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What's the Best Way to Rehab an Injury? Skip the Couch!

When the weather warms up, a lot of us head outdoors for activities like our favorite sport, cycling, walking or running. Sometimes an injury can slow us down. The most common injuries include sprains and strains, knee injuries, swollen muscles, Achilles tendon injuries, fractures and dislocations.

Does an injury mean you’re relegated to the recliner throughout your rehab? A growing number of active people are finding continuing to move during recovery can give them a jumpstart in resuming their normal activities.

We used to treat injuries such as stress fractures, runner’s knee or plantar fasciitis with RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. An over-the-counter pain reliever might be used. This worked, but it meant while athletes were resting, they would lose fitness levels they had worked hard to achieve. Cardiovascular fitness drops off quickly without regular activity.

Active individuals who are sidelined also miss the positive mental boost of exercise (and who doesn’t need more positives in their days?). Exercise is a known stress buster, and the strain of forced down time can reduce our resistance to viruses and other illnesses associated with stress.

These days injured athletes are commonly encouraged to stay as active as possible, without aggravating their injury. And it’s wise to find the root cause of the injury and address it. An athlete might confer with a professional for guidance. Questions that may be asked include: Is there a technique or equipment change that would be helpful? Is there a muscle weakness that should be addressed? Is there a nutrition issue? Is the athlete staying hydrated?

We’ll explore which low-impact physical activities the athlete can safely take part in. Swimming, cycling, rowing or walking can keep a level of cardiovascular health. Strength training can help keep muscle tone. Yoga is catching on as a low-impact fitness activity. Keep in mind, your body is a “use it or lose it” machine!

These activities can keep the blood flowing at a higher level and help healing. Plus being active helps improve your sleep patterns.

During injury recovery, pay attention to pain. It’s your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Don’t just mask pain with a pain reliever. It may cause you to make an injury worse.

An ounce of prevention

Since it makes more sense to avoid injury, here are some tips from the National Institutes of Health for preventing common injuries:

  • Don’t bend your knees more than half way when doing knee bends.
  • Don’t twist your knees when you stretch. Keep your feet as flat as you can.
  • When jumping, land with your knees bent.
  • Do warm-up exercises before you play any sport.
  • Always stretch before you play or exercise.
  • Don’t overdo it.
  • Cool down after hard sports or workouts.
  • Wear shoes that fit properly, are stable and absorb shock.
  • Use the softest exercise surface you can find. Limit running on asphalt or concrete.
  • Run on flat surfaces.

If you have questions about which activities would be safe for you, check with your health care provider or a fitness professional. When it comes to rehabbing, they can also advise you how much time you should allow.

You can also find helpful information online about how you can safely pursue your favorite sports and activities.

Meet the Author

Stephen Andrew Cole, MD is a board-certified family medicine physician at Aurora Health Center in  Walworth, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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