How to Get Active After an Injury in 3 Easy Phases

Have you ever been faced with an injury, and during the healing and physio stage, you wonder when you can get back to some activity level?  Are you wondering how to get active after an injury?

It is a common question we get from many of our patients.  When most of their symptoms have resolved, it’s understandable that they’re concerned about returning to the activities that caused the injury in the first place.

On the one hand, they are very eager to return to a beloved pastime, but on the other, there is the fear of delaying their recovery if they return too soon.  Some of our more competitive patients are also concerned about the potential loss of conditioning or strength by not continuing to train.

Foot with bandage and ice
Assisted leg stretch

The First Phase of Healing

Injuries typically pass through three distinct phases on their path to recovery.  First is the acute phase, where pain and inflammation generally are at their worst – usually 24 to 72 hours after an injury.  Most often, the R.I.C.E. principle can provide relief.

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

The goal of treatment at this point is to ease discomfort and avoid making the injury worse.  At this time, your physical therapist may focus on reducing pain with T.E.N.s, ultrasound, acupuncture or manual therapy.  They may also prescribe gentle exercises to maintain mobility and joint range of movement.

The Second Phase of Healing

Once the symptoms of pain and inflammation begin to lessen, the injury tends to be in the subacute stage.  This period may last up to six weeks as your body focuses on repairing damaged tissues.  Here, the goal of physiotherapy is to encourage the healing process; your treatments may still include the R.I.C.E principle as before and other techniques such as taping, bracing, or joint mobilization.  Your physio sessions may focus more on exercise and correcting faulty movement patterns to restore you to full function.

The Final Phase of Healing

The remodelling phase is the last stage and lasts from about six weeks to three months.  At this point, many therapists will encourage their patients to return to their usual sports or hobbies tentatively.  By now, you should be pain-free most of the time, with no inflammation and an almost full range of movement.  Your strength is close to normal now.

Of course, you may feel a little weaker after a few weeks away from your typical fitness routine, but don’t expect to be able to jump right back in.  Your therapist can provide specific guidelines, but you should expect to return at about 50% of your regular training volume.  If you’re used to running 10km a few times a week, consider starting with half that distance.  If you’re anxious to get back to gardening and normally spend 30 minutes each evening doing yard work, 15 minutes might be a good starting place.

After You’ve Healed

Be sure to monitor your symptoms while engaged in an activity.  It is easy to get mentally lost in a sport or hobby we love and inadvertently cause a flare-up.  It’s normal to experience a slight increase in soreness after reintroducing old activities, but try to differentiate this from the symptoms of a possible relapse.  Your physiotherapist can assist with a gradual return to action and show you how to recognize the signs that you may be pushing too hard.

One final thing to consider is working with your Edmonton physiotherapist to create an injury prevention plan.  It may consist of specific stretches or strengthening exercises to avoid a recurrence in the future.  They may also suggest a complementary sport or hobby to condition your body differently.

Want to take a step in the right direction?  Call one of our five clinics throughout Edmonton, including RiverbendBelvedereNamao, or Southgate.

 If you have any further questions, contact Innovation Physical Therapy today.  We’re here to help you, “Love Getting Better!”