by Katie Pierce, PT, DPT
Has being laid up with an injury gotten you down?
Dealing with a physical injury, chronic pain, or other health condition can be a real game-changer. Activities which used to be easy (like walking across a room, let alone taking your dog out for a run), now seem almost impossible. Even if the condition is short-lived (such as I faced this fall when I injured my ankle while running, and had to wear a cast and use crutches for several weeks), plummeting physical activity levels can be a real downer. But with a little determination and some creativity, an injury or health condition doesn’t have to be a sentence for house-arrest. Here are some tips to help you find ways to safely engage in physical activity while dealing with an injury or other health condition:
Alter your workout: Change mode, intensity, frequency, or duration:
The mode (how you are exercising) may be the first thing that needs to change while you’re recovering from injury. No matter how much I would love to deny the fact, I was NOT going to be able to run while my leg was in a fiberglass cast and I was non-weight-bearing on crutches. Arghh… But I could don my water-proof cast cover and get in the pool. Or ride a “New Step” seated stepper machine at my local community center by peddling with both arms and my left leg only.
Your favorite activities may be out-of-reach for awhile, but there are other creative ways to keep your activity level up. And “New Stepping” with the folks at the local senior center, I learned, no matter how much it’s NOT running, is much better than staying home and skipping the day’s exercise altogether. Why? Because I crave those exercise-induced endorphins! Any exercise which gets the heart rate up and keeps it there for a period of time, can effectively boost feel-good neurotransmitter levels in the brain, such as serotonin and epinephrine (DG Amen, 2010).
Other, more subtle changes to your exercise routine may do the trick. Reducing intensity, for example , may be all it takes to allow a less serious injury to heal. Or reduce frequency of the offending activity (e.g. biking 5 times a week was nagging at your knee, so you reduce to twice a week), while choosing a different mode of exercise on the days off. Or duration: simply do the activity for less time. Your Physical therapist can help you decide which changes need to be made to your typical exercise program to help you heal, while still meeting your needs for physical activity.
Disclaimer: Special equipment is being used to keep me safe in this photo (Yak Trax on the boots, metal spikes on the crutches… Don’t try this without proper gear! See next section, below)
Nature has been called “Vitamin N,” because outdoor time is so essential to our well being as homo sapiens (Louv, 2012). Getting outside can be key to boosting mood, especially if your primary mode(s) of physical activity before your injury involved the out-of-doors.
Meeting your cardiovascular exercise needs outdoors may not be possible, depending on your injury or health condition. But just “being” outside can still provide a needed lift to your spirits. Earlier this fall, while non weight-bearing on crutches, and nursing a sore shoulder, I could literally only propel myself a few hundred feet at a time. But I still made plans to drive up with a friend to the edge of the National Forest almost daily. We’d park, and I’d crutch out several yards and sit on rock, listening to the sounds of Nature and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. I couldn’t exercise outdoors, but I could still enjoy the gifts of beauty of it. And then I’d go to the pool for my aerobic exercise. It took some planning and extra time, yet I could feel the mental boost it gave me to spend time outdoors every day.
Be creative: Special tools and equipment can help you do what you love
Sometimes the limitations of an injury make certain forms of exercise unsafe (think rubber crutch tips on snow and ice) or impractical (a fiberglass cast in the swimming pool?). My clients with dizziness and imbalance, for example, just can’t safely ride their bikes when dealing with a flare in their symptoms.
But a little creativity – and some special products – can help solve problems like these. “Crutch tips for snow and ice,” (my actual Google search terms) for example, were my best friends last winter, and turned seemingly treacherous situations into an easy crutch-walk. Can’t get a cast wet? No problem: Waterproof vacuum-sealed cast covers are at your service. Just search online, you’ll be surprised at what’s for sale.
Ask to borrow a blue “aqua jogging belt” at a local aquatic facility – You can use it in deep water, or if you can bear some weight, in chest-high water with your feet touching bottom…
But what about more complicated conditions, like spine pain or dizziness? Spine pain can be a tricky injury for those wanting cardiovascular exercise, because many motions can trigger pain – twisting, flexing, bouncing, etc. But what about deep water jogging? Aqua Jogging belts are designed to allow you to move in deep water without sinking, and allow you to maintain good postural alignment while moving your limbs and raising your heart rate. Here in Flagstaff, you can borrow an “Aqua Jogger” at no extra charge with your day pass to both the Aquaplex or NAU’s Wall Aquatic Center.
Dizziness and imbalance can be tricky, too. A few of my clients have returned to their love of biking while still healing from vestibular disorders, by setting up a stationary bike trainer and getting those wheels turning, safely.
Rental products for mobility can help with leg injuries: my “knee scooter” and I, below, had a great time participating in a “Splash 2 Dash” race at NAU. So what if I didn’t finish the 5K run (OK, so I scooted about 400 meters then called it a day)? I still had a blast, and I rocked the swim portion, waterproof cast protector and all.
So the moral of the story? Exercise is good for the body, and for your spirits, too. Your Physical Therapist can help you design an exercise program to keep you as fit [and happy] as possible while you let your body heal.
Contact the expert physical therapists at CoreBalance Therapy, for evaluation for an injury or mobility condition, and learn how to stay active while you recover.
You just might see this active P.T. crutching around the clinic, for a few more weeks…