get the strength gains you want, faster.
- Move in a pain-free range BEFORE trying to build strength.
- Use pain as a guide and ease off if you feel it.
- Use little to no resistance at the beginning.
2. Remind yourself that injuries have a ripple effect through the body
Naturally, you will be focused on your injury, but training the rest of your body to support the healing process is key to recovery. An injury feels localized, but it affects movement through the whole body. There is a chain reaction in all directions after an injury, so you need to learn how to condition the rest of your body to support the injured area. There are specific muscle groups and that create support at all our major joints and training these can lead to excellent overall support.
If, for example, you injure your knee, building support at the ankle and hip can take the stress off the knee and minimize the effects of compensation patterns up into the pelvis and spine. This sets a firm foundation to address the actual injured area and will help create the right pace for healing.
3. Create realistic expectations and celebrate small wins
Your mental approach to your injury will determine your physical reality. Plan for a year to make a full recovery. It is common to be told an injury will heal in 8-12 weeks. In many cases, you will feel significantly better in that amount of time, the pain will have subsided, and the function will be restored. Projecting a year means you stay focused and on building support at the site of injury and in the entire body. Does this translate to rehab for 12 months? Not necessarily. Think of it like adding a few specific exercises to your routine that reinforces the healing process.
The 12-month period also leads to a more positive outlook when setbacks happen. Take stock of the entire range of your experience and pay attention to the good and the bad days. Most of us zero in on the bad and ignore the good. In terms of an injury, good can be as simple as doing an activity for slightly longer with a reduced level of pain. It can be as simple as not noticing the injured area for a few minutes. The key? Pay attention to the small wins; they help keep you motivated and positive as you recover.
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