Whether you’re an elite athlete or just enjoy being active for fun, injury recovery is important. Developing a proper injury recovery plan is key to providing pain relief, preventing further injury/damage and returning to your pre-injury level of fitness. While every injury is different and has its own unique recovery timeline, there are some guiding principles that apply to all athletes.
First and foremost, getting a proper diagnosis from a physician or physical therapist is key to beginning the injury rehabilitation process. An accurate and detailed diagnosis will identify any predisposing factors to injury and determine the best treatment options.
The first phase of injury rehabilitation when you compare the 2 injury recovery plans is focused on regulating or reducing inflammation and pain to allow the body to start its natural healing process. This may include ice packs, anti-inflammatories and perhaps some sort of protective sling or cast. Exercise that involves the injured area is usually avoided during this stage, but your therapist will help guide you to find ways to keep fit and healthy without aggravating the injury. For example, a runner with a knee injury may switch to swimming or cycling for some cardiovascular endurance training, while doing strength exercises to build up the deep postural muscles that support the knee.
As the inflammation and pain begin to subside, movement of the injured body part will become easier. This allows for soft tissue and joint mobilization training to be commenced with your physiotherapist. This can also include trigger point sports massage to relax the surrounding muscles and reduce the intensity of the pain. This is a great time to begin doing some light core work and back strengthening exercises.
Once your therapist is confident that the injury has settled, you can progress to a more advanced recovery stage. This includes more intense core and back strengthening, as well as progression into some sport specific drills that mimic the movements of your sport. For example, if you are recovering from a knee injury, your therapist might prescribe some stationary cycling with resistance and some knee bends to prepare the joints for full activity again.
Once you’ve completed the aforementioned phases, your therapist will work with you to return to full function and prevent injury in the future. This can be as simple as continuing with your existing training routine, but is more likely to involve a gradual increase in the length and intensity of workouts. Alternatively, your therapist may recommend specific exercises that focus on balance and coordination to strengthen the muscles around your injured area (for example, cycling with a stationary bike or using a rowing machine for runners with knee injuries). The most important thing is not to delay recovery and to ensure that you get back to your pre-injury level of performance. Injuries can be a huge setback for athletes, but it’s important to remember that they are temporary and that the healing process is a valuable opportunity to make some positive changes in your life.