If you exercise regularly you know as well as I do, it’s not about if you’ll get injured, it’s when. Sadly, more often than need be, injuries lead fitness to grind to a halt, make healthy eating take a backseat to comfort, impair sleep and mood, and devour motivation.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Preparing yourself ahead of time and carving out a plan to handle your health and your rehabilitation will save you frustration, and potentially, some hard earned muscle mass as well.
Here are five simple questions you might want to consider both before and after the next time your body reminds you you’re mortal flesh and blood:
1. Are you totally incapacitated by pain?
If it’s total incapacitation (like you might see with a herniated disc), pain management’s crucial. Toughing it out can lead to lengthier recoveries and even the potential development of chronic pain conditions. Start with the usual cocktail of over the counter pain relievers, stretching, massage, heat or cold (whichever feels better), but if they’re insufficiently helpful, that’s a sign it’s worth seeking out the advice of a medical professional, both for pain management and for diagnosis.
If it’s subtotal incapacitation but the pain is interfering with your sleep you may also want to seek medical attention as sleep’s crucial to healing, mood and motivation.
2. Is it just a specific body part that you’ve injured?
I say, “just”, not to diminish your pain or frustration but to remind you that you’ve got other ones that still work and there have even been studies that report that exercising one side of the body works the other. The scientific term for this is the contralateral strength training effect and at its essence exercise one side and the other side will reap roughly half the benefits of the side that’s working. Consider getting comfortable and familiar with various single side exercises before you need them so that if an injury hits, you’re ready to go.
3. Do you have alternate activities or neglected areas you can turn to?
Runners might turn to pools or bikes. Lifters might turn to, gasp, cardio. Whatever your sport consider what your most likely injury’s going to be and then think about what exercises might still be doable. For instance when I fought a frozen shoulder for 8 months my semi-neglected legs got much, much, stronger.
4. Do you have someone to turn to who’s trained in sports medicine?
While the average family physician is indeed trained to examine and diagnose injuries I’d recommend rather than rely on your general practitioner that instead you find someone who spends all day, every day, working with injuries. Whether that’s a sports medicine doctor, an athletic or physiotherapist, or some other health care professional, don’t leave diagnosis up to someone who might only see your particular injury a handful of times a year. If you’re not sure who to see, ask your family physician who they refer to when they’re unsure, or ask your friends and fellow gym goers who they’ve used in the past.
5. Do you need to change your diet?
Especially if you were a truly regular exerciser, if injuries slow you down don’t forget that you’ll need fewer daily calories. Losing muscle mass is bad enough, gaining fat too might compound your injury. Dial down your calories and take advantage of your extra time by spending more of it in your kitchen. Try new recipes and spend more time prepping healthful breakfasts and lunches. A simple rule of thumb might be that for every hour of moderately vigorous exercise you’re no longer doing, you’ll be burning 500 fewer calories.
Injuries may well slow you down, but with a little bit of thought and pre-planning they need not leave you de-railed.