Five tips to help you come back from an injury

Most folks come to the orthopedic surgeon after they’ve been injured. We’ll often prescribe rehabilitative therapy or surgery to help with the condition. Either way, you’ll be making your way back to your objectives, starting typically from a deconditioned point. Here are a few things I often recommend, and with some modifications these are applicable for people who’ve had surgery and also for those who haven’t.

1. Do something as soon as you can

If you’ve had surgery, or if you’ve had a recent injury you’ll probably find yourself questioning how the injury happened, why it happened to you, etc. This is normal, but you can find a way to get past this feeling by committing to recovery. If you’re starting a new fitness program and are beginning from a deconditioned baseline the same process applies to you. Make the decision to do something -- anything -- as soon as possible and do it consistently. If you’ve had ACL surgery, then using your arms to get around with crutches is your Day 1 exercise. When you’re starting a walking program, put your walking shoes at the door and commit to your new habit.

2. Restore normal motion as rapidly as possible

Quality movement is a critical component of recovery. This is especially true if you’ve had a joint injury. Let’s say you’ve sprained your ankle. The natural tendency will be to limp, often because of ankle pain. With effort it’s usually possible to restore normal motion and walking mechanics fairly quickly. You may need the help of a physical therapist and guidance from your doctor, but this is a key step.

3. Pay attention to nutrition

Surgery is a catabolic event, meaning that the hit to your body with anesthesia and the intervention of surgery will change your nutrition requirements. Many athletes undergoing surgery will benefit from increased protein intake in the immediate post-surgery period compared to their baseline. If you’re starting a fitness program with the goals of losing body fat and potentially losing weight, the fact is that you can do more for your body through proper nutrition than you can through exercise. Exercise has multiple benefits of course for your body, but you’re going to hit most of your body composition goals through nutrition.

4. Learn the difference between pain vs. soreness

This is highly variable from person to person, as individuals will all respond differently to pain. Soreness when starting a new exercise or going through physical rehabilitation is to be expected. Pain within a joint that leads to swelling, mechanical issues like locking, or weakness is not normal and should be avoided. If you’re having trouble distinguishing pain from soreness you should consult a physical therapist.

5. Start walking

Walking is an amazingly great habit to start. If you’ve had rotator cuff surgery, an aortic valve replacement, knee surgery and you’re on crutches, or you just want to make the best possible version of you then walking is your friend. It’s elegant in its simplicity and very effective. Hills are better than flat. Pretty much any recovery condition can benefit from walking. There are lots of great walking programs to get you started.

These are the tips and methods I’ve used to get myself back on my feet after an injury, and to help others do the same. If you have anything to add please leave us a comment. We’d love to hear what worked (or what didn’t) for you. Thanks!

Key Points:
Start doing something as soon as you can.
Restore normal motion as rapidly as possible.
Nutrition is critically important.
Work with your physical therapist or athletic trainer to learn the difference between pain and soreness, and how hard to push.
Walk before you run.

(Dr. Dev K. Mishra, a Clinical Assistant Professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University, is the creator of the online injury management course and the Good to Go injury assessment App for coaches, managers, parents and players. Mishra writes about injury recognition and management at blog, where this article originally appeared.)

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