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How to Exercise When You're Injured

03/10/2015 01:21 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT
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Broken twisted angle - running sport injury. Male runner touching foot in pain due to sprained ankle. Click for more:

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For many people who have not found the true gift of exercise and what it can do for your body, mind and soul; the very thought of getting started can be overwhelming. Add an injury or chronic pain to the equation and the outcome becomes even more dismal. Having an injury, whether acute or chronic in nature, can present a huge setback in your fitness, health and overall well-being. Although injuries may change what you can and can't do temporarily or indefinitely, it is important to realize that your mind-set can either be one of your biggest strengths or your ultimate demise.

For the moderate-to-avid exerciser, the occurrence of an injury is not foreign and quite often can wreak havoc on motivation and therefore results -- but should it? The fact of the matter is, injuries are common and at some point we all experience an injury or chronic pain in our lives. Being active on a consistent basis and taking care of your physical health can be part of an effective injury prevention plan. But what happens when you do get injured -- should you stop activity?

Depending on the severity, your plan should consist of addressing the injury through proper diagnosis with a health care professional and then seeking help to devising a plan that will get you active as soon as possible. Once you've been diagnosed and begin seeking the proper treatment, you should notice that the degree of inflammation and pain should become progressively less. As long as you are relatively mobile it is important to get back into exercise while continuing your rehabilitation and treatment.

For example, if you have an injury to your shoulder joint, this shouldn't be something that keeps you away from the gym and off exercise. There are many ways that you can work around this injury in order to stay active. This will not only be good for you physically, but also provide a positive mental boost.

The human body was designed to be active. In today's society, one that is based on convenience, aesthetics and quick fixes; it becomes easy to fall victim to inactivity with the onset of an obstacle. Having an injury can make this downfall a quick reality. The problem is, with lack of exercise our body is left to stagnate and our spirit and motivation to wilt.

So, here's your best defense to keep those fitness goals in sight and get back to full recovery when you are experiencing injury-provoked despair -- no matter what your current fitness level is at.

Assess and Diagnose -- know what you're dealing with

If you have not yet obtained the expertise of a health practitioner -- the time is now. Seek a medical doctor and likely a physiotherapist to ensure you receive proper diagnosis and recommendations for rehabilitation. Too often people will let days, months and even years pass without assessing the root reasons for pain and discomfort. Your body should be your number one asset, always invest in your health first.

Treatment and Rehabilitation -- your new game plan

Consulting an exercise specialist is a great step to take once you have properly diagnosed your injury and have begun rehabilitation. Your treatment plan may be a collaborative effort between a physiotherapist and a qualified personal trainer to ensure that you have a proper individualized plan. With joint injuries your first step will be to control inflammation while progressively working on re-stabilizing the joint and increasing the pain-free range of motion.

Determine your pain-free range of motion by using a simple scale of 1-10. A score of 1 would be barely noticeable, a score of 2-5, increasingly noticeable but tolerable and a score of 6-10 becoming increasingly painful -- these ranges should be avoided.

Over time, the results of inflammation reduction and increased circulation to the joint, should allow your pain-free range to become greater (i.e. you are able to lift your arm higher before getting to a 5/10 on the pain scale). Remember, it is important not to rush your rehabilitation. Be patient and consistent while training other areas of the body where you can take a much more progressive approach. The body and its cells have their own timeframe for healing; you enhance this to its maximum potential but you cannot rush the process.

Refocus your Training -- Seize the Opportunity

It is important to take this time to re-establish your current goals to include rehabilitating your injury but also see this obstacle as an opportunity to redirect your efforts in another area of your fitness. For example, if you were running prior to attaining a knee injury; take this opportunity to focus on building your core and upper body strength while rehabilitating your knee. Depending on the severity and the progression of your injury, this may also be a good opportunity to focus on non-impact cardiovascular activities like cycling, rowing or boxing. Often when one obstacle comes up, a new perspective is created and perhaps a new mode of exercise is discovered that you absolutely love!

Prehab - Performance and Prevention

Any great fitness regime should include some elements of prehab. Prehab involves a fitness strategy that incorporates exercises with the idea of injury prevention. This can range from joint stability exercises, postural and core conditioning as well as myofascial release techniques. The idea behind this strategy is to increase circulation to the joints, muscles and tendons, while in addition build tissue tolerance. Pre-workout, this approach assists in warming your muscles, breaking down adhesions, increasing muscle pliability and priming your nervous system for activity. Post-workout, the benefits can help restore your muscles to their original length, increase elasticity and assist in removal of lactic acid through promoting circulation. All together, this pre/post prehab approach to your training routine should be an integral component to enhancing performance, restoring flexibility and dramatically reducing the risk of injury.

Combat Inflammation -- Enhance your recovery

When there is pain and discomfort, there is generally inflammation. It is important to decrease inflammation with any acute injury as soon as you can through rest, ice, compression and elevation. Moving the bad cells out of the area of injury sooner is going to make the recovery quicker and reduce pain faster.

It can also help to take anti-inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen to assist with reducing inflammation and managing pain. Moderate use of safe anti-inflammatory agents can be an effective short-term management system to allow you to stay active while rehabilitating your injury. It is important to have an injury assessed first by a medical professional to diagnose and develop an appropriate plan that will ensure you are taking the right steps to heal your injury while effectively staying active. If your injury persists or worsens over a short period of time, chances are you are pushing yourself too hard or doing activities that are aggravating your injury.

If you are experiencing chronic pain, you may want to also take a closer look at your diet. There are several foods that are pro-inflammatory in nature such as foods high in sugar and saturated fat. Minimizing your intake of these foods while increasing anti-inflammatory foods containing healthy fats (such as salmon, avocado and nuts) can be a great way to combat inflammation and associated chronic pain. The majority of North Americans do not get enough Omega 3's (healthy fats) in their diet so it is often recommended to compliment a healthy diet with a high quality Omega 3 supplement. The benefits of Omega 3 supplementation are numerous. Not only can this help with reducing inflammation and enhancing cellular function; for the active exerciser Omega 3 supplementation can have performance-enhancing benefits such as reduced post-workout soreness and enhanced overall recovery from exercise.

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