Starting over after an injury

Kathy Hansen Contributing columnist


This is my first week back to work after having surgery to repair my Achilles tendon. For my surgery Sept. 3, I walked in on two feet and crutched back out in a cast. After four weeks of nonweight bearing, this past week I graduated to a “walking” boot. I put “walking” in quotes because, much to my chagrin, I did not walk out of Duke Orthopedics without the crutches.

As of press time, however, I am happy to report that I am limping around on both feet like a champ. That brings us to today’s topic: How to safely return to activity after an injury. If you are working out, or playing recreational or competitive sports, injuries are bound to occur. How you keep in shape before, during and after recovery will be the difference between re-injury and full recovery.

I have been involved in some type of sport or fitness activity since I was about four years old. In those 50-some years since, I have only three out of 10 fingers that have not been broken, been casted and stitched on more than one occasion, and have had multiple surgeries. If you are going to play, this comes with the territory, so besides having good health insurance and a physical therapist on speed dial, you also need to have a good idea of how to safely return to the activity that you love.

Let’s look at how your fitness level before, during and after recovery can make an impact.

— Maintain year-round balanced physical conditioning: No matter what your playing season or activity, it is important to maintain your fitness year-round. Basic cardiovascular and strength training can speed up your recovery time when you do get injured. Don’t be one of those weekend warriors who sit on the couch all winter watching TV sports then signs up for the company softball team in the spring. These characters are an injury waiting to happen.

— Make sure that all your injuries are recognized and treated promptly: The worse thing we can do when we have an injury is to ignore it and hope it goes away. Pain is our body’s way of saying slow down or stop completely. If you suffer an injury, the best thing to do is to use the acronym R.I.C.E. (rest, ice compression and elevation) and seek medical attention. Pushing through the pain will only make matters worse.

— Participate in a rehab program: If your injury was serious enough to warrant medical attention, then most likely you will be out of commission and need some form of rehabilitation. Physical therapists and athletic trainers are the experts in getting you back to playing form. Be sure to ask your physician if rehab will help and get a referral.

— Stay fit while injured: Many times there are alternate activities you can do to stay in shape while you recover. Find an activity that does not utilize the injured area and go for it. You can maintain your strength and endurance by temporarily finding another fitness activity.

Keep a positive attitude: Nothing is more crucial to healing from an injury than keeping an upbeat attitude. It is OK to wallow in self-pity for about a day but after that it is time to buck up. An injury, like anything else, will eventually run its course so why be miserable? By keeping busy and positive, your time out of commission will fly by.

It is important not to return to activity until you are fully recovered. If you are pain-free, have full range of motion, close to normal strength, and no swelling, it is OK to start back with physician approval. Keep in mind, however, that your body may still not be 100% so ease back into your activity slowly to prevent reinjury. If you play hard, you need to play smart. Take care of an injury when it happens.

Kathy Hansen has more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]