Exercise and Injury

Should we rest or should we exercise when we pick up an injury or are diagnosed with a musculoskeletal problem?  That is the question that is often asked when we develop such a problem.  Exercise plays a vital role in maintaining our functional strength and repairing injured tissue.  The key is to recognise what to do and when to do it!

Recognition of your stage of injury is very important in deciding what activities you should be doing.  A qualified professional such as a physiotherapist can carry out an assessment of your injury.  They will then give you advice on how to rehabilitate the problem as well as treating you for your pain.  With the exception of teeth, all tissue within the body is capable of repairing itself by laying down scar tissue as a substitute for the injured muscle, ligament, tendon or fascia.   However, scar tissue will not necessarily be strong enough to resist the forces created when you return to exercise without it being remodelled and strengthened by a tailored rehabilitation program.

There are 3 main stages of injury that we need to recognise.

  1. Acute Phase – up to 72 hours post-injury

This phase is characterised by pain and loss of function.  The principle known as RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) is best used to manage this stage of your injury.  With common sense, you can still carry out some kind of exercise as long as you don’t put undue stress on your new injury.

  1. Sub-Acute Phase – 72 hours to approximately 3 weeks

During this phase rehabilitation exercises are started.  Rehabilitation is the process of regaining full function following injury and involves restoring strength, flexibility, endurance and power.  It is achieved through a variety of exercises and drills.  Rehabilitation is as important as treatment following an injury but unfortunately, it is often overlooked.  Many people will return to their normal activities as soon as the pain subsides but may find that their pain returns.  Without the implementation of a tailored rehabilitation program, full recovery is unlikely and the risk of repeating the same injury increases significantly.

  1. Chronic Phase – 3 weeks onwards

During this final phase, the injured tissue will continue to remodel and strengthen.  Rehabilitation exercises continue to progress in terms of duration and intensity.  Notice that there isn’t a prescribed end date to this stage.  A return to full function may take several months (even years!) depending on the area injured and the severity of that injury.

The key thing to remember:

If exercise brought about the injury, then the correct exercises will generally fix the problem!!