Whether you are a weekend warrior or a fitness fanatic, you probably don't like being sidelined with injuries. Time away from your favorite sport or activity means missing something you enjoy with all its health benefits. However, experts say you should not ignore your injuries. Here's how you can keep exercising without worsening your injury.
Nearly all injuries require recovery time, but time can be the hardest thing for an athlete to give.
The key to recovery is patience. Returning to sports or activities too soon can make your injury worse. The best bet is to return to your sport only when you have been given clearance by your doctor, trainer, or physical therapist.
With most injuries, alternative activities can allow you to rest the injured area while still getting exercise. In fact, you just might find a few new activities to love. Here are a few examples of alternative exercises for specific injuries.
An ankle sprain can take you out of commission for many sports and activities. You can keep fit by doing other activities, such as rowing, that rely on the upper body and do not stress the ankle.
You can also do strength training exercises like leg curls or leg extensions. Just make sure there is no stress on your ankle.
Knee injuries can be serious, and trying to keep going through a knee injury could make it much worse or permanent. Talk to your doctor or trainer to find out if cycling or riding a recumbent bike will make your injury worse. If not, these might be good replacement activities, because they take the weight off your legs. If your knee injury is more serious than that, consider jumping into the pool for an aerobic workout.
Trying to play through a pulled muscle or tendon is tempting, because once your muscles warm up, you may not feel the injury as much. It is better to resist the temptation
Hamstring injuries are especially common, often caused by rapid deceleration or change of direction. If you pull a muscle, you need to let it rest. Follow RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to ease symptoms.
One way to work up a sweat using only upper body muscles is to toss around a medicine ball with a partner for a while. Try it for 20 or 30 minutes just tossing it back and forth, not running around at all. You'll workout using your abs and shoulder muscles.
An aching Achilles tendon has been the downfall of many athletes. So, if you feel pain, do not ignore it. Take a break from all sports that make it worse, especially running or activities that involve running. Using a rowing machine is a good way to stay fit while resting your Achilles tendon. You may be able to use an elliptical trainer as well.
Players of racquet sports are familiar with elbow pain. If a case of tennis elbow starts to interfere with your game, take time off to let the injury heal. You can keep running and doing interval training, including plenty of short bursts of speed and side-to-side movements to stay in top tennis shape.
Hurting your shoulder can interfere with your ability to participate in a host of popular recreational sports. You do not want to serve, swim, swing, or throw with a shoulder injury. With particularly painful shoulder injuries, even the arm-swinging inherent to running can be too much to take.
Avoid overhead movements and any arm position that causes pain. And make sure you get professional guidance before picking up a racquet or swimming again. Do as much lower-body weight training as you can handle. Try running, cycling, stair climbing, and even rowing.
Running is the foundation of many fitness programs, because it produces such effective cardiovascular results. But it is also an activity that is likely to be hampered by a sports injury. It's impossible to mimic the effects of running, but you can come close by using a stair climber or elliptical trainer.
Circuit training also helps runners who are taking time off the road. Have 10 or 12 weight machines that you want to use, and go through them in a regular pattern. Do one set on each machine with light to moderate weight—less weight than you would usually use.
There are many more safe and effective exercises you can do when injured. You may need to try a number of them to find the right one. Working with a physical therapist or personal trainer may help.
American College of Sports Medicine
National Strength and Conditioning Association
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
Basic knee injury prevention. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/public-information/articles/2016/10/07/basic-knee-injury-prevention. Accessed April 18, 2017.
Resistance training and injury prevention. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/rtandip.pdf. Accessed April 18, 2017.
Return to play. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00365. Updated August 2007. Accessed April 18, 2017.
Return to play—a coach's guide. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/return-to-play----a-coach's-guide.pdf. Accessed April 18, 2017.
Sports injuries. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sports_Injuries. Updated February 2016. Accessed April 18, 2017.
Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 4/18/2017