Tips for Easing Back into Exercise After an Injury or Surgery

By Maureen Wise in Healthy Feeling

Nothing kills your workout momentum like an injury. Your doctor may tell you the most important thing for recovery is rest, so you’ll often have to take a break from exercising altogether. But what happens when you’re healthy again? Once your doctor says it’s OK to begin easing back into exercise, you’ll still need to be careful and strategic about your workouts.

I’ve been a runner since high school and have never taken much time off from the sport, but this past August, while on a run, I badly twisted my ankle and broke the bottom of my tibia. I consulted with my doctor, who gave me the all clear to begin easing back into exercise.

post-surgery exercises

Keep Active

If you’re recovering from surgery, illness, or another lower leg injury, you can do seated exercises like bicep curls, seated military presses, dumbbell presses, and tricep presses. Floor exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, and planks using my knees instead of feet work well as post surgery exercises, too.

Focus on the muscles groups that aren’t injured and what feels good while you’re ill. Lauren Noe, the CEO and head sport performance coach from Evolution Performance in Cleveland, says “After you’ve been cleared by your doctor, you want to keep moving as much as possible so you don’t lose everything you’ve gained from previous training. Do non-weightbearing and contraction exercises first until you’re ready for more.” Additionally, slow yoga moves and stretches are a great way to keep your muscles engaged while you’re recovering. Staying active doesn’t include any sort of cardio while you’re still sick or healing.

Ease into Cardio

Once you’re given the OK from your doctor, you’ll be allowed to do some light exercising, maybe with a brace or sling. Walking on a paved trail or sidewalk is a great first workout. When you feel stronger, add in some moderate cycling or swimming, both of which are  low impact  on your hips, knees, and ankles.

Other recovery workout options are the stairmaster, hiking, and rowing. The elliptical and a light spinning class are your last steps before graduation to your normal exercise regime. They’ll both get you sweating but are still low impact on your joints.

Getting Back into Your Old Routine

Whether you’re a runner, a snowboarder, or a dancer, you need to start off slow. Consult with your doctor, physical therapist, or trainer about the level of activity you can handle. Coach Noe says, “Start with a [quarter] of the normal regimen to make sure there are no adverse side effects such as pain, swelling, and so forth.” Thus, if you usually run four miles, try just one to see how you feel. If you usually attend two, hour-long dance classes, start with just one half-hour session for a few weeks.

Start at a slow pace and listen to your body—this is not the time to feel the burn or go the extra mile. Coach Noe recommends increasing your effort by no more than 25 percent weekly until you’re back at your normal workout. The most important thing is that you enjoy moving again. Exercise with a friend or go outside to make your easy workout time part of the emotional recovery, too. You’re easing back into exercise, not training for a race—yet! But you’ll get there.

Have you had to take time out to recovery from injury, surgery, or illness? Tell us your favorite slow workout on Twitter!

Image sources: Flickr | Maureen Wise

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

It's difficult to stay fit while you're injured or sick. You don't want to risk making things worse, but you also don't want to lose any fitness progress you've made. Luckily, by taking it slowly and consulting with your doctor, there are ways you can give your body the workout it craves without hindering the healing process.