Coming back from an injury or illness is a challenge and the road is rarely smooth. To ensure your efforts don’t get derailed, your recovery should be managed carefully so that you are only recovering once, and not setting yourself up for a recurring injury.
Recreational athletes will generally feel better after one or two weeks off post-injury –this is also the time when the risk of re-injury is highest! This can change dramatically though depending on the type and extent of tissue injury so getting any new injury assessed is always your first step.
When you have an injury, the healing process begins with inflammation – the response of your immune system to any threatening stimuli. This may include redness, heat, swelling, pain and/or loss of function. You may have one or more of these signs. Inflammation also indicates the release of inflammatory mediators or chemicals, which channel more blood to the injured tissue, more defense cells to combat infection and clean up injured tissues, as well as increased fluids to flush out any pathogens or bugs they may have made their way in.
Pain and inflammation often results in limited movement of the injured limb and favouring the other side, this is a protective mechanism to limit further damage.
It can be hard, but give your body the appropriate break from activity. If you’re working with a health professional or coach, make sure they’re keeping track of your progress and give you the go-ahead to return to exercise. You don’t need to be completely pain free before beginning to re-load the injured area but you need to have reasonable pain-free range of motion and a graded return to sport.
Also remember that pain-free doesn’t mean invincible; pace yourself back into your previous level of activities. It’s better to do less and feel like you could do more at the end of your session, than going all-out and starting the healing process all over again. It’s not unusual to spend up to twice as long building back up than you spent healing. You won’t necessarily lose all your hard-earned fitness and strength; your body will have made adaptations that take much longer than a few weeks to disappear entirely.