Did you hurt yourself? Ouch! We've definitely been there — and it definitely sucks. But while an injury can be frustrating and painful, it doesn't necessarily have to hold you back from exercising.
"An injury provides you with an opportunity to work on other areas of your health and well-being," said trainer Caroline Jordan, creator of the Hurt Foot Fitness Course and Strong Body Beautiful program. "It allows you to learn more about yourself and grow stronger inside and out. It provides an opportunity to learn how to be more self-compassionate. It also provides time to reflect on things that may need to change in your life."
"An injury provides you with an opportunity to work on other areas of your health and well-being."
Jordan's approach is a positive one, especially because she has dealt with a sidelining injury herself — and managed to stay active throughout her recovery. "Healing through an injury is challenging but can also be a blessing," she shared. "With the right mindset and support, you can take care of yourself through an injury, heal correctly, and come back stronger, wiser, and better than before."
We spoke with both Jordan and injury-prevention expert Liz Letchford, MS, ATC, about the nitty-gritty when it comes to working out while recovering and healing from some bodily damage.
Can You Exercise With an Injury?
Short answer: YES! Both trainers we talked to gave a thumbs-up to continuing training, with certain restrictions, based on the particular injury you have.
"As long as you have clearance from your physician, athletic trainer, and/or physical therapist, you're good to go," said Letchford.
"In fact, when done safely, exercise can be an important way to accelerate healing," said Jordan. "The healing process requires good blood circulation and a satisfactory flow of nutrient-replenishing blood to the injury area."
How Soon Can You Work Out After You're Injured?
According to Letchford, the waiting period post injury is "at least 72 hours to allow adequate time for the body's inflammatory process to take place." She said that this resting period is essential to recovery.
"Significant additional blood flow to an area that is inflamed might cause what we call secondary hypoxic injury," she said. "This occurs whenever there is too much inflammation, ultimately resulting in a reduced ability to heal the injured tissue." Take her advice, and give yourself three full days of rest before you get back out there, even if you think it's just a low-key exercise.
Which Injuries Would Prevent You From Working Out?
"Concussions, injuries to the spine, any cardiovascular injury, or illness would preclude you from exercising," said Letchford. And Jordan agreed: "If the injury has been to an essential organ or your brain (like a hernia, concussion, or injury to the skin), you should rest until a doctor clears you to elevate your heart rate or work up a sweat."
Which Exercises Are OK to Do With an Injury?
"There are many exercises that you can do that will spare an injured limb while helping you maintain your overall fitness," said Letchford.
Jordan emphasized that "exercise choices when recovering from an injury need to be safe, smart, and not put any stress on the injury, which means you are going to have to get creative." Meaning, of course, that you can't do shoulder presses if you have an injured shoulder, and you should probably avoid box jumps if you have an injured knee. It seems like common sense, but you never know! "If you have one limb injured, for example, you can continue to exercise the other three limbs as long as you don't feel pain at the injury site [during exercise]," said Letchford.
"It's important to remember that when you are healing from an injury, healing needs to be your number one priority."
It all depends on your injury, but there are some options that are pretty universally acceptable during recovery. "Often, low-impact or non-weight-bearing workouts (think aqua jogging or floor-based physical therapy exercises) are a safe choice," said Jordan. "You might have to get creative with workouts and find ways to safely support yourself through keeping your muscles moving and your mind positive while you recover."
Which Exercises Should You Avoid Altogether?
"Avoid moving or exercising the injured area and the joints surrounding the injury unless cleared by your physician, athletic trainer, or physical therapist," said Letchford. "If it hurts, don't do it."
And of course avoid "anything that puts you at risk for reinjury or more pain!" said Jordan. "High-impact or explosive movements are usually something to avoid when healing. She encourages you to learn to listen to your body while you're injured. "If anything puts your injury healing in jeopardy or hurts, stop."
Also, a solid reminder from Jordan: "You certainly don't have time (or money!) to get another injury!" Pushing too hard while you're hurt can set you back even further. "Honor what you need to do for healing and move mindfully," she said. "Put your ego to rest and be good to yourself. It's always better to be safe than to be sorry." And above all, she told POPSUGAR, "It's important to remember that when you are healing from an injury, healing needs to be your number one priority."