Lately it seems like my clients are littered with injuries and physical limitations. I practically do not have a single one who is injury free or has no restrictions. From recent knee surgery, sprained ankles and tendonitis to back pain, pregnancy and post-partum recovery (not injuries by any means but do come with physical restrictions)—you name it, they’ve got it. Which got me thinking about my own history of aliments. When I was a younger (much younger…), my body seemed invincible, no matter the pounding to which I subjected it. Sure I experienced muscle soreness after particularly strenuous activities, but then I’d recover a few days later and be good as new. Fast-forward a couple of decades and the story isn’t quite the same. I think it started happening around my early-to-mid-thirties, but something’s definitely changed. My once-invincible body started to revolt, and I noticed certain constant, nagging aches and pains. I started asking myself: is it my age, must I slow down, how do I deal with all of these ailments?
Unfortunately, “yes” is the short answer to the “is it my age” question. As we age the cartilage in our bodies begins to degenerate. Coupled with an active lifestyle, by the age of 40 you may be hearing and feeling more popping, creaking and swelling than ever before. If you are unwilling to concede to this fact (such as me!), how do you go about your daily business of keeping fit and healthy without the risk of putting yourself out of commission altogether?
For starters, I began to pay attention to those little aches and pains instead of ignoring them and hoping they would just go away. When I did this, I realized that my left hamstring that had been screaming for the last several years screamed the loudest after a jog – immediately afterwards and then for several more days. And then the light bulb went off—running just wasn’t worth the pain. Does that mean I’ve given up all forms of cardiovascular activity? Absolutely not! In fact, I do much more intense cardio workouts now, which include plyometrics and the like, but just not those that cause my hamstring to scream. It was the repetitive, consistent pounding that comes with running that was the problem for me. So now I avoid that type of exercise, but get my aerobic activity in other ways.
This brings me to my next point. How do you go about the business of keeping fit soon after an injury? Two summers ago I sprained my ankle walking down a few stairs and was unable to put any pressure onto my foot. Immediately following the accident I employed R*I*C*E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for the first several days and then starting thinking about how I was going to resume exercise with a bum ankle. High impact exercises like running and anything that included lateral movement (needed for activities like tennis and basketball) was out, but I was able to do low and no impact exercise like walking, swimming and using the elliptical machine. Then, very gradually, I started to include some of the aforementioned off-limit activities. This was important to start to build up my strength and mobility. After about a year—yes, it can take that long or longer—my ankle started to feel just about as good as ever.
The key is not to let an injury sideline you completely. It doesn’t take long to lose muscle mass or for your cardiovascular endurance to decline. Cease all activity for a few months and you will wind up having to build-up not only the injured area but the rest of your body as well. First and foremost, seek advice and/or treatment from a qualified physician or physical therapist. Second, get creative with your exercise. If one body part is injured, consider whether the injury is localized enough to enable exercise that focuses on other areas. And remember, an injury does not necessarily mean that all forms of activity are prohibited for the injured area. Figure out (maybe with the help of that physician or physical therapist) what you can and cannot do. Last, enlist the help of a fitness instructor and don’t be afraid to tell him or her if something is off limits for you. A good trainer should be able to give you modifications or show you how to strengthen and improve on a weakness. Many injuries stem from weakness or imbalance, so your best bet is to keep those muscles strong in the first place. If you do suffer an injury, you will need to heal, but then you’ll need to build strength again to avoid a future relapse.