Comeback Plan After an Injury

Sometimes no matter how smart we train, or how much we prepare for an activity, injuries happen. You might roll your ankle landing from a rebound, develop shoulder pain during your regular weight training, or strain your lower back doing yard work. These are all a normal part of life. Luckily, the human body is really good at healing. Here are some tips for coming back from an injury, and establishing a new “normal” to become stronger than you were before.

The first phase of recovery is allowing the injured tissue to heal. However, doing nothing would cause a downward “spike” in your activity level (see previous blog). Do what you can without causing flare ups and setbacks. Maintain the range of motion where your injury occurred, and keep the workload on the rest of your body as close to the same level as you did prior to your injury. If you have an injured shoulder you can still maintain your cardiovascular fitness with walking or cycling, and lower body strength with leg press, lunges, and several other exercises! You want to avoid deconditioning of the other systems so you are not starting from scratch when the injury heals.

Leg Lift

The second phase of recovery is working through the tissues full range of motion with low load. You may need to start with partial range of motion and gradually work back to full motion. For example, if squatting all the way down hurts, start with whatever range doesn’t hurt, and gradually go lower and lower. Then build up the amount of times you can do the motion, aiming for high repetitions with a low load. Another example would be if running at a fast pace hurts, start at a brisk walk, a slower jog, or intervals of running and walking, and gradually increase the amount of consistent running. The goal of this phase is to create a solid foundation from which to build the intensity in the next phase. Focus on improving your form and any range of motion or muscle imbalances that may have been overlooked when things were feeling good. By mastering the basics, you are setting yourself up to come back stronger than you were before! Trying to jump back to the amount of activity you were doing before injury without a gradual build up causes a “spike” in your workload, and sets you up for a cycle of re-injury.


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The final phase on the road to recovery is gradually building up the intensity of the activity. This means slowly increasing the amount of weight picked up from the floor or lifted at the gym while lowering the repetitions. For runners and cyclists this is where you increase speed, add hills, etc. This process needs to be gradual, aiming for no more than a 10% increase in workload each week. A general guideline to follow is that it usually takes the same amount of time you have been injured to build back up to pre-injury levels. So, if you have been having pain in your lower back for 6 months it will probably take 6 months of building up the tissues tolerance to be able to do the same activities you were doing before you started having pain. If a runner has been having knee pain for 3 months it will take at least 3 months to build back up to the distance and speed they were running before they started having pain. So, be patient! Don’t test the threshold immediately when the pain goes away. Just because you have been feeling good for a few days doesn’t mean you “test it out” and try to do the exact same amount of work you were doing before the injury.

In conclusion, the road to recovery is not a linear progression. There will be ups and downs along the way. Be patient, try not to get frustrated, and embrace the journey. If you want a detailed and personalized comeback plan, contact PTI and we will guide you down the road to recovery!