7 Effective Ways to Bounce Back After an Injury

You've been putting in the time at the gym, making the effort to squeeze workouts into your busy schedule and pushing yourself to get fitter and faster. You're feeling good, staying committed and consistent, when the unthinkable happens: you get injured.

This was definitely not part of the plan.

Whether you're a seasoned exerciser whose workouts are a daily event or a beginner who recently found some momentum, injuries are no fun. It's difficult to stay motivated when doctor's orders (or just your own pain level) keep you from the activities you enjoy. Whether you're out for six days, six weeks, six months or even longer, how do you find the drive to keep pushing forward and stay focused on the path toward success?

When an injury first happens, it's normal to experience feelings of anger, frustration and perhaps even sadness that you can't do what you once did. You might spend some time thinking about how it could have been prevented or asking the unanswerable "Why me?" But after you've had a day or two for a pity party, it's time to pick yourself up, refocus and create a new plan. Attitude is everything. Are you going to let this injury defeat you, or turn it into an opportunity to create a plan B? Let's choose the latter.

Dust Yourself Off and Move Forward

  1. Set a new goal. You might not be able to do the 5K you signed up to run next month, but that doesn't mean you're destined to become a couch potato. Consider signing up for another race a few months out and put today's efforts into rehabbing the injury. Rather than dreading the exercises that will help you recover, view them as the next physical challenge to conquer.

  2. Get creative. If the doctor says you can't power walk for the next three weeks, are there other activities you can try? What about biking, the elliptical or even water walking? Can you do seated workouts like those found in SparkPeople's Limited Mobility Lifestyle Center? Ask your doctor for specific guidelines for what you can and can't do. As always, listen to your body. You don't want to push through pain, but it's good to experiment to find pain-free activities.

  3. Keep things in perspective. Although activity is important, it's just one small part of your life. Unless it’s a career-ending injury, you'll likely look back at this 10 years from now as a small blip on the radar and not something that changed your life forever. Feeling down—and then staying down—won't change the outcome. Find other, non-physical ways to challenge yourself. Use your recovery time as an opportunity for personal growth in other areas of your life.

  4. Track your progress.  When it seems like you're not improving, it helps to have a visual reminder. Create a motivational chart that records your gains in strength, things you're able to do this week that you couldn't do previously, increases in cardio endurance and other improvements. Pinterest is a great resource for ideas!  

  5. Remember what matters most when it comes to weight loss. If losing or maintaining weight is one of your biggest reasons for exercising, never fear. Keep in mind that the majority of weight loss progress comes from diet, not exercise. Even if you can't exercise at all, you can still lose weight—or at least avoid gaining back the weight you’ve lost—if you are making consistently healthy food choices and tracking your food daily. Progress might be slower, so adjust your expectations, but keep moving forward.    

  6. Stop dwelling in the past. Like it or not, you can't change the past. There is no point in dwelling on how far you could run six months ago or how much weight you could bench when you were a junior in high school. Assess where you are right now and develop a plan to move forward toward new health and fitness goals. Are you going to let an injury dampen your attitude and define your success, or will you rise above it and come out stronger on the other side? The choice is simple.

  7. Find a good support system. It's not always easy to deal with life's ups and downs alone. Friends, family and your SparkPeople Community will cheer you on when things go well and pick you up when they don't. The support of others after an injury could be just what you need to get motivated and begin again.

Members Share How Injury Didn't Keep Them Down

After breaking her arm this past summer, Jo Ann (TEXASTITCHER) was in the hospital for three days recovering from surgery. When she returned home, she was able to do light cardio but had to limit her strength training until the arm healed completely. "Staying as active as possible is an easy way to avoid some of the symptoms of depression that can occur after an injury,” says Jo Ann. “I want to stay mobile and enjoy life. I'm over 65 and want to enjoy travel and pursue other life adventures."

LuAnn (LUANN_IN_PA) was sidelined for months after a serious motor vehicle accident. "In the beginning, I could not even move out of bed," she recalls. "I was able to return to regular exercise after about a year of physical and massage therapy." LuAnn explains that not moving forward was never an option. "Every day, I wrote down at least three things for which I was grateful. In the beginning, it was simple ‘taken for granted’ things, like that I woke up (I still suffer from a traumatic brain injury). The support I got from family, neighbors and friends really helped. I was unable to drive for a long time, so they took me to physical therapy, got the kids to their activities and brought us meals. I knew I had to get better so they could resume their lives!"

When AJ (COONSY) broke her leg, she was completely non-weight bearing for four months. Although she has since returned to some activity, it is still limited. "I still can't run and jump, although I can ‘hobble trot’ and ‘hop’ a bit," she explains. AJ says she is still getting back in the swing of things, and some days the struggle takes its toll. "It's taking a bit to get back into it, especially since my body isn't as predictable," she says. "There's still a long road to a full recovery, but I'm determined to chase my dreams and make it happen!" 

4 Practical Tips for Recovery

  • See your doctor for a proper diagnosis. If your injury is accompanied by pain, swelling or the inability to do your normal daily tasks without difficulty, it's important to get it checked out. Don't speculate about what the problem might be, as that could delay treatment and make it worse.
  • Remember that rest does not equal treatment. If your doctor has prescribed specific exercises to help you heal, don't assume that it’s enough to stay off your feet. Inactivity is usually worse than following a recovery plan that includes modified activity, so be sure to follow through with your doctor's recommendations.
  • Take it slow. You've been off for a few weeks and when you woke up this morning, your knee suddenly felt so much better. That's great news, but it doesn't mean you should try walking three miles this afternoon. Proceed with caution and resist the urge to just pick up where you left off. Slowly build up the intensity and duration of your workouts, just like you did when you first started exercising.
  • Deal with the root cause of the injury. Was it just a freak accident or related to a specific issue? Muscle imbalance or weakness, which can be identified by specific fitness tests performed by a certified personal trainer, can lead to injury. By getting to the source of the problem, you can make a plan to correct it and reduce the chance of recurrence.
The right mindset and a specific plan of action will set you up for success, regardless of how significantly your injury has set you back. Be flexible and patient because success is still within your reach!
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Member Comments

Timely info for me. Thank you! Report
Really listen at rehab. Most times those people are the deal and want to help you. Report
thanks for sharing Report
I have found that the most important is do not try to come back too early or too fast. Report
I am slowly working my way back to a better me Report
Great article. Thanks. Report
Thanks for the suggestions! Report
I am dealing with a knot of scarred muscle in my calf after injury. Looks so ugly. Aggressive massage which is painful is helping break it up. Report
My Achilles is taking forever I’ve had to shorten my runs to 2 miles once a week Report
The hardest part of coming back after an injury is just coming back. Report
thanks Report
Thank you for the information! Report
I have lumbar issues so there are time I just have to work out with pain Report


About The Author

Jen Mueller
Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist, behavior change specialist and functional training specialist. She is also a RRCA-certified running coach. See all of Jen's articles.