Injuries. They’re every athlete’s worst fear, and they really put a halt to anyone’s exercise and movement routine. If you’re actively exercising and pushing yourself, injuries are unfortunately par for the course because hey, accidents happen.
And while you can hedge yourself against the probability of getting injured by practicing good form, being careful, and resting and recovering properly, there’s always a chance you’ll get hurt.
Here’s what you need to know: injuries vary in terms of severity. Sometimes you can work on them on your own and rehab yourself back to normal, and other times you will need help from a professional, be it a doctor or a therapist.
The major caveat here is that as long as there isn’t significant trauma (a bone break, or numbing/tingling in the injured area, laceration, or worse), and you haven’t gotten the advice from a doctor to abstain or completely immobilize, you can probably start doing something about it now and injury prevention is possible.
Just about everyone here at GMB has all worked through our own fair share of injuries, some severe, and some not-so-debilitating. So we know how hard it can be both physically and mentally. So, take this as an introduction to properly dealing with your setback and getting back to doing what you love doing as soon as possible.
Pain Is A Response (And That’s A Good Thing)
Any time you have pain, it’s a response from your brain reacting to this perceived threat to your body. Whether it’s a muscle strain or joint sprain, or another trauma like breaking a bone, signals from those tissues tell the brain that it happened and something should be done about it.
And as you’ve experienced, that reaction can come in the form of pain, swelling, and sensitivity to touch and movement. This is the body’s natural way of dealing with any potential damage. And if you didn’t feel pain, you could seriously wreck yourself beyond repair. We call that getting FUBAR’d.
So while you might be in pain, just remember your body is doing its thing to prevent you from hurting yourself even more. It’s a natural and normal protective response.
Now, what’s next?
Focus On What You *Can* Do
One of the initial things people think immediately when they get injured is “I have to stop everything and let my body heal.” And while this is not the worst advice, it usually only pertains to extreme injuries. And if you have something this severe, you’ve probably already spoken to a doctor or gone to the ER. And if you haven’t, go now.
The first thing you want to do is establish what you can do without pain.
Let’s think about something like back pain. We’ve all had it happen at some point. You’re doing your thing, feeling great, and then it happens. One wrong move, and you feel your back locking up. The spasms are strong, you get stiff and it all locks up.
It’s a pretty stressful experience. In a matter of minutes, you go from the initial pain, then to “oh shit, I’m scared,” all the way to grief.
And then you think about what your next steps are. How severe is this really?
When your back goes into a spasm, the muscles tense up. It’s sort of like a natural brace to prevent further damage. Think about what you’d do if you sprained your ankle, or knee. Initially, you’d want to limit movement, so you might wear a supportive brace or some protective wrap that prevents further stretching of the tissues.
It can feel really scary when your body stiffens up, especially if it’s never happened before. But rest assured, this is your meat suit taking good care of itself.
Slowly Easing Into Motion
The next steps, assuming it’s nothing serious like a tear, break, or severe trauma, is to find basic positions that cause no irritation. Something like lying on your side in the fetal position, or on your back with your legs propped up to take some strain off your lower back. That’s usually the easiest way to get some immediate relief.
And then you work from there. This applies to any injury, by the way. The main idea is to find movements or positions that don’t increase your pain and are relatively comfortable.
Here some examples of easy, unloaded, small movements that are generally helpful:
- Lying on your back with knees up supported on a chair or couch. Pulling one knee towards your chest, then the other, then both if possible.
- Sitting on a chair and placing your hands/elbows on table and rocking back and forth.
- Standing while supporting yourself with your hands on the wall or a chair and doing very easy leg swings
- Practicing some wall pushes for extension.
- Sitting in a chair and extending your leg upward slowly without any load.
Check out what these movements look like:
Remember, the main thing is to focus on what you can do comfortably. This doesn’t mean go for no pain whatsoever, because likely that might stop you from doing anything at all.
Instead, think of getting some movement that keeps your pain level tolerable, say a 3 to 4 out of 10. The perfect amount will actually start to feel better after a minute or so. At first, when you’re injured, your movement ability and range of motion is going to be pretty limited, and that’s to be expected. The quickest way to recovery is to slow down, do what you can, and then expand that range of motion in due time.
What’s Considered Unsafe Movement?
Look, this is hard for us to say because what you’re dealing with right now could be any kind of injury. And you could have something going on that requires you see a doctor or therapist to adequately assess what you should and shouldn’t be doing.
Buuuut, in general, most midrange activities with no load are good places to start.
For example, in the image above, Ryan is demoing a shrimp squat on the left, which we teach in Integral Strength, and a full pistol squat on the right. A modified, reduced range of motion shrimp is going to be much easier to get into without pain than the pistol, especially if you have hip or knee pain.
Another idea is instead of doing a full range of motion squat, you could begin with quarter squats. Also, walking, biking (as long as the flexed position isn’t bothersome), and rowing are great. Basically anything you can do that is pain-free and gets the blood flowing to the affected area will generally help you.
This little study tells us that, to reduce the pain, you only need a little exertion to get the blood flowing. So, on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest exertion possible, you only need to hit about a 5. That’s like a brisk walk, or light cycling.
It’s commonplace for people with knee injuries to cycle often to relieve pain and get the blood flowing to speed up healing. And those with lower back pain will do well to stand up and walk around periodically to ease themselves. If you have access to a pool, getting in the water unloads your body even more and often makes moving easier.
One More Time: You shouldn’t ever do anything that dramatically increases pain. But at the same time, don’t be fearful of moving at all.
Because if you stay stiff, it will delay the recovery.
This can actually make it worse because you can end up moving less and become even more sensitive. Here is where we should be mindful of the pain but not be afraid of it.
Respect it and practice brushing up against it instead of avoiding it completely, while also not just ignoring it and pushing through. It’s this balance of understanding how pain works that will get you away from unduly fearing it and it will improve.
Then you can gradually increase your activity and exercise and get to doing things again without this increased pain. Focus on what you can do and expand your ability over time.
Your Next Steps
Start thinking about what you can do and stick to the following guidelines:
- Unless you have major trauma to the affected area, ie: fractures, torn ligaments, broken skin, tumors, or anything else that’s severe, pain is generally a response telling you to be careful of what you’re doing to prevent further damage.
- Start working yourself into positions that feel good and get some blood flowing. Movement and regular activity stimulates endorphins, which are natural painkillers, so the more you can do without pushing too hard, the better you’ll likely be.
- Don’t grit your teeth and plow through the pain, but also don’t be afraid to move. Start easy and aim for little improvements so you can nudge your body out from the pain. It’s a delicate balance but you’ll get through it.
The hardest part will be what happens immediately after the injury because that’s when you’re typically in the most pain, and you’re the most emotional given what’s just happened. So take the time to rest, relax, assess what happened, and chart your course on the movements you can easily do. Then build on those.
If you’d like to know more about what you can do to recover better, our new supplemental program, Regulator, includes full routines dedicated to recovery techniques, protecting yourself from injuries, and proper breathing protocols to better control your body.
In this article, we cover how to prevent a recurrence of significant pain once you’re ready to start training hard again. For now, if you can move based on the guidelines above, we recommend you begin working on your mobility to get some blood flow going, and to keep you from getting stiff and overly sore from your injury.
Stay Mobile, Even While Dealing With Injuries
GMB Mobility is a guided program that improves your total body mobility. You’ll resolve restrictions so you can finally move and perform your best.