News & Media

18 February 2020

Exercising when you’re injured: is it safe?

Injuries. Everyone dreads them. Serious injuries can put you out of action for quite some time, while mild sprains and strains can put you off doing the activities or workouts you love, and leave you hobbling around for a few days.

Small ankle pain

For soft-tissue injuries (think muscles, ligaments and tendons), the general rule-of-thumb is to follow RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevate) for 1-3 days to reduce swelling and aid the healing process. This can reduce the pain initially, but is rest always best? And, how long should you wait until you start moving again?

We asked our Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Jordan McMillan, for his advice.

Should you stop all exercise when you’re sporting an injury?

In short, no. When you’re injured, rest isn’t always the best option or the right thing to do. This should be music to the ears of all those fitness fanatics out there.

You can always tailor your exercise program to train legs if you have an upper body injury, and vice versa. You should (of course) seek advice from a qualified practitioner before you return to exercise. The experts will show you the kinds of exercises that will aid your recovery, not inhibit it.

Runner in park

How long should I rest before starting exercise again?

Resting for three full days after minor sprains and strains will allow your body to go through its typical healing process. For more serious injuries, it’s best to get the all-clear from your doc or physician before you start exercising, as different injuries have different resting/healing timeframes. It’s also super important not to go straight into high impact, high intensity workouts that will aggravate your injury. You may have to switch things up a little (as in, avoid shoulder presses if you have an injured shoulder or don’t play footy with a snapped hamstring) and get creative with alternative exercise routines.

The key thing is you don’t have to rest for the entire duration of your injury – nowadays, when people have surgery for a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), they usually start rehab that day or the day after to achieve a full recovery, sooner.

What kinds of exercises are safe to do while I’m injured?

Stretching, strengthening and mobility exercises are all super helpful when recovering from an injury. In fact, these types of movements should be an ongoing focus even after you make a full recovery, so you can protect yourself from re-injury or from injuring something else!

Speak to your physio therapist, exercise physiologist or osteopathist (aka, the experts) to find out the specific movements that will support your particular injury, both while it’s healing and in the long-run.

Man putting on weights

When is rest detrimental to the healing process?

Rest can actually make certain body parts feel super painful and stiff. For example, footy players who get patella tendon pain (in the front of the knee) should work on strengthening key muscles of the knee and hip. Riding an exercise bike, glute activation and hip mobility exercises can help prevent that area from seizing up. Rest between games might actually make the pain worse, as it won’t necessarily address the cause of your injury.

There is a lot of evidence out there now that suggests resting doesn’t achieve anything. So, next time you’re injured, be smart, be patient and listen to the experts.

Woman stretching