Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Exercising Through Injury for Better Health

When we are injured sometimes it's easy to feel like we are missing out. We sit on the sidelines missing out on fun activities with our friends and family, or we don't get to do our regular workouts that make us feel good. Usually, it's not until we are hurt that we realize how much we've been taking our good health for granted.

Learning to listen to our bodies, tending to our ailments and respecting the time needed to rest and repair damage is both an art and a skill. But, even if you're on the sidelines from activities that you LIKE to do... Chances are there is still something that you CAN do to keep moving safely.

The typical time off for an injury, and most surgeries is 6-8 weeks. Of course this is completely at the discretion of your doctor. So if you're currently in the midst of a pain, injury or recovering from surgery PLEASE - get clearance from your health care provider to know when it's safe for you to start moving and what types of activities are OK for you both now and in the future.

If we "hurt" and stop moving, we get stiffer and weaker. We have to move our muscles to keep the body strong. We have to work every muscle and joint through a full range of motion to maintain flexibility. We have to eat well to nourish our cells to regenerate the body from the inside out. Stop doing all of this and you will never feel better, only worse

I'm going to use myself as an inspirational example to illustrate how to creatively workout around your limitations to stay active and healthy. I've been injured probably more than I've been 100% healthy in my life - but I've always managed to stay active. It's not only our physical health that takes a beating when we stop moving, but mentally and psychologically we can quickly psych ourselves out of a healthy, happy attitude about life. When I can't exercise... that's when I'm grumpy and miserable. But there have been many weeks, months and even years of my life where pain and injury have caused my active lifestyle to come to a screeching halt.

Here are examples from my life of injuries and illnesses that I have had to cope with and how I managed to exercise and come out healthier on the other side of these incidents:

As a child I had lower back pain because of congenital bone deformities & instability. Exercise kept my back strong - lack of activity throws my back out!

  • Gymnastics and Dance probably saved my back and kept me strong as a child.
  • Pilates training has made a HUGE difference because it increases deep core strength, posture and back support.
  • Practicing good posture & breathing habits, Pilates, weight-training and good functional movement for exercise, along with an occasional Chiropractic adjustment, or massage keeps my back healthy and pain-free.

At age 14 I was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in my ankles. I was in so much pain, even when I walked. My bones were pounding together because I had no cushion between them. I ignored the problem for 2-3 years, until I seriously thought I'd be in a wheelchair by 30.

  • First I took 1 year off from ALL impact activities. This included gymnastics, which was my passion.
  • I took up swimming and weight training in order to workout without pounding on my feet.
  • Because I was young, after a year my ankles stopped hurting. I was able to take on impact exercises again. With no foot pain, I pursued a degree in Dance (you have to JUMP to dance) and ran my first ½ Marathon at age 45.
  • At 47 I now jog 2-4 miles at least twice a week with healthy feet.
  • Today, I am enthusiastic about foot fitness because I know first-hand the importance of healthy feet.

While I was exercising I experienced a torn abdominal muscle that took 10+ years to fully heal!

  • During the acute stage of this injury, for months, I could not sit up, roll over or even carry my car keys.
  • I worked up to being able to "exercise" through breathing & meditation, plus time in the Sauna to work up a sweat.
  • I progressed to walking in the pool and eventually swimming.
  • Then I moved to walking on land.
  • Eventually Pilates & Weight Training then back to full activities without fear of re-injury.

Most recently, I have what is called Optic Neuritis, which is inflammation of the Optic Nerve. I have been "blind" in either my right or left eye 3 times! Aside from not being able to see, the pressure causes extreme headaches, and the treatment is high-dose steroids which results in extreme weight gain and puffy moon face. The first time this happened my weight skyrocketed, I went from a size 8 to a size 16! My doctor advised that impact activities or heavy weights could tear my muscles and ligaments away from my bones while on the dosage I had to take for this medial issue.

  • At the time of my last "flare" I was running regularly, and lifting heavy weights 2-3 days/week. Both contra-indicated for my health issues.
  • I switched from running to walking and elliptical (non-impact).
  • I continued "lifting" weights but put on the lightest weight possible (5 - 15lbs) and focused on form in order to stay consistent with my workouts.
  • I had to avoid ALL head lower than my heart activities to reduce pressure on my eye. (i.e. NO upside down exercises)
  • I regularly practiced meditation. On steroids I could not sleep and averaged 1-2 hours of sleep per night for almost 9 months. Meditation helped me feel rested, even though I wasn't sleeping.
  • I actually had to go on a "Detox" program to get off steroids and resolve the inflammation to restore my eyesight. Luckily, while the optic nerve has been damaged, I can still see!
  • Diet & nutrition have played an important part in reducing the amount of "inflammation" in my system to get and stay healthy.

These are 4 completely different problems; a birth defect, an overuse injury, an accident and a medical condition and I was able to breath and move my way through them. Regardless of the problem, chances are there is something you can do that will be safe for your body. Doing nothing will never help you feel better.

Even though I would prefer to be in excellent health all the time, each of these health set-backs were an opportunity for me to do something different. I now see them as an opportunity where I was able to learn important skills that I now use in my regular exercise routine.

Despite all of these health issues, I am almost 50 and jogging, lifting heavy weights, doing Pilates and even handstands and indoor skydiving. I incorporate lots of high impact and head-down training that involves healthy feet, a strong core and a good lower back. We are only limited by the limitations that we place on ourselves. Many physical aches, pains and injuries can be made better with the right exercises in the right training program.

We all have our own unique health issues and suffer from injuries and accidents that get in the way of our wellness program. The challenge is not letting your "issues" get in the way, but use them as a springboard to learn new strategies for your "bag of tricks" to maintain your good health.

During your injury, what creative solutions or new activities can you incorporate into your workouts to keep moving at an appropriate pace in order for you to progress back to 100 percent healthy? If you're not sure, seek professional advice to start crafting a plan to get you back to optimal health.

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