Your body is good at healing itself, provided it’s allowed to do so. This means that you must not return to full activity until your injury is completely healed and your strength and fitness regained.
A good guide would be to begin gentle exercise again as soon as the pain will allow. During a break in training due to injury it’s still important to remain active as this will help keep you fit and prevent further injuries. After a period of rest it’s important not to rush back into full training.
The amount of exercise should be gradually increased but should never cause significant pain. A sport and exercise medicines specialist or a physiotherapist would be able to advise you on specific exercises and strategies to help your injury. There are many exercises that can be easily performed at home.
Overuse injury recovery
The first thing to do if you have an overuse injury is to stop doing the activity that’s causing pain. This doesn’t mean you have to stop all exercise, just try to avoid using the injured body part to give it time to recover – cross-train. Specific exercises or stretches may be needed to treat the injury.
It may help to change some of your equipment (e.g. using a lighter racquet) or make adjustments to your training or technique. Specific muscle-strengthening exercises may help prevent a recurring injury from happening again, but you should get professional advice about this from a specialist personal trainer or physiotherapist. You may also want to have another look at your technique or running style, as this may have caused the injury in the first place. It is often helpful to keep an exercise diary.
Traumatic injury recovery
Treatment for traumatic injuries should start straight away, unless it’s very minor. Apply ice and compress the injured area to help prevent bleeding, bruising and swelling. If possible, try to raise the injured body part (see the PRICE principles).
You should keep applying ice for the first 48 hours after injury. Do this for 10-15 minutes at a time and always wrap the ice in a damp towel to protect your skin. You can do this often throughout the day.
You should try to gently move the injured part of your body as soon as possible – ideally the same day but certainly after the first few days once the swelling is under control. If you think you may have a fracture or dislocation it’s important to get medical help as soon as you can.
Following a traumatic injury you should try to get back to walking as soon as you can. You should also think about doing some muscle strengthening exercises to help strengthen the injured body part and prevent further damage.
The PRICE principles
For many injuries, particularly traumatic injuries, you need to apply the PRICE principles:
Protection – Stop the activity that caused the injury and try to prevent further injury by using padding, taping, supports, splints or crutches.
Rest – Give an injury time to heal.
Ice – Use ice to reduce pain and swelling. Wrap in a damp towel and use in 10-minute intervals.
Compression – Pressure on the injury site will help reduce swelling and bleeding in some cases.
Elevation – Lifting the injured part above the heart reduces blood flow and swelling.
Some physiotherapists are now also promoting the POLICE principles (Protection, Optimal Loading, Compression and Elevation). The emphasis here is on ‘active rest’ and getting things moving again early on. The principle is that within the first 72 hours after getting a sports injury, for example of the knee or ankle, that you try moving it and if pain allows walking on the injured leg. You might need to protect the joint at first, either using a support, a crutch or a walking aid. If it’s painful then stop and seek medical advice.