Returning to exercise after an injury

An exercise injury can take you out of action temporarily, and it's important to take adequate time to recover. Rushing back to activity before you have time to heal can put you at risk for re-injury and possibly an even longer downtime, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

The time needed to recover depends on several factors, including the type of injury, its severity and which body part is involved, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) reports. For example, a mild ankle sprain may heal in three to six weeks; an ankle fracture may take 12 to 16 weeks.

Are you ready?

An injury can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, weakness or decreased range of motion. You may think you're OK when these symptoms subside, but improvement doesn't always mean the injury is completely healed.

According to the ACSM, you may be ready to return to your normal activities if:

  • The injured part of your body has full movement and flexibility with little or no discomfort. (If you experience some mild discomfort, stiffness or swelling when you first return to activity, try using ice packs.)
  • The injured body part is 90 to 95 percent as strong as the opposite side.
  • You are able to perform specific motions required for your sport. For example, a basketball player with a lower extremity injury should be able to run, stop, change directions and jump.

Ease back into the game

Even after your injury has healed, you'll need time to regain strength and coordination of the injured area before you get back to full speed.

It may help to cross-train to maintain cardiovascular fitness while your injury heals. For example, if you have a knee or ankle injury you might consider biking or swimming. However, it's a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional first to make sure you choose a safe activity.

But even if you cross-train while you're healing, you'll want to ease back into using the injured part of your body.

You should not increase activity if symptoms of your injury return during exercise or the day after exercise.

The AAOS recommends returning to play only when you can practice hard without significant difficulty and healing has progressed to the point where the likelihood of injury or harm is low. Your doctor and other medical professionals you work with (such as a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer) can help you decide when your recovery is complete.

reviewed 3/5/2019

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