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Should I exercise when I am injured?

The simple answer to this question is YES! However, it is important that you manage the load you are placing on your body.  For example, if you are suffering from a torn muscle (grade 1 – the most minor of tears) then doing more running is not advisable and to be honest, the pain will most likely prevent you from doing this.  However, to completely rest during this period will be poor for your overall outcome from injury.

Let’s give some facts here.  The risk of re-injury in any damaged muscle is fairly high.  Some studies show the increased risk can be as much as 6 times that of a non-injured muscle.  Exercise during the healing stage has been shown to improve the tensile strength of a muscle and the overall repair.

So what happens when a muscle is injured?  Upon tearing a muscle the functionality of the muscle changes.  The body immediately sends cells to the area to help ‘plug the hole’ as such.  This plug though is weak, and although it stops the main bulk of blood leaking out, some does escape.  This is when the inflammation happens.  When these red blood cells leak, they die, and dead red blood cells release histamine.  This histamine creates the swelling effect around the injured area.  The swelling is good though.  Inflammation in the body results in the body sending repair cells to the area.  It’s almost a calling sound for help.  The swelling too brings blood vessels closer together (think about it, when you tear a muscle, you also tear the thousands of blood vessels that supply the muscle).  This coming together allows for key nutrients needed during repair to pass between vessels much easier and therefore keep the damaged area supplied as such.

The key to this part though is do not interrupt this for 48-72 hours.  After injury, things feel really tight and people want to stretch.  Well don’t do that!  Again, think about it, you have just torn muscle fibres away from each other, by stretching you are only tearing them away from each other again.  The feeling of needing to stretch is caused by the compression on nerve endings from the inflammation and although it may feel like it offers temporary relief (you are pushing some of the inflammation away during the stretch which then offers temporary pain relief) you are only starting the whole process again.  It becomes a vicious circle very quick!

Once the site of injury has healed (within 48-72 hours) it is still very weak.  The mesh that has been laid down is prone to being split again so do not attempt stretches just yet.  This is where exercise comes in.  As mentioned above, we tore the muscle from over stretching it, so now we want to hold it closer together so we do the opposite of stretch and that is contract.  To contract a muscle though involves exercise.  Exercise, or movement, is key to ensuring the new fibres that are being laid down in the repair phase are aligned correctly.  Poor alignment of these fibres can mean the demands the muscles place upon them results in re-injury very soon after.  Take the calf muscle for example, we use it to push off and walk/run every day.  The alignment of the muscles in the calves is of a particular type/arrangement.  If they were not lined like this we would not use them the way we do.  Now, when injured, by sitting there and not doing any exercise, the body will not help you our naturally. In fact, the body is lazy, really lazy.  It wants the easiest life possible and this sometimes means doing as little as possible.  Even when it comes to repair the body will repair the site but will act like the worst builder ever by just throwing the stuff (fibres) down and sealing the hole (the muscle tear).  It doesn’t care about future use, it just wants that hole sorted and for no more blood to come away.  Although good to an extent, this speed is no good for the future.  Scar tissue forms very quickly with poorly laid muscle fibres and it is this tissue type which becomes very weak and prone to damage again.  By exercising you are encouraging constant repair of the site but in a controlled manner and with much better outcomes than not exercising.

As you continue this exercise the muscles will continue to grow but you may still suffer tightness.  This is where your Sports Massage service comes in.  As therapists we understand how to create the perfect healing environment without placing the muscle under too much stress.  We can provide home exercise programmes for you to carry out and maintain regular contact with you to track your progress.  Understanding your needs and educating clients on what will work best is what we do at Bodylogics.  Our team of highly trained professionals can help get you back to pre-injury levels and ensure you can return to play as soon as possible.  Visit our website at www.bodylogics.co.uk for more information and we look forward to seeing you soon.

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