top of page

Book a video consultation with our physios

Injured? 5 Key steps to a quick recovery

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Injury usually has a way of striking just as you feel you’re on a roll or you’re finally in sight of your goal. I’m very familiar with the frustration and anger people experience when they have to watch their hard-earned form and fitness slowly slip away. Not to mention the pain of having to watch your team play without you! But the good news is that there are 5 key steps that you can take to ensure that your comeback is as speedy as possible.

Learn the 5 steps you can take to make a quick injury recovery.

In this article:

  • Step 1: Understanding your injury

  • Step 2: Giving your injury what it needs

  • Step 3: Keeping your fitness through other activities

  • Step 4: Using this time to get strong

  • Step 5: Looking at the full picture

Step 1: Understanding your injury

Having an accurate diagnosis of your injury is key to making a quick recovery. Knowing what you’ve injured tells you how long it will likely take to heal, what exercise you can do to help it heal and also what you should avoid. Any experienced physiotherapist should be able to help you with this.

But understanding your injury involves more than just having a diagnosis. You must also understand why it happened in the first place! When you’re injured you should view it as a learning experience so that you can train smarter and avoid injury in the future. It may also be key to effective treatment as some things that you’re still busy doing may be making your injury worse.

This is an integral part of my consultation process. I usually spend about a third or more of the time just getting an idea of who the person in front of me is and what factors in their training, regular life, diet, sleep etc. could have contributed to the injury. Yes, of course some injuries are down to things outside of your control, but experience has shown me that you can only truly say that once you’ve considered all possibilities.

Step 2: Giving your injury what it needs

All injuries require a combination of rest and exercise to heal. How long you’ve got to rest for and how quickly you can ramp up the strength training will depend on the severity of your injury.

I’ve previously written in detail about how the healing process works, but in short: If you opt for rest only and no strength training, you’ll likely end up with a weakness that can easily be re-injured. I also see the opposite happen in practice. People are often keen to get back to full fitness and do too much strength training too soon which then just aggravates the injury.

It is nearly impossible to dish out generic advice that can be applied to all injuries but as a rough guide I would suggest:

  • Protect the injury for the first 3 to 5 days and apply RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevations).

  • Keep the injured body part moving. Don’t push into pain. If you move it repetitively to where you can just feel discomfort kick in, you’ll notice that it eases off over time.

  • As the injured body part starts to heal you can slowly introduce specific exercises to strengthen it. I’m not talking heavy weights. For something like a calf strain, I would for instance start people off doing double leg heel raises initially and once the pain allows move on to single leg ones.

  • You want to work for endurance before you start doing heavy loads. If you’re experiencing pain or swelling during or after the exercises, you’ve likely done too much. It’s really best to get some guidance from someone experienced in treating sports injuries.

Step 3: Keeping your fitness through other activities

I cannot stress this point enough. If you want to make a quick comeback from injury, you have to keep your cardiovascular fitness up while recovering. This way, you only have to deal with muscles complaining and you don’t have to try and drag a tired heart and lungs around as well when you’re ready to go back to your sport

I’ve seen a top triathlete run the same time in a race despite having been forced (through injury) to do most of their run training using a cross trainer. Your heart and lungs can get the benefit from doing interval sessions and long “runs” using e.g. a cross trainer while the injury to your leg benefits from the lack of impact compared to running. This also applies to other body parts.

What type of cardiovascular exercise your injury allows will depend on the injury itself, but some options may be:

  • swimming (use a float between your legs if you can’t kick)

  • cycling

  • cross trainer

  • arm cycle

  • Running may even be an option if it’s an upper body injury that stops you from swimming.

Even the choice of terrain could make a difference. Your injury may for instance allow you to cycle on the flat or on a stationary bike but complain if you clip your feet in or cycle on hilly terrain.

Step 4: Using this time to get strong

This is the ideal time to work on core strength, upper body strength, balance or whatever area of your body you normally neglect. Having a strong and stable core not only protects against injury but also leads to better performance – it’s a no-brainer really!

Your injury may also have been caused by muscles in other parts of the body being weak e.g. weak glutes can often contribute to Achilles tendon injuries. Decreased proprioception (balance) has been shown to predispose you to knee injuries including meniscus and ACL tears. So use this time to sort these areas out.

Step 5: Looking at the full picture

With this I mean sleep, diet, social life etc. There is strong evidence to suggest that you mess with your body’s recovery if you don’t sleep enough, don’t get enough nutrients or drink too much alcohol. Hopefully you also know by now that smoking is a bad idea – nicotine heavily interferes with the healing process so vaping is just as bad.

Choose your social events carefully. For instance, it’s not the time to go dancing, stand at a concert all night or go for a long shopping spree if you’ve injured your leg.

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn or ReasearchGate.


bottom of page