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5 Tips To Survive and Thrive After A Fitness Injury

  • LiveWell360 Staff
  • September 30, 2015

Recovering from injury is no one’s idea of fun. When you’re committed to fitness as part of a healthy lifestyle, an injury is frustrating, depressing and painful. “Getting back in the game quickly” is usually the unspoken battle cry for every fitness enthusiast during recovery.

I’m Melissa Burton, aka TheValentineRD, a Registered Dietitian, parent and an often injured fitness enthusiast. It took a 10 year cycle of injury and re-injury to learn that only a smart recovery will allow for a long term active lifestyle. I went from withdrawing from 4 half marathons in as many years to participating in 200 mile relay races in less than 6 months.
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If you’re committed to long term fitness and want to come back from injury with a greater foundation of physical strength and mental stamina, try these 5 tips:

5 Tips to Survive and Thrive After a Fitness Injury

1. See a Healthcare Professional and Ask Questions to Understand Your Injury

If you get injured, see a healthcare professional. Let someone qualified make the call on whether your injury is major or minor. Too many of us brush off an injury as minor when it could be the path to something severe.

Understanding your injury is a priority, so ask questions! There’s nothing wrong with writing down (word for word, if need be) what the healthcare professional tells you. Remember, you can even use your phone to take notes! Having a record of information will prevent any later “brain drain” and feeling clueless.

Here’s a list of questions to ask:

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2. Work Your Treatment Plan

That’s right, you better work (thank you, RuPaul)! Once you have a clear treatment plan, follow the directions you’ve been given by your health care team or you will not recover well. A treatment plan should be custommade for your injury, taking into account your past medical history and could include medication, exercises, wearing immobilization devices and/or ice or heat sessions.

Don’t give up early on your treatment plan! During every recovery effort, there is the critical time when the initial pain of an injury begins to subside/mobility is gained etc. and it’s easy to slack on your treatment plan directions. Don’t be fooled by the getting over the initial hump of injury.  Full recovery takes time!

Communication with your healthcare team is essential to ensure your best treatment plan.

I was dedicated to my PT exercises during my last recovery bout. When my recovery wasn’t progressing in a timely manner, my Physical Therapist altered my running focus treatment plan to purely Pilates Therapy. I was devastated. I felt like a failure and I mourned the loss of what I considered “real exercise” (running and indoor cycling).

It took a long time to finally come to terms with the fact that my Physical Therapist (who had worked with track running athletes in the Olympics), might know better about what was best for my long term recovery (and any future running). I eventually learned to suck it up and work the plan.

3. Make Life (and Exercise) Modifications

Injury changes everything – activities of daily life and exercise. Your treatment plan (or the questions you asked your healthcare professional) should provide the modifications you’ll need.

During Treatment: Exercise may look very different during and after recovery. I never would have guessed that two forms of exercise that I heartedly dismissed as being inferior – Pilates (see at WundaBar Pilates below) and Pool Group Classes, would prove to be key in getting me back to running and yoga classes.

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Rest: Even something as simple as rest may be given a new definition while recovering from an injury (for me it meant not lying down and staying off my feet for hours to “rest my back” but instead, it meant walking more than resting).

Post Recovery: Even if you’re fully recovered, you still have a history of injury.

Be Proactive: Let instructors and shoe sales people know about your injury, even if they don’t ask.

Be Mindful: During activity, be aware of how your body feels. If something doesn’t feel right, back off.  Fast.

I still need a little help with my own post recovery advice. My orthopedist advised against indoor cycling with my L4/L5, L5/S1 lower back injury because it did not rely on core strength as much as an outdoor bicycle would. After being dismissed from PT for nearly a year, I went back to spinning for a few months and recently felt a back twinge. I now realize that spinning classes are beyond what my chronic injury can handle and need to modify my exercise activities.

4. Focus on Healthy Intake

Recovery progression can definitely be influenced by healthy intake. Post injury, intake of adequate protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats is exceptionally important. Now isn’t the time to diet. Oftentimes calorie needs increase after injury. Muscles may shrink (but won’t turn to fat) if they are not used but once recovery is achieved and exercise is resumed, muscles can be rebuilt to what they were pre-injury.

It is a good idea to focus on the following nutrients during recovery:

Protein (eggs, meats, low fat dairy, nuts, legumes or other vegetarian sources): For healing processes and muscle repair

Vitamin C (broccoli, peppers, kiwi, citrus and berries): helps build new protein, maintain bone and cartilage and protect the body against damaging free radicals

Zinc (chicken, nuts, seeds, oysters, oatmeal and tofu): To aid in healing and help support the immune system

Vitamin D and Calcium (milk, low fat dairy, leafy green vegetables): Especially important in bone related injuries or surgeries.

Healthy Fats (nuts, nut butters, avocado, olive and canola oils):To help reduce inflammation, focus on increasing Omega 3 fatty acids coming from flax seed, salmon, walnuts or oily fish and reducing Omega 6 fatty acids (corn, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed and soy or partially hydrogenated oils).

5. Connect with Others

Sometimes knowing you’re not alone in the way you’re feeling makes a difference. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an elite athlete, you have injured brethren out there on the internet and social media.  For me, my IRL and virtual friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and listservs helped me through the dark days. I wouldn’t have done either of my 200 mile relays if it weren’t for social media.

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Google “I am an injured runner” and there are plenty of articles, blogposts or motivational images that might strike a chord. It’s good to know you’re not the only one out there that wants to smack every person posting about their awesome run/spin class/race/yoga session. However, I have one major warning:

Use the internet as support NOT advice! WebMD is usually advice from a medical doctor but only your healthcare professional knows your medical history and injury history. If you read something interesting, contact your healthcare professional and let them give you the best answer on whether it’s right for your recovery.

So, those are the 5 tips I learned during my last major bout of injury recovery. I hope if you ever get injured (or are recovering right now) that these tips might change your downtime into a time that builds back more than an injured body!

Good luck and feel free to connect with me at thevalentineRD.comor via or Instagram (mburton0214) I’d love to find out more about your next fitness adventure!

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