It is almost inevitable that in some point during your strength training or other physical activity you will experience an injury. The most common injuries you might experience include muscle tears, muscle strain or joint injuries. Whatever injury you happen to have, it can take precious days out of your workout routine. We turned to fitness expert Wes Cole, C.S.C.S, to find out what is going on with your body during an injury and learn how you can continue to workout safely while you have an injury.
Cole, author of Wes Cole’s Healthy Habits, explains that all tissue follows the same basic pattern for healing: the inflammation phase, the repair phase, and the remodeling phase. In the first phase, the area where the injury occurs will begin to swell, also called edema. The swelling is actually caused by the body’s process of removing tissue debris from the injured area, which requires an increase in blood flow.
“This swelling, or edema, inhibits flexing of the muscle and movement,” Cole said. “It’s like your body’s naturally trying to immobilize the injured area, which is why activity to the injured area is strongly not recommended.” Also, because the swelling can also affect the nerves in the injured area during this phase, you will find it pretty painful to move whatever part of your body is affected, it shouldn’t be too hard to force yourself to avoid physical activity for a few days.
In the second phase, the repair phase, the tissues that were removed during the first phase begin to start getting replaced with new tissue. Cole says it is during this phase that it’s important to begin light activity with the injured area in order to prevent muscle atrophy and more importantly joint deterioration. It is important to keep in mind that as these new collagen fibers are being formed, they are very weak, so it is best to avoid any challenging, resistive exercises. Cole suggests that isometric exercise may be the best to help the area recover quickly and properly as long as you don’t feel any pain during the exercise.
“More importantly, special attention should be given to cardio respiratory conditioning and exercises to non- injured areas to avoid a de-conditioning effect to the whole body,” Cole added.
Finally, in the last phase, the remodeling phase, the new tissue has become stronger and more structurally sound. It is now that you can begin to do more advanced exercise and progressive strength training. Cole warns that you should still be pretty cautious during this phase.
“Depending on the severity of the damaged tissue, it’s important to note that although the strength of the tissue can improve dramatically, the new tissue will probably never be as strong as the original,” Cole explained. “This is just one of those ‘bummer’ scientific facts that all serious athletes and weekend warriors alike must understand.”
The body’s healing process can be quite amazing, but there are some things it can’t do perfectly. Depending on the severity of your injury it might never go back to exactly the way it was before. Cole strongly recommends paying close attention to what your body is trying to tell you, there is a reason you are feeling pain.
“I’ve trained thousands of athletes and regular folks for years now and often your body will give you warnings before a serious injury occurs. It might be a twinge in the back, or a wobbly, aching knee during lunges that you haven’t felt before,” he said. “Listen to these cues and remember that your tendons, ligaments and muscles are the parts to a machine that’s going to move you through life and this machine has no return policy. You only have one model and it’s yours until your last breath. Take care of it.”