4 Mistakes Too Many People Make After Getting Injured

Discovering a fitness routine that’s actually enjoyable is like finding buried treasure in the workout wasteland. Instead of avoiding doing something good for your body, you may find you can’t wait to run that next race or attend another group fitness class. The excitement can turn to frustration when aches and pains start popping up. Soon enough, you could find yourself injured enough that you can’t engage in your choice activity.

For most guys, the next step is scheduling a physical therapy appointment. Once there, patients can expect a pretty thorough evaluation. You’ll address not just your specific ailment, but your overall strength, range of motion, and ability to control movements. Then you’ll figure out a timeline, which is often four to six weeks, to get you back in the game. For some guys, though, their time on the sidelines can stretch into something much longer.

With the help of some industry exerts, we’ve uncovered four mistakes you could be making without even realizing it. Read on to find out where your recovery may be going wrong so you stop feeling lousy and put that injury to rest once and for all.

1. Waiting too long before addressing an injury

injury, exercise, workout

Man with a knee injury | Source: iStock

Feeling a twinge in your knee or ankle from time to time isn’t that unusual. But when those occasional pains become a persistent problem, you could be on the path to a nasty ailment. While most of us are tempted to ignore the pain, convinced it will go away on its own, that strategy could end up leaving you completely unable to participate in your favorite sport in a few weeks.

Brian Hoy, PT, director of clinical operations, and director of spine care at Pivot Physical Therapy, said visiting your physical therapist when the pain first starts is the better plan. Doing so can “prevent that shoulder pain from developing into a rotator cuff tear or prevent that IT band pain from developing into a lumbar dysfunction,” he said. It could be the difference between sitting out for weeks versus several months.

Things are a bit different if you get a one-time injury like a sprain. You’ll need to stay off that leg as much as possible initially, but you should make every effort to see the physical therapist about three days after the incident. Though it’s too early to begin strengthening the compromised ankle, these professionals can introduce some massage techniques that can go a long way towards helping you recover. “That sort of thing could actually fast-forward somebody’s ability to walk a little bit — by several weeks, sometimes,” said Jonathan Jezequel, DPT at Orthology  (formerly New York Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy).

2. Doing too much too soon

weight, barbell, gym, clean and press

Trying to jump right back to your regular routine is a bad idea | Source: iStock

Athletes often find success on the court or track thanks to their competitive drive, but it can also lead to some problems if they aren’t able to be patient when they’re hurt. It’s especially difficult in the initial recovery phase. Jezequel said most injuries require 72 hours of rest, and severe ones might call for up to 10 days. Don’t think you can get away with trying to hide your noncompliance, because these injury professionals will call your bluff. If you engage in too much activity too soon, the area will often be red and swollen. “They’re body sort of tattletales on them,” Jezequel said.

For most injuries, “day 10 to 21 is when we can start to challenge that healing tissue a little more with some resistance exercises,” Jezequel said. The key is going slow. The area will be much weaker than it was prior to the injury, so you have to be careful about how hard you push yourself. If you’re trying to get back to CrossFit, for example, you can’t begin where you left off. “We always have them start with less weight so their body can adapt to the movement without causing an injury,” said Hoy.

You’d also be wise to step away from the gym every so often. “One of the prescribed activities for getting stronger and healing is to schedule rest days,” Hoy said. You don’t necessarily have to do nothing, but something gentle like a walk can help eliminate the lactic acid, a byproduct which contributes to sore muscles. Every individual is a little bit different, but Jezequel recommended allowing 24 to 48 hours for your body to recover between your regular workouts.

3. Not challenging yourself enough

Man Napping on a Couch, sleep, sweatpants

Sitting around on the couch all day won’t help you recover your strength | Source: iStock

Though most people who regularly exercise fall victim to challenging themselves too much after an injury, some might wind up doing the opposite. Like overexerting yourself, taking it too easy can also derail your recovery efforts. Once you’ve gone through the initial rest phase, it’s time to get to work. “If that person, after 72 hours or 10 days, is continuing to protect that area too much, that repair tissue actually gets too stiff,” Jezequel said. This poses a huge issue for mobility and could make it incredibly difficult to perform activities that used to be easy. You may even develop some strange form during physical activity, resulting in a completely different injury.

Regularly attending appointments will definitely help, but it’s still not enough. “Even if someone is coming in for 2 hours a week, there’s 168 hours in a week,” Jezequel said. Physical therapists always prescribe activities for patients to perform on their own time and it really will make a difference in your recovery process.

Hoy said avoiding the needed exercises is common for people who suffer from back pain. “It’s like pulling teeth to get them to do anything,” he said. Once a physical therapist is able to convince a patient to get moving and educate them on what’s safe, people are amazed at how much better they feel. Unfortunately, this can also lead to some issues since many people stop doing their prescribed exercises the instant they feel better. Hoy said many patients give up their program after three months, and he has plenty of research on his side.

In these cases, education is the most critical part of the recovery process. “Initially, the exercises are more guided,” Jezequel said. “Then, as they move forward in time, we kind of fall away like training wheels and the person is able to fully self-manage.” From there, it’s up to the athlete to maintain the routine. Once again, every individual is going to be different. Some may reach the point where they don’t need to strengthen an old injury, but certain conditions may require a person to adopt a lifelong routine.

4. Ignoring the role flexibility plays

walk, lunge

Flexibility matters just as much as strength | Source: iStock

Athletes tend to be concerned with speed and strength. Except for gymnasts, very few devote much attention to flexibility. According to Hoy, that’s a big mistake. “One of the most important things people need to learn how to do is stretch correctly to keep proper mobility,” he said. “Strength without flexibility is kind of like speed without direction: It’s useless.” In the case of retraining a former injury it’s especially key. Think about a sprained ankle. It might be healed and strong, but completely lacking in the mobility department. If the joint isn’t flexible, you’re a lot more likely to sprain it in the future since it’s harder for the ankle to adjust properly when you land at an odd angle.

Stretching doesn’t just mean holding a position for 30 seconds, either. This method, called static stretching, is what most people recognize, but it’s not the best option if you’re preparing for physical activity. Hoy explained these moves calm the neuromuscular system, which can diminish athletic performance. Instead, you want to go for dynamic stretching when you’re gearing up for sports. Think high knees, leg swings, walking lunges, and skipping. “Dynamic means your stretches are shorter in duration, quicker, and they’re warming the body up for activity,” he said. Save the slow, steady stretching for afterwards.

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