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5 Steps to Train with an Injury

Updated: Mar 14

Training during an injury

I have an abundance of random motivational quotes in my head, one of them is "It's never win/lose, it's always win/learn." Not sure who said that but it's a catchy one. Injuries and pain are a good way to learn and adjust. It's a signal for change. At the same time, things just happen and you need to adapt. Maybe you got injured during a training session for your next fight, maybe it was during weight lifting, maybe it was bending over to pick up a sock (for some reason I've heard this many times). Regardless, now you're pain. It can be sharp, sore, achy and obviously annoying. What should you do? Maybe it gets a bit better but it's still sore? Maybe your pain level went from a 9/10 pain to a 6/10 pain. Should you stop doing the activity you love? Let's explore the idea of training around or with an injury.

If anything, there's plenty of research indicating doing no movement is the worst thing to do. So what should you do? Lay in bed all day hating life? Yes, yes you should. Kidding! One thing to quickly mention is that some pain is ok, usually I tell patients if the pain is lower than a 5 out of 10 on the pain scale, it's ok to work through it. And by working through it, I mean in a smart manner with your physical therapist in your corner. This is where constant communication between patient and physical therapist is crucial.

Nonetheless, here are 5 tips to keep you moving and help your pain levels decrease (desensitize), work around your pain and finally eliminate that pain experience.

1. Adjust the training variables accordingly - By lightening the load (intensity) or decreasing the overall volume we are lowering the amount of total work done in a session. However, we are still getting movement and blood flow to the injured area. This can be applied to weight training, combat sports or any type of physical activity. After some time, the area of pain will desensitize and you can gradually begin to increase your workload again.

Adjusting exercises during an injury

2. Work in lower pain/pain free ranges of motion - Whether it's throwing a punch/kick or performing any Olympic lift there's ways to break down the motion and work in pain free ranges. Find ways to modify the exercise or movement while still being specific to your goal. It may not be exactly what you're training but it can still carry over to the specific task you want to accomplish. Your physical therapist will help you with this, so ask us questions.

3. Pick a similar activity/exercise - Going along with number 2, if that specific movement in short ranges still hurts, try a completely different exercise that can carry over to your task of choice. It may be a different exercise overall but it still applies to your sport or your resistance training goals. Talk with your physical therapist and have them structure these movements for you (you're seeing a theme here aren't you?)

4. Explore other weak areas make them strong points - While choosing different exercises you may also choose to focus on completely different area of your game. As mentioned before, the systemic effect of exercise or added blood flow will still help in desensitizing the area and promote healing/desensitization. If you're an MMA fighter for example, maybe throwing punches hurt but working on head movement/foot work doesn't. Focus on the latter. And again, this can be applied to almost any sport/exercise. Not moving is not good advice, if a healthcare professional tells you this, run away from them. Yes, actually run.

Injury recovery and training

5. Focus on recovery - Something I mentioned above is how an injury may sometimes be a signal for change. You might be neglecting your recovery from training more than you thought. Maybe you were stressed or worn down the day before or day of the injury? What was going on in your life around that time? Were you fully recovered or were you physically/mentally exhausted on the day of the injury? These are oftentimes very hard questions to answer, so it's important to really audit your day to day. This is a good time to check in with yourself and figure out where you can improve your recovery and mental game (build mental resilience so to speak). Take a look at the four areas of sleep, nutrition and overall stress levels. I'm sure you can find something in those areas where you can improve. Little tweaks in even 2 out of the 4 of those areas can work wonders.

Overall, it's important to consult with your physical therapist to modify your training appropriately. Us doctors of physical therapy are fairly well versed in these areas :) Remember, when modifying your training appropriately and properly dosing exercise you are promoting healing and desensitization of the injured area. Gradually, you can begin to reintroduce the exercise or activity that originally hurt you. This concept of "graded exposure" is very important in sports medicine and rehabilitation. The mental game of an injury is very real, it takes time to build confidence again. And you will build that confidence again. You will come back stronger.

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Talk soon,

Dr. G


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