Fitness Injury: What to Do When Injury Strikes (cont.)

This whole process can set in quickly, he says. So if you think you might be at risk -- particularly if you feel a strong sense of powerlessness after an injury occurs -- Weil advises seeking medical care immediately.

"Get to a doctor, get to a physical therapist -- the point is to do something proactive right away so you get back some sense of control," Weil tells WebMD.

Move It Or Lose It

Though you never want to stress an injured area with a workout, neither is it a good idea to take to your bed for more than a day or two after being injured. Instead, doctors say, you should get back to normal movement as soon as possible.

"The more you can encourage normal movement, the quicker the healing process will begin," says Gotlin.

And, doctors say, one of the best things you can do for your body, mind, and weight is to start a brand-new fitness activity -- one that doesn't stress your injured muscle.

"The human being is a unique machine with some 536 muscles in the body, so if you pull a hamstring for example, and you've lost the capacity to work out four or five related muscles, you've still got some 530 other muscles in the body to help you burn calories," says Gotlin.

If your injury is to the lower part of your body, Schlifstein says, concentrate on upper-body workouts like lifting weights or working out on an "arm bicycle."

"Upper-body workouts actually burn more calories and provide more cardiovascular fitness than a lower-body workout, so you're not going to lose anything in terms of conditioning if you just switch your workouts," Schlifstein tells WebMD.

And if you have an upper-body injury (Weil says the most common problems are tendinitis or a shoulder injury), turn to your lower half to keep up your conditioning.

"Riding an exercise bike is good and walking -- but not running -- on a treadmill, since sometimes jarring motions may aggravate a shoulder injury," says Weil. You can also do resistance training on your lower body while your upper body heals.

If you still find yourself gaining weight during your recovery, all three experts tell WebMD that the only answer is to cut back on calories.

"Weight loss is directly related to how much you take in vs. how much you burn up, so if you know you will be burning less because of your injury, you have to adjust your food intake to compensate," says Gotlin.

Returning to the Game

Whether your injury slows you down for several weeks or a much shorter time, the key to returning to your workout safely is to start out at a much slower pace.

One reason, says Schlifstein, is that you can lose muscle much faster than you gain it. Without use, muscle atrophy can begin within two days.

"One week wrapped in an Ace bandage, and it can take three to four weeks to regain strength in the injured area," says Schlifstein.

Also, going back to your activity before you're healed puts you at risk of further damage and a longer healing time.

"If you compound an injury with a second injury in the same area, it can take much longer to heal," says Schlifstein.

How do you know when you're ready to go back? Experts say you should give your body at least one week with no pain before you try again.

"You have to be able to go through the motion -- without actually doing the exercise -- pain-free for one week before you can be sure you're ready to resume your activity," says Gotlin.

When you do return, the experts say, work on rebuilding the power in your injured area one step at a time.

Says Schlifstein: "Within three weeks or less you should be back to your original level of fitness, and then you can feel free to build on your strength from there."

Published Sept. 30, 2005.

SOURCES: Todd Schlifstein, DO, clinical assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, NYU Medical Center, New York. Robert Gotlin, DO, director, orthopedic and sports rehabilitation; and coordinator, musculoskeletal and sports fellowship training program, department of orthopaedic surgery, Beth Israel Medical Center; assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, New York. Richard Weil, MEd, CDE, exercise physiologist, St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, New York; consultant, WebMD Weight Loss Clinic.

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Last Editorial Review: 9/30/2005 1:26:34 PM