Many of us are walking around with niggly old injuries that don’t completely debilitate us but drive us crazy and get in the way of everyday functioning. We see a lot of wear and tear on knees and hips from running, lower backs injured from bending down and lifting with poor technique, and even (my personal favourite) a rotator cuff busted from reaching back while driving to pop a dummy in a screaming baby’s mouth.
In the initial acute stage of an injury you may need medical attention and diagnosis, perhaps treatment from a physiotherapist and, if you’re really smart about your recovery, you will probably be seeing a personal trainer experienced with rehabilitating injuries.
However, after all that, you may well be left with a less than perfect body part that never completely recovers. In a world that loves a quick fix and insists that all problems be repaired, it can be frustrating to discover that you will need to manage that injury for the rest of your life.
Resting is not the solution, nor is it at all practical. Instead we need to be incorporating specific rehabilitiation for the injury into our fitness regime, preferably with exercises prescribed by an exercise professional.
And just like all exercise, there is no finish line, no time when we can be “done”. In order to live pain free and functionally and maintain any gains, we need to do our rehab, stretching and strengthening FOREVER.
Strength training is essential to injury rehabilitation, management and prevention as strengthening smaller, weaker muscles around a joint will help to strengthen that joint. It also helps avoid postural deviations which can exacerbate chronic pain. If we stop working those muscles, we will lose the strength gains that had been protecting us from re-injury.
Studies that look at long-term results show that specific exercise therapy is more effective in managing injuries and preventing recurrence than the resumption of normal activity alone.
In a clinical trial conducted by The University of Queensland’s Department of Physiotherapy, patients with acute lower back pain were medically managed and then allocated to a control group or to a group given specific exercises to rehabilitate their injury. The patients were then monitored at one year and three years post-injury. After one year, the patients who had been completing the prescribed exercises had significantly less recurrences of lower back pain than those in the control group. After three years, these differences were even more marked.http://kimawellness.com/images/uploads/hides_2001_spine.pd
I recently experienced the detrimental effect of rest on a long term injury firsthand.
A few years ago I was diagnosed with a tear to the glenoid labrum in my right shoulder. The glenoid labrum is a ring of fibrous tissue attached to the ring of the glenoid located inside the shoulder joint which is known as a ball and socket joint.
At the time of the diagnosis, I was referred to a radiologist for a cortisone injection. It did the job, effectively relieving most painful symptoms. But I was still left with the labrum tear – which could only be repaired with a surgery that I’d decided against – so it was time to modify my workouts and lifestyle to avoid aggravating the existing injury.
Over the years since I’ve been able manage this tear and avoid surgery by completing workouts that contained exercises that, while bringing me closer to my goals, also allowed me to avoid further injury.
All was ticking along well, until a few weeks ago when I had a break from training for a week while I was on holiday. Apart from a long run and a golf game (which probably doesn’t count since we had a cart!), my main activity was chasing kids and lifting them up or restraining them.
All the mums will know this can do some pretty heavy wear and tear to your body.
After completing several repetitive movements, my right shoulder began to flare up. I recognised the pain straight away. MY LABRUM!!!! Within just a week, my lack of specific exercise for the muscles surrounding my shoulder joint had caught up with me, and I was counting the days to my next workout in Sydney, as well as contemplating a visit to a shoulder specialist.
When I got back to Sydney, I got straight back into the gym, starting with a simple resistance workout. I also completely avoided doing boxing with clients. The labrum pain persisted, but after just six workouts, my pain has subsided.
What a relief! I feel now that I am in a much better position to manage this life long injury after experiencing firsthand the importance of staying active. I believe more than ever in the power of targeted exercise to manage injuries and protect us from further injury.
I can do without a surgical repair of my labrum or cortisone injections, but I can’t live without specific training of those muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. I look at my training as a relatively small investment of my time that ensures that I continue to live pain free, can carry on doing my job and having fun with my kids at home.
If you have a long term injury that you have been able to manage past the acute phase it is VITAL that you continue with the strengthening and stretching exercises prescribed to you regardless of your situation.
If you’re set to go away on holidays or take a break from training, please let us know so that we can give you some exercises to take away with you so you don’t come home from your break right back at square one.