Don't Play Through the Pain: Alternative Exercises for Injured People
Whether you are a weekend warrior or a fitness fanatic, you probably do not like being sidelined with injuries. Time away from your favorite sport or activity means missing something you enjoy and all its health benefits. But experts say you should not ignore your injuries. Here's how you can keep exercising without worsening your injury.
Injuries Need to Heal
"I can't think of an injury you should play through," says Richard Cotton, exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. "Just about all injuries require recovery time."
Time is one thing most athletes do not want to give to an injury. But, Cotton says, patience is key to recovery.
"Coming back too quickly gets you into trouble. It can make an injury chronic." 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 some examples of alternative exercises for specific injuries.
"And there's no reason why you can't do upper leg exercise like the leg curl or leg extension," says John Jay Wooldridge, a Reebok Master Trainer. Just make sure there is no stress on your ankle.
"In many cases, an athlete will feel a muscle injury more while at rest," Wooldridge says. Hamstring injuries are especially common, often caused by rapid deceleration or change of direction. If you pull a muscle, Wooldridge says, you need to let it rest and follow the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method.
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 get a great workout using your abs and shoulder muscles," Wooldridge says.
"Avoid overhead movements and any arm position that causes pain," Cotton says. 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.
When You Can't Run
Running is the foundation of many fitness programs, because it produces such effective cardiovascular results. But it is also an activity that is very 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.
"Recent research shows that women on a stair-climbing program stayed in as good shape as women on a running program," Cotton explains. Stair climbers and elliptical trainers eliminate the repetitive pounding of running.
Wooldridge recommends circuit training for 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).
"Move as fast as you can between each station, and go through the whole circuit four or five times." Wooldridge recommends. "It will take almost an hour, and you'll get a great workout."
American College of Sports Medicine
National Strength and Conditioning Association
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/.
Fit facts. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/fitfacts.
National Strength and Conditioning Association website. Available at: http://www.nsca-lift.org/.
Last reviewed May 2011 by Brian Randall, MD