So You’ve Recovered from a Sports Injury – Now What?
If you’re an active person who has been sidelined by a sports injury, one of the primary goals in your mind is likely just getting back to whatever you love doing. Maybe your team needs you, or you just want to get moving again, plain and simple. How do people watch so many episodes of a show in a row, anyway?!
Whatever your eagerness to return to activity may be following a sports injury, it is always best done with a reasonable approach. Just because your foot or ankle isn’t in pain anymore doesn’t always mean you’re ready to dive back into your old routine just yet.
Healing, Strength, and Rehabilitation
If you think of our bodies as machines (wonderful, living machines!) and a sports injury as a part of that machine breaking, it can be easy to imagine that healing means all parts are now back in perfect order and you can immediately hit the start button on all activities again.
But while the body’s ability to repair itself is extraordinary, it’s not the same as replacing a part in a machine. A replaced part is brand new and ready to go right out of the box. Our muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues don’t function the same way.
A big part of how our bodies grow stronger and more flexible comes through use. We essentially stress our tissues to the point of breaking them down on a slight level. They then rebuild up to come back stronger and more capable of handling those same stresses. That’s fitness, in a nutshell!
But when an injured foot or ankle needs to heal, there is less attention on conditioning and more on repair. Often, the area must be immobilized or have its use reduced for some time in order for recovery to properly take place.
What this means for recovery is that, even though operation of the injured tissue has been restored (i.e. you can move it without it hurting anymore), it is likely not yet back exactly to the abilities it once had.
And that’s a big risk.
Don’t Repeat History
The danger in immediately picking up your activities or workout routine as normal following healing matches closely to the reasons many people became injured in the first place: giving the body more than it can handle at the time.
A recovered tendon, ligament, or bone is not immediately stronger or more enduring than it was when it started. It is, often, going to start off weaker than its surrounding parts. Placing too much demand on this area again without reconditioning it can cause the same injury—or even a worse one.
Recurring injuries can also cause more chronic problems down the line. This is especially true of ankle injuries such as sprains. Consistent sprains can significantly reduce the stability of the ankle joint over time, which only makes sprains more likely. It can lead to a downward spiral that involves chronic pain and a greater likelihood of ankle arthritis.
When it comes to full rehabilitation, however, there is often a plan.
The Road Back to Normal
Before heading back to normal activities after a sports injury, the needs for reconditioning the area must be examined and addressed. A good plan often involves a regimen of exercises and routines that gradually rebuild the needed element, and may also involve additional measures to help prevent another injury.
Work on rehabilitating or reconditioning does not always have to wait until pain and swelling have been fully eliminated. If full mobilization is not required, even small exercises to start can have a significant impact on the rate at which you can return to your previous activity levels.
The elements that might be reviewed include:
- Range of Motion. Given how critical flexibility in our ankles and feet are to our movement, range of motion exercises are typically recommended as soon as possible. Simple movements are often recommended first. One sample exercise involves lifting the foot and “writing out” the alphabet as though your big toe was a pen. This moves through all basic ankle motions, and includes some foot flexing as well.
- Usually, strength building becomes a bigger focus once swelling and pain have been significantly reduced. Strength exercises can include working with resistance bands, repeating heel and toe raises, and lunches. A physical therapist can provide specific help in strength training when needed.
- This is just a scientific term for your body’s ability to sense where it is in the world and correct its position when necessary. Proprioception is how you remain stable when you stand and move. Conditioning it will help avoid stumbles and rolls that can increase your risks of injuries (especially sprains).
Although general conditioning exercises are important, there should also be a focus on any elements of the activities or sports you want to return to. Focusing on specific common movements will provide additional strength and flexibility in the areas you will most frequently need them.
If other factors are contributing to your likelihood of sports injury, they should be addressed as well. This might include custom orthotics to provide extra support and cushioning against an abnormal gait or foot structure, or changes to footwear and technique.
Get Back in the Game
Getting healed is one thing; getting back up to full strength is another. We can help you get back out there as quickly as possible, but we won’t do it in ways that risk further injury and problems.
If you are suffering from foot or ankle pain due to a sports injury, do not wait on receiving the care you need. Call Waukesha Foot Specialists at (262) 544-0700. Or, if you prefer to reach us electronically, fill out our online contact form and a member of our staff will respond to you.