Does Exercise after a Sports Injury Help or Hinder Recovery?

If you are dealing with a sports injury should you continue to exercise, or take some time off from your regular workout? The answer to this question will vary depending on your individual situation. However, here are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not to exercise after an injury.

The Healing Process

If your sports injury involves a broken bone or a tear in a ligament, your body needs time to repair the damage. Your body naturally kicks in after injury with a few processes to heal the injured area. When you first get injured, you experience inflammation. This is because damaged cells release chemicals that trigger the inflammation process. Increased blood flow carries nutrients to the injury location to heal tissue damage.

Within a couple of hours of your injury, your white blood cells travel to the injured part of your body to remove tissue that has been damaged. This allows the development of scar tissue. Within a few days, scar tissue develops and continues to form, allowing you to regain strength across the following days and weeks. Within a month scar tissue brings your torn tissues back together. With some injuries, if severe, it can take months for this process to be completed and for full healing to take effect.

It is generally a bad idea to push through an injury that is causing you pain. If you do feel strong pain, numbness or swelling, see a health professional. Inability to tolerate weight on an area is also a bad sign. Ignoring these signs and continuing to exercise could potentially hinder your recovery.

The RICE Method

However, if you do not have these symptoms, you can try methods at home to relieve minor pain and inflammation. These are four steps, known as the RICE method, that you can implement yourself right after your injury for a period of 48 hours:

  • Rest: Limit activity as much as possible. Do not put weight on the injured area if it hurts. Use a cane or crutch if necessary.
  • Ice: Use an ice pack on the injured area for a period of 20 minutes, 4 to 8 times daily. Do not apply heat right after an injury because this increases swelling.
  • Compression: Compress the injured area to reduce swelling. You can do this by using splints, casts or special boots. Consult a professional, if necessary.
  • Elevation: Elevate the injured area if possible to above heart level. This helps to decrease swelling.

If your pain and swelling disappears quickly, then your injury is very likely not serious. Allow an additional day or two to be sure that the area has healed completely. You do not want to hinder your recovery by starting to exercise too soon.

If your injury is in your upper body, for example, a wrist or shoulder injury, walking or engaging in activity that exercises your lower body will help to increase your blood circulation and speed up your recovery. Just be sure to give the injured part of your body adequate time to heal.


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