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Should I exercise if I have an injury?

Musculoskeletal disorders are the biggest cause of disability. Despite the billions spent, the problem is just getting worse. Latest medical guidelines strongly recommend exercise therapy as the first-line-treatment for musculoskeletal disorders instead of much more expensive surgeries.

By Emmalee Harris, Exercise Physiologist at Singleton Physiotherapy.

This is a question we hear very often at Singleton Physiotherapy, and the short answer is yes! 

Coming back from an injury can be frustrating and challenging both physically and psychologically. Many people assume that resting the injury is required to allow for healing, however studies highlight that exercise can be more beneficial for promoting healing and returning to pre-injury levels.

Before rushing back into your old exercise routine though, there are some things that may need to be discussed with your Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist.

The type and extent of your injury will determine which exercises you should or shouldnt do at a given point in time, and this will vary greatly between people and different injuries. 

One of the main things to keep in mind is to listen to your bodys warning signs. We commonly hear the expression ‘no pain, no gain’, however this is a common misconception. Pain is our friend and is often the bodys way of signalling that something isnt quite right.

Listening to these warning signals can prevent future injury and stop your current injury from worsening.

What type of exercise?

Strength training is crucial when recovering from an injury and some studies have classed it as a ‘miracle drug’ when prescribed correctly. Form and technique should be addressed first and foremost, but load management is also very important. 

Load management refers to starting your exercises at the correct intensity (weight, sets, reps, frequency) and gradually building and increasing intensity at the correct rate. 

This means no big spikes in intensity and not rushing to get back to where you were pre- injury, but also not being afraid to increase the weights when your body is ready. Your body then positively adapts to these incremental increases in work load. 

Where to start?

When returning to strength based exercise you may need to begin with an easier variation, or less weight or range of motion. For example, you may have previously performed heavy squats but your knee injury is preventing this. An easier option may be bodyweight squats which target key muscle groups but with a reduced load and range of motion, making it more manageable on the joint.

If reduced movement is still aggravating you may need to choose a different, pain free form of exercise.

Exercising with back pain

If you’re recovering from a back or neck injury, the getback program uses medical rehabilitation devices to safely target the correct muscles and work in a range of movement which is pain free.

The strength and flexibility of your spinal muscles is measured by getback devices during your initial consultation. Your individualised exercise program is based on data from the consultation and a series of questions to understand which movements trigger your pain.

Exercise starts with a limited range of movement and appropriate loading to stimulate contraction in the targeted muscles. The getback device technology ensures that your initial exercise phase focuses on pain-free and highly targeted resistance.

The program can very easily modify weight, range of motion, sets, reps, and even tempo to allow you to progress at a rate that is entirely your own. 

The best part is that your Exercise Physiologist will do all the load management for you, so you dont even need to think about it!

Finding the right exercise can be difficult, and making sure you perform them with the correct technique can be even more difficult. Exercising in getback devices takes away the guess work. The devices are designed to isolate specific muscles and provide real-time feedback to guide you through each exercise.

With back pain in particular, it can be stressful finding movement that is not painful. Moving in a device which controls the plane of movement, the load, and the stress on joints protects unwanted movements and provides a safe exercise environment.

If you’re performing free standing exercises at home, you may need to speak to an Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist to ensure you’re performing the correct movements in a correct way, and to assist with your planning and programming.

The take home message is that resting often means you become further ‘de-conditioned’. You should still exercise while injured wherever possible, as exercise will most likely speed up your recovery and reduce your risk of re-injury in the future.