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Athletic Self Care: How to Stay Fit When Injured

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Athletic Self Care: How to Stay Fit When Injured

If you’re a regular exerciser, you’ve probably been injured at some point. It’s no fun giving up something that makes you feel so fantastic, whether it’s due to overexertion during a workout or an unlucky mishap outside the gym.

Many individuals are unaware that dealing with an injury is as much a mental as it is a physical one, and whether you have to take two days or two months off from work, it’s critical to prioritize both during your recuperation. That’s why being hurt hurts more more than you believe it does.

“When people are injured and unable to participate or succeed at their sport, they lose a little bit of their identity,” explains physical therapist Lauren Lou D.P.T., C.S.C.S. This is why rehabilitation for sportsmen or those who enjoy working out is so difficult. It is critical to recognize that the mental and social aspects of injury rehabilitation are just as vital as the physical.”

According to Frank Benedetto, P.T., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist who is board certified in sports and orthopedics, the emotional aspect of feeling sidelined is the most difficult challenge. “Most media coverage highlights the physical benefits of exercising frequently, but we also experience an enormous emotional benefit.”

Exercise has been shown to reduce stress, boost confidence, and even improve creativity. While it takes two to four weeks to lose strength and conditioning, the mental consequence of not exercising occurs practically immediately, according to Benedetto.

Having a strategy in place for when you need to take a break might make your life a lot easier. When dealing with an injury, here’s what rehab professionals recommend doing to care for both your mental and physical health.

How to Train If You’re Injured

How to Train If You're Injured

If you’re out for a day or two due to injuries…

The mental: Make good use of your vacation time.

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Missing an exercise or two is inconvenient, but Bonnie Marks, Psy.D., a senior psychologist at NYU Langone Health, says it’s crucial to remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world. Positive self-talk, she claims, is one of the most effective methods. Telling oneself things like, “It’s temporary, I can deal with it,” or “I’m still strong,” might help put things into perspective.

Aside from that, try to use the time effectively by planning your next training session, reaching out to others you know who have experienced with similar ailments for guidance, or connecting with a physical therapist or trainer to learn how to avoid the issue you’re now struggling with.

Marks recommends utilizing relaxation methods like meditation and progressive muscle relaxation to replace the mental release you get from working out.

The physical: Think of it as rest time.

Fortunately, even if it is unplanned, taking a day or two off from exercise is not a big concern. “I think it’s vital to think of a few days off as crucial to rehabbing a small injury — not only to prevent a more serious injury that would result in much more missed time — but also as performance recovery,” Lou adds.

“A lot of athletes think of training as making gains and rest as missing out on gains, but this isn’t entirely true; the body requires rest and recovery in order to maximize the benefit from training and working out.” Simply think of this time as extra rest and recovery so you can crush your next workout when you’re feeling better.

If you’re sidelined for a week or two because of unfortunate injuries…

Mentally, look at it as an opportunity to cross-train.

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Taking a week or two off from your favorite workout isn’t ideal. “It may be incredibly difficult mentally for athletes and those who love to work out to be sidelined for an extended period of time,” Lou explains. “This is a fantastic time to cross-train or to create time to exercise a specific strength or ability that will help with overall performance goals but gets ignored throughout times of training,” says one expert.

For example, if you’re a weightlifter who has injured your wrist, this might be a good time to do some aerobic activities you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Alternatively, if you’re a runner with a sprained ankle, you may work on upper body and core strength in the weight room. Whatever you select, it’s vital to set precise and attainable goals in order to stay focused and motivated, according to Lou.

The physical: Resolve the issue.

If you’re forced to miss work for more than a few days due to a non-acute ailment, it usually signifies your body is attempting to communicate with you. “The most important thing to remember, in my opinion, is that you can’t gain strength on an injury and without sufficient healing time,” says Krystina Czaja, D.P.T., a physical therapist at Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network.

“Most importantly, never disregard suffering,” she advises. “Pain is your body’s way of communicating that you are at risk of injury.” If you don’t have a catastrophic injury, such as a broken bone or wound, discomfort that prevents you from exercising usually suggests your body has been compensating for weakness, according to Czaja. “You should not only focus on the pain, but also on the cause of the agony.”

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According to Czaja, some effective methods include self-myofascial release through foam rolling, putting a lacrosse or tennis ball on sore areas, and performing mild movements that avoid the wounded area. If you’re unsure what to do, you should consult with a physical therapist.

If you’re sidelined for a month or two (or longer) because of your injuries…

If you're sidelined for a month or two (or longer) because of your injuries...

Mentally, stay positive, seek help, and take action.

“Long periods of time off can be psychologically and emotionally unpleasant,” Marks adds. Four critical points to remember:

  1. Mental health is just as vital as physical health.
  2. Social support is essential.
  3. You cannot regain complete fitness via willpower alone, but a cheerful attitude has been proved to considerably improve recovery.
  4. You can move toward rehabilitation by doing something every day.

“Taking action, even if it’s as simple as doing PT exercises or cooking a healthy meal,” she continues, “may alleviate feelings of powerlessness and poor self-esteem while also aiding to physical recovery.” (When recovering from an injury, experts recommend integrating anti-inflammatory foods into your nutritious meals.)

The physical: Request an alternate.

If you’re going to be out of action for an extended period of time, a skilled physical therapist will offer you alternatives and substitutions to your typical workout, according to Benedetto.

Unless you have a full-body ailment, there is nearly always something else you can do to be active. “Walking, swimming, and yoga are excellent general choices,” he continues, “but practically any workout can be adapted to accommodate pain with the correct method.” You can work with a professional to maintain strength and fitness so that you’re ready to return to action when the time comes. (You should also improve your mobility to avoid further injuries.)