Every time you move you put yourself at risk of injury. Regardless of whether you are a competitive athlete or just an average person looking to stay fit, if you’re injured then there is an important process to go through to heal properly and get back to competition, even if “competition” for you means towing kids on your bike while they yell at you from the carrier, “Faster, Mommy! Faster!”
Depending on the degree of your injury, there are a number of professionals that can and should be consulted. The first stop should be your family physician. One of the benefits of this is that they can assess your injury and recommend the strategy of treatment. Being that we’re in Canada, we’ve also got the benefit of this being free of charge.
Beyond that, you may end up seeking assistance from a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, a massage therapist and possibly even a personal trainer to instruct you on some rehabilitative strength training.
Types of Injury
The first type, called macrotrauma, is a sudden, specific episode of injury. In other words, you feel immediate pain and know you hurt yourself. Profanity often ensues. My back blow out was an example of macrotrauma.
The other type is called microtrauma, and comes from repeated stress over time. Things like sore shins from frequent running would be an example. Instead of profanity, this type of injury usually results in low-level grumbling.
Phase 1: Inflammation
This is the body’s initial response to injury and generally lasts two to three days. The injured area can become red and swollen and you need to manage it carefully so that you don’t interfere with the rehabilitation process.
First off, you don’t want to get in the way of disrupting the development of new tissue (a natural healing response). The primary treatment options are RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to be a couch potato. For example, if your shoulder is injured, you can still exercise your legs.
Phase 2: Repair
After inflammation the body begins repairing damaged tissue by creating new tissue, but the resilience of this new tissue is low. Lasting as long as eight weeks, the treatment goal for this phase is to prevent the muscles and joints of the effected area from deteriorating, so you need to start exercising them more directly, although gently and with extreme caution.
There are going to be new and relatively weak collagen fibers growing in the injured area during this phase. These new fibers are not going to be optimally aligned and may form adhesions that prevent a full range of motion. To get the collagen fibers to synthesize and align properly requires movement, but no rehabilitation exercises should be attempted without first consulting with a physician, athletic therapist, or physical therapist.
A popular strategy for this phase is isometric exercise, where the target muscle has resistance placed on it but the joint does not move. It is generally advised that one perform isometric strengthening at multiple joint angles for a damaged area.
Phase 3: Remodelling
This is the final phase of healing where the new collagen fibers begin to strengthen tissues and you can return to regular activity.
The important part of this phase is to avoid the desire to do too much, too soon. You need to transition slowly from easier exercises to more challenging ones, and then lastly to sport-specific exercise designed to replicate the movements of your chosen sport (if you have one).
Considering what a spaz I am, I feel kind of foolish writing this, but the best rehabilitative strategy is to avoid getting injured in the first place. In other words, be careful, and don’t overdo it.
James S. Fell is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a middle-aged family man with a desk job and not much free time, yet he’s able to keep in shape because he loves exercise and doesn’t mind eating healthy. He is the author of Body for Wife: The Family Guy’s Guide to Getting in Shape.