May 7, 2004, Newsletter Issue #185: How to deal with injury

Tip of the Week

1. Stop the offending exercise! While this seems obvious, I can`t tell you how many times I get letters from people who continue to do an exercise that is hurting them. Remember the Henny Youngman joke, "I went to the doctor and said, `It hurts when I do this.` And he said, `Don`t do that!`" Well, this is no joke. If something is hurting, stop doing that thing until the pain goes away. Don`t make me say "duh."

2. Ice. Most pain is caused by swelling. Ice reduces swelling. Whether you`ve broken your leg or just worked out hard, ice will help the healing process. Get ice on the injury ASAP. Large muscles can be iced 20 minutes at a time, and up to 6 times a day. Fingers get less circulation and should not be dunked in ice for more than 15 minutes at a time and only iced 3 or 4 times per day. The point here is, the more you keep the swelling down, the quicker the injury will heal. So ice as often as you can.

3. Rest. There is no use trying to work through an injury unless you`re trying to get off a mountain, finish a race that`s very important to you, or somehow save your life. If you are training, working through an injury only keeps the injury from healing. You won`t get stronger, or faster, or slimmer; you`ll simply extend the time that you can`t exercise effectively. The rule is to stop until you are pain free, and then proceed cautiously. Most soft-tissue injuries heal within six weeks, and minor injuries usually heal in a few days. Some injuries need to be surgically repaired. If the pain doesn`t subside within a week, it`s worth your time to see a doctor as soon as you can.

4. Start back slowly. Once it doesn`t hurt, you may start doing the offending exercise again, but start s-l-o-w-l-y! Day 1 should barely test the movement. If there is no pain, add a little weight on day 2, etc, etc. If you are healthy, you will gain your strength back very quickly. But if you come back too quickly, you risk getting sent back to square one. Tendon injuries are particularly nasty this way. Once you injure a tendon, you must always stay aware of it. One day of neglect might lead to six weeks on the couch.

5. Never forget. Soft-tissue injuries have a way of reoccurring. Since there is always scar tissue in the offending area, it`s never quite 100%. Once you`ve hurt something, never forget about it. In my experience, most injuries are reoccurring when the person (me, more than I should admit) forgets about a prior injury and over-stresses an injured area by not adhering to the steps that he`s just written. It`s pretty simple to warm up, hydrate, and add a little extra caution when working around a trouble spot. And trust me, it`s worth it.

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