How to keep moving while recovering from injury

We know physical activity has many health benefits and helps reduce our risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But what happens when we're injured? Should we 'keep moving' when we've got a sprained ankle, iliotibial band issues (ITB) (owwww!), pulled a hammy, or been struck down with all the other things that could go wrong?  


Jennifer Egan is an ultra-marathon runner and previously worked as an occupational therapist and personal trainer. She's now Diabetes Queensland acting chief operating officer.  We asked Jen about the activities she does while recovering from injury (she's currently recovering from surgery), as well as how people can prepare themselves to prevent injuries. 


What injury have you had and how did it occur?

'My first running injury was an ITB injury; the iliotibial band is a band of fascia on the outside of your leg between the hip and knee, which can get very tight and cause knee pain. For me this was due to muscle weakness in some of the supporting muscles, so I worked on strengthening exercises, particularly for my glutes, and managed to return to running.


'My other big injury has been a stress fracture in my tibia (or lower leg) which was due to a combination of technique and overuse. Rest days really are important. I worked with my physio around technique, but I also cut back my kilometres, changed the surfaces I ran on, and listened to my body, which all made a big difference.


What rehabilitation did you do to recover from your injury?

'Plan your rehabilitation program with a health-care professional, using their advice and expertise to determine what activities you could and should be doing. Determine how often you should be doing these activities, and when you could progress in terms of repetitions, weight or distances.


'Remember that progression is the key principle and don't do more than the plan. That's how you get injured again. Be sensible about it, and listen to your body.


'For each of my injuries I've done a combination of strength work as well as other cross-training activities to keep my cardio up without impacting or putting pressure on the injury.'


How can people with an injury get their 30 min of physical activity a day?

'First of all, it's important to talk to your GP or health professional about your rehab program and whether there are any cross-training activities you can do.


'With my stress fracture I could still swim since it wasn't putting pressure on my leg so I would try to swim a couple of times a week until I could start running.


'Your 30 minutes does not need to be the same activity. If you can't swim for 30 minutes maybe start with a 10 minute swim and a 20 minute walk or cycle. Look for different combinations of activities to make up the 30 minutes: cycle, swim, walk, run, row, dance, box. There are so many options.'


What sort of preparation (emotionally, physically, psychologically) do you do to prevent injuries?

'Injury prevention isn't just about what you do when exercising. It's far broader than that.


'When exercising it's important to take a balanced approach: give yourself rest days, ensure you have the correct footwear, correct technique (see a trainer or coach if unsure) and listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.


'It's also important to fuel and hydrate yourself properly before, during and after exercising.


'Finally it's also important to think about your general movements and behaviour when not exercising. If you lift boxes at work frequently, for example, and use the wrong technique you risk injuring yourself, which will affect your ability to do activities you enjoy.'