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Return to Working Out After Injury

By David Vindiola, Fitness Director at The Ocotillo Village Health Club & Spa

Whether you took a fall, had an accident or over-exerted yourself resulting in an injury, the toughest part is knowing when and how to get back to your pre-injury routine.  Injuries can often be very frustrating because it only takes a second to cause damage that can take weeks or months to repair. If you are unsure where to begin, follow these tips to get you safely back to your fitness routine. With time you can return to the same activity, or potentially even better and stronger than you were before!

Consult with a Doctor and make a gameplan

First, it’s important to get cleared from your doctor to gradually start exercising again. You may need to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist or personal trainer who can show you exercises that will help relieve any remaining pain or tension. These trained professionals can also help you create a plan, recommend exercises based on your injuries or limitations, and ensure you do not over-exert or put added strain on your injury.


You may also want to schedule regular sessions with a registered massage therapist (RMT) at your Village Spa. A quality massage can help accelerate the healing of damaged tissues by increasing blood flow to the affected area and decrease any underlying tension that is limiting your range of motion or activity.

Likely your health providers will tell you to moderate the amount and intensity of exercise, suggesting you not to go full steam ahead even if you are itching to get back into your old routine. Heed this advice, it can save you days and months of setbacks, be patient and take the time to recover.

Start Slowly

Consider this equation: double the time you have been off your feet or out of commission. That is a general guide to know how long you should wait before returning to exercise after an injury. Starting at full speed will not help you recover faster—it can slow the recovery process. It is typically not just the injured area that is affected, but other muscles, ligaments or tendons that suffered alongside. With the added rest and downtime of recovery, you may be more de-conditioned, and have lost coordination, flexibility, and strength in other body parts of your body. By ramping up too quickly, you can potentially re-injure the area or injure other parts of the body by overcompensating.


Whether you are lifting weights, running, cycling, or playing team sports, your doctor will likely advise you to decrease your initial efforts by 30- 75% of normal. You will then slowly increase your exercise efforts gradually on a weekly or monthly basis.


A wonderful way to return to exercise safely is to work 1-on-1 with a personal trainer. Your personal trainer can create a safe plan that strategically increases your exercise load and intensity at a predetermined rate, minimizing the risk of re-injury or any potential setbacks.

Try Something New

Since your body must adjust to movement again, ask your doctor about different sports or exercises to improve your recovery. If you are a diehard runner this may mean swimming or cross-training, which exercises various parts of the body, while letting other areas recover. New exercises can also help you to rebuild strength while not focusing on the sport or activity which may have been the cause of the injury.


Low-impact activities are good exercises for injuries. Especially ones that supply a cardiovascular benefit while being easy on the joints. Including some yoga and Pilates classes is a terrific way to bring in another low impact activity. Mix up your routine to give your body time to rest in between your workouts, swimming one day and walking the next day. If you do lower body strength training on Monday, focus on the upper body on Tuesday, allowing you to safely target various muscle groups and rest others.

Balance and Stretching

Stretching and balancing exercises are helpful when returning to exercise after injury. Warm up before you begin and cool down at the end. Ask your doctor, physical therapist or personal trainer which stretches to do and for how long. They can also help give you advice on the best warm-up exercises, so your body can be ready for more intense activity. Balance exercises are also helpful as you recover since your body has probably lost some muscle strength and tone and your stabilizing core muscles have become less conditioned. These balance and stability exercises are vital to help strengthen your core muscles while also improving your posture. These both play a key role in preventing future injury as you return to your activity.

Don’t Ignore Pain

If you are or were an athlete or have a competitive streak you might feel that when returning to exercise after injury, that it is best to ignore or push through the pain. This is not smart, as ignoring pain is a surefire way to hurt yourself again. Ask your doctor or physical therapist what kind of pain or discomfort is acceptable as you exercise and what should prompt you to stop or back off. Stopping painful exercise should make your body feel better. If the pain persists or if becomes more severe, you may need to take it easy for 3-5 days and come back with more caution. That painful feeling is a sign from your body that you overdid it and need to heal more and rest.


As you return to activities and exercise, take time to evaluate what you are doing that may have contributed to the injury in the first place. It could be a symptom of poor body mechanics or improper footwear. Consider why you may have sustained an injury and use this time early on to make any modifications you feel are necessary. This is also an area where a physical therapist or a personal trainer can help prevent further injuries.


Keep in mind: An injury happens in an instance, but recovery takes time. Be patient with the process of recovery and do not try to do too much too soon.  Follow these steps to recover and with time you will be able to return to your sport or activity in a much better position and with much less chance of re-injuring yourself.

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