It is almost inevitable. You may be an aspiring elite level athlete, or someone who has a simple regimented lifestyle of keeping fit. No matter which path of physical fitness we may be on, one thing is almost always true. We are going to be injured at some point in time. The educated youth in this industry would be quick to point the finger at bad form, or improper exercise. In the real world, sometimes having the best education in exercise science, coupled with years of a proven track record still cannot totally stop life from happening. Sometimes, we warmed up just a little less, or our focus was not as sharp that day. Nutrition, Lack of sleep, improper recovery, and accumulative fatigue are all things that play into how our nervous system can fire properly. As safe as we may think we are being in our normal exercise routine, these are all factors that can impair our ability to judge properly. I remember a time in college, being highly fatigued from the demand of school, family, and still working out regularly, while in a weightlifting class I dropped a 25lb plate on my toe. The worst part is that I just watched it happen. I had the symptoms of CNS fatigue. Our central nervous system controls most of our mental and bodily functions. From athletic level reaction times, to being able to properly contract certain bodily muscles for everyday functionality, it all relies on our central nervous systems ability to send electronic pulses through it’s vast array network of neurons. CNS fatigue affected all of this and before I had realized it, I was back in the weight room trying to play powerlifter. Fortunately, it was not a devastating accident that gave me a wake-up call. These types of factors are what can lead to the most experienced having a slipup. Others have had injuries completely unrelated to the gym. This is not an article about proper form, or injury prevention, but this is about what we do after what wasn’t supposed to happen, happens.
The first thing to always do when dealing with an injury is to just keep a level head. Many who have found the value and good feelings that fitness brings, often feel like they have taken the ultimate detour in their fitness journey the moment we realize something just went wrong. Racing thoughts of “I was doing so good” or “I’ll never lift again” come flooding through our heads. The good news is that most often that is not the case. Once you have an injury, it’s always good to rule out anything major, and one should always seek medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider, but sometimes all of the racing thoughts about how bad it’s going to be aren’t well rooted. The first thing to note is that the initial inflammation that often accompanies a fresh injury is not always a clear indicator of the true extent of the injury. In fact, unless there has been some major structural damage, the inflammatory phase of an injury can often be the worse part. Once it’s been established that you have an injury, you’ve taken the required measures to verify the extent, We need to just take things one day at a time.
Time off? How long?
This is a sticky point, and a point of contention among many. Some come from the school of thought that complete rest from a certain activity until fully recovered is best, yet medical literature shows that too much time off from an injury can have an even more negative outcome. The first thing we have to realize is that what ever movement or activity we once did, requires the strength of the muscles themselves to support structures around it that are damaged. Most often total time off can be problematic due to the fact of muscle atrophy. Usually around 2 weeks of non-activity we start to lose a lot of strength, and our muscles size begins to shrink. Therefore some research shows that low back pain often worsens after 2 weeks of non-activity following an injury.
Another problem is that movement patterns may be strictly limited with too much time off from an injury. The reason being that whether recovery takes 6 months, or over a year, the entire time our bodies are hard at work repairing the damaged tissue with collagen, which can lead to a build up of scar tissue that is protecting and housing the injury. During the recovery process we have a responsibility aid our bodies by shaping the scar tissue as it’s being formed. Many people speak of physical therapy not working for them, but most think of physical therapy as something you do later after the reshaping process has become more cemented in it’s current form and would require much more time and patience to correct such problems.
It’s often best to give a little time for inflammation to subside and start to get a feel for how extensive our injury may or may not be. Knowing that weekend muscles can exacerbate pain due to greater instability in the damaged structures, it’s good to start with very small movements to get nutrient rich blood into the injury, to continue to clear out toxins, and keep the muscles from stiffening. It’s important to work with a professional on what movement and exercises we should and should not be doing. It’s far too often I encounter people dealing with an injury only to be horrified to find out what types of exercises they are doing that they think is helping them. The fitness industry can sometimes look like a local science fair. Many theory’s and experiments, but seldom is everything done right. When working through an injury, we have to make sure what we are doing is functional and helping us to regain strength and mobility.
Often depending on the injury, a simple variation of the exercise we are trying to get back to will not only help us maintain and keep making some progress but will actually help to rehab the injury. People with a shoulder injury but want to bench press again, can take the weight down by 50% of your normal working weight or more, and building your strength back into a strong bench by doing a pin press. Someone wanting to get back into a deadlift can start back light and to RDL’s until pain is more controllable, then one can move to a slightly heavier trap bar movement. The main key to getting back in the game so to speak, is to be patient with the process. Far too often I see people that are so eager to get back in that they continue to set themselves back, or others who take a temporary retirement that too becomes permanent. It’s true that sometimes we have a devastating injury that can permanently change our workout regimen, but keep working out, and patiently work towards your goals expecting a complete recovery. Even if you cannot fully regain what you’ve lost, take the 75% recovery, then go for 80%, the 82% and see how close you can safely get to 100%, but be patient with the process. Wilma Rudolph, an Olympic sprinter was acclaimed the worlds fastest woman in the 1960’s, and was the first American Woman to win 3 gold medals in a single game after being told as a child that due to her polio she would also never walk again. Further more it was said that she had also lost the some of the function her left foot and leg. We may not all have story’s of such victories, but our own story will be greater having made the gains that we did.
Bad news sucks, but it doesn’t always have to be that bad.
It’s true. Injuries vary from person to person, but with proper medical evaluations, second opinions, many can often find there way back to a normal workout routine. Some have even made it back to compete at elite levels. Remember, many want to “be” better, but many do not want to “get” better.
Collegiate Certified in the Science of Nutrition and Fitness
Certified Personal Trainer
Askenase, M. and Sansing, L., 2020. Stages Of The Inflammatory Response In Pathology And Tissue Repair After Intracerebral Hemorrhage.
Biography. 2020. Wilma Rudolph. [online] Available at: <https://www.biography.com/athlete/wilma-rudolph> [Accessed 29 September 2020]. PhillyVoice.
- 5 Tips For Getting Back Into A Workout Routine After An Injury. [online] Available at: <https://www.phillyvoice.com/how-get-back-workout-routine-after-injury-059991/> [Accessed 29 September 2020].
Biostrap. 2020. What Is CNS Fatigue? Overcoming The Side Effects Of Overtraining. [online] Available at: <https://biostrap.com/blog/cns-fatigue/> [Accessed 29 September 2020].