As I sit down to write this blog I have ice on my swollen knee, a pillow propped behind my ever-aggravated neck and a pillow under my legs so as not to irritate the herniated disc or finicky facet joints in my low back. I am consciously taking deep breaths to ward off anxiety and am looking forward to a good night's sleep that will allow me to have a more balanced mindset tomorrow. I still worked out today, and I will again tomorrow, and I am about to tell you why most injuries should not be your reason for avoiding exercise.
Whether your life is an active one or currently a sedentary one, we have all experienced injuries; however, they are generally of different natures.
Injuries that occur in sedentary individuals typically come on gradually (although they may seem sudden). Have you ever coughed and injured a disc in your back? It probably wasn't the cough, but rather daily sitting, incorrect movement patterns and weak surrounding structures that led to the back injury. Or perhaps you or someone you know has a gradual disc herniation in their neck or a bump at the base of their neck from the damaging posture typically assumed when in front of a computer all day or when texting. Additionally, when we sit for an extended period of time (i.e. more than 20-30 minutes at a time) we can cause our hip flexors to become tight, which can lead to low back pain as well. You may have also heard of "movie goers knee" which occurs when the knee has been bent for too long, causing a dull ache in the knee cap. Weak quadriceps and tight hip flexors can contribute to this condition.
These gradual injuries should not be your reason for exexercise avoidance, as exercise is a big key to your rehabilitation! Low back pain? Core work and the implementation of proper movement patterns will help you (note: sit ups and crunches are not the way to build a strong back). Knee pain? Let's strengthen the musculature surrounding your hip and knee. The bonus is that if you do incorporate appropriate exercise into your routine, the likelihood of you experiencing that injury again goes down! These situations often call for a qualified professional, like a chiropractor or educated personal trainer, to ensure your exercise routine is safe and beneficial.
Injuries that occur in active individuals often occur acutely, like when a soccer player experiences a bad tackle and tears their ACL or when a hockey player crashes into the boards and separates their shoulder. Although, be aware of incorrect movement patterns when exercising that can eventually turn into an injury (ex. deadlifting incorrectly and eventually herniating a disc). While it may be necessary to avoid using that separated shoulder, that doesn't mean you have to completely avoid activity. Body weight squats, biking, lunging and step ups are all examples of exercises that are still possible in that situation.
Then of course we have our mental state to consider. Exercise has been proven to be an effective way to manage a variety of mental illnesses and disorders including depression and anxiety. The conundrum here is that if you are depressed it can be impossible to get yourself up and out for that walk or into the gym. Everybody's experiences with mental health are different, and sometimes you are simply in survival mode. It is important not to beat yourself up about missing workouts, work or other tasks or events when you are in this place. However, when you are not in that place exercise can stabilize mood, alleviate the intensity of depression and provide an outlet for a lot of that anxious energy.
While rest definitely has it's place, it is important to identify when you are taking care of yourself and when you are using injuries as a excuse to not exercise. Of course if you are injured, struggling with your mental health or worried about becoming injured you should speak to the appropriate health care provider before commencing an exercise routine.
When implemented appropriately, exercise can elevate your physical and mental health. Injuries and limitations should be viewed as one more reason to exercise, rather than reason to avoid it. As always just remember that you are worth the effort it takes.
Lindsay M Branton