Injury and Exercise: How to Bounce Back and Be Stronger than Ever
Discover Ways to Creatively “Work Out” Around Your Limitations to Stay On Track for a Healthy, Active Life
It’s much nicer when we are able to stay healthy, active and fit. But sometimes whether it’s a medical health issue, surgery, accident or over-training injury we find ourselves hurt… Out of commission, unable to do even simple daily chores much less a vigorous heart-pounding workout. The pain and frustration of NOT being able to do what we want can send your training program into a tailspin. When we are young it seems easy to just grin and bear it, pretend like the pain isn’t really there and keep on keeping on. But with age comes wisdom (well, sometimes…) and, if we are smart, we figure out better strategies to rest, recover and get back in action.
I believe that we need to learn to listen to our bodies, tend to our ailments and respect the time needed to rest and repair damage. But I also believe that there is always something that you CAN be doing to keep moving safely. It just might not be something that you like, are used to doing or even consider a “workout.” Figuring out what you can do safely, within reason, to work with your limitations can keep you on track and might even bring you so added benefits for better health.
I continue to be amazed at the number of people I talk to, or who finally walk through my door for Pilates, who got hurt and stopped doing everything…. For months, or YEARS! And they can’t understand why they still hurt, and wonder how much longer they have to wait to feel better?
The typical time off for an injury and most surgeries is 6-8 weeks. Of course this is completely at the discretion of your doctor. So if you are currently in the midst of pain, injury or recovering from surgery, PLEASE – get clearance from your health care provider to know when it’s safe for you to start moving. AND, fin out what types of activities are OK for you both now and in the future. Most heart patients are up and walking around the next day! It is now clearly understood that activity is what helps keep the body strong. And this simple fact is often forgotten. We have to move our muscles to keep the body strong. We have to work every muscle and joint through a full range of motion to maintain flexibility. We have to eat well to nourish our cells to regenerate the body from the inside out. Stop doing all of this and you will never feel better, only worse.
If we “hurt” and stop moving, we get stiffer and weaker. Add this fact to an injury, and the muscle imbalances that result from compensating for the “pain,” and we are headed into a fast downward spiral for staying hurt, or injuring something else because we don’t have the strength we need to support our body to stay well in the first place.
I’m going to use myself as an inspirational example to illustrate how to creatively workout around your limitations to stay active and healthy. I’ve been injured probably more than I have been 100% healthy in my life – but I have always managed to stay active. It is not only our physical health that takes a beating when we stop moving, but mentally and psychologically we can quickly psych ourselves out of a healthy, happy attitude about life. Staying active and vigorous exercise has kept me on an even keel and relatively sane. When I can’t exercise… I get beyond grumpy and miserable. But there have been many weeks, months and even years of my life where pain and injury have caused my active lifestyle to come to a screeching halt. Here is what happened and how I have managed to come out healthier on the other side of each of these incidents:
- Diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in my ankles, age 14. Pain to walk (bone on bone). Continued “ignoring” the problem for 2-3 years, until I seriously thought I’d be in a wheelchair by 30.
- Retired from my sport of passion-gymnastics, took 1 year off from ALL (impact activities)
- Took up swimming and weight training to work out without pounding on my feet.
- Amazingly after 1 year of rest, I was young enough that my ankles stopped hurting. I went on to pursue a degree in Dance (you have to JUMP to dance) and ran my first ½ Marathon at age 45 with no foot pain.
- At 47 I am now jogging with healthy feet, 2-4 miles a couple of days a week.
- My enthusiasm for encouraging everybody to pay closer attention to the health and fitness of their feet is because I know first-hand how much can improve with rest and the right exercises!
- Lower Back Pain (started as a child.)
- Congenital bone deformities & instability. Exercise keeps it strong – lack of activity throws my back out!
- Gymnastics and Dance probably saved my back and kept me strong as a child.
- Pilates training has made a HUGE difference, for deep Core strength, posture improvement, and back support.
- Practicing good posture & breathing habits, Pilates, weight-training, and good functional movement habits for exercise, along with an occasional Chiropractic adjustment, or massage keeps my back healthy and pain-free.
- Torn Abdominal Muscle (an accident while exercising that took 10+ years to fully heal!)
- Acute stage of injury, I could not sit up, roll over, or even carry my car keys (for months.)
- “Exercise” Breathing & Meditation, plus time in the Sauna to work up a sweat.
- Progressed to walking in the pool and eventually swimming.
- Progressed to walking on land
- Eventually Pilates & Weight Training, and back to full activities without fear of re-injury.
- Optic Neuritis – (Inflammation of the Optic Nerve. I have been “blind” in either my right or left eye 3 times!) Aside from not being able to see… the pressure causes extreme headaches, and the treatment is high-dose steroids, (oh yeah – extreme weight gain and puffy moon face the first time this happened my weight skyrocketed, so not only did I have an eye problem, but serious weight issues too – I went from a size 8 to a size 16!) My doctor was kind enough to point out with impact activities or heavy weights I could tear my muscles and ligaments away from my bones while on the dosage I had to take for this medial issue.
- At the time of my last “flare” I was running regularly, and lifting heavy weights 2-3 days/week. Both contra-indicated for my health issues.
- Switched from running to walking and elliptical (non-impact)
- Continued “lifting” weights but put every weight on the lightest possible 5-15lbs and focused on form, to stay consistent with my workouts.
- Avoided ALL Head lower than my heart activities (to reduce pressure on my eye. i.e. NO upside down exercises)
- Regularly practiced meditation. (on steroids I could not sleep…averaged maybe 1-2 hours sleep/night for almost 9 months.) Meditation helped me feel rested, even though I was unable to sleep.
- I actually had to go on a full-blown “Detox” program to get off steroids and resolve the inflammation to restore my eyesight. Luckily, while the optic nerve has been damaged, I can still see!
- Diet & nutrition have also played an important part in reducing the amount of “inflammation” in my system to get and stay healthy.
Now at almost 50, I’m jogging, lifting heavy weights, doing Pilates, even handstands and indoor skydiving. Lots of higher impact, head-down training that involves healthy feet, a strong core and a good lower back. We are only limited by the limitations that we place on ourselves. And so many physical aches, pains and injuries can be made better with the right exercises in the right training program.
I want you to realize that these are 4 completely different problems; an overuse injury, a birth defect, an accident and a medical condition. The point is, regardless of the problem, chances are there is still something that you can do that will be safe for your body. Doing nothing will never help you feel better. While I have never been thrilled that ,yet again, there is something getting in the way of my “ideal” training plan. Each of these opportunities for me to do something different was more of a gift than a tragedy, because I learned some very important skills that I now have in my “exercise repertoire” and these new skills are mine for the rest of my life. Each time I have had to make an adjustment to what I can do that is safe for my body right now, I have grown in my understanding to listen to my body, respect what it needs and continue doing good things for me to grow as a person and stay healthy.
I hope as you were reading through my examples above that you have start thinking about your life situation, current aches & pains, and perhaps any injuries you are dealing with.
We all have our own unique health challenges, and suffer from injuries and accidents that get in the way of our wellness program. The challenge is not letting your “issues” get in the way, but using them as a springboard and valuable opportunity to learn new strategies for your “bag of tricks” to maintain your good health.
- What creative solutions can you incorporate, or new activities can you pursue, to keep you moving at an appropriate pace for you to progress back to 100 percent healthy? If you are not sure, seek professional advice to start crafting a plan to get you back to optimal health.
I want to challenge you, that if your Doctor gives you the green light to be active, pick safe and appropriate activities, ask for a referral for physical therapy, hire a good Personal Trainer, consider Pilates, water exercise, breathing, meditation, Qi Gong… what CAN you do?
If you cannot be vigorously active, what can you do that is moderate? And if you have really got to tone it down and moving your body much is out of the question, I never would have believed in the power of meditation for improving both physical and mental health, until that was ALL I could do, due to my own personal injuries. Heck, I like MOVING Meditation, but there’s a lot we can do, learn and heal in stillness.
Once you know what’s good for you whether you like it or not, get out there and DO IT. Chances are, if you are patient, like me, once you have recovered fully you just might find that you actually enjoy some of your new wellness activities, and you might also discover that your body is stronger, fitter and healthy enough to do ALL the sports and activities that feed your Soul.
What is a personal health challenge that you’ve had, and what creative training strategies did you use to recover, overcome your personal challenges and improve your health? If you’d like to be featured in a blog post or newsletter article to share your wellness success story and help inspire others to stay active and fit, please contact me, subject line: injury and exercise.
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