I have a tiny bit of “on-the-job” expertise with this one. Let me give you my injury resume (the fact that I even have one of these makes me a little sad):
– When I was 16, I had back surgery to fix a herniated disc.
– My sophomore year of college, I had a horrific collision with an opposing goalie and tore my left PCL.
– My junior year, I had another collision with a goalie and broke my right leg.
– The summer before my senior year, I tore my right ACL.
– 6 months after I graduated from college, I tore a ligament in my left ankle.
– Because of my back and knee surgeries, I have the beginning of arthritis in those spots.
So you could say I’m an (unintentional) expert on working around injuries. Let me tell you, there’s nothing more frustrating than being hurt and not being able to perform at your best. On the positive side, it forces you to become creative with your exercises, and work areas you normally wouldn’t have—helping you get to know your body better in the process.
My first piece of advice is, listen to your body. This is the single most important lesson I’ve learned from being hurt. I’m not talking about muscle soreness (“I had a massive workout yesterday and did 1000 lunges and now I can’t walk”); I actually think one of the best things for extra-sore muscles is to get out and exercise the next day, no matter how light the workout is.
No, I’m talking about when something just feels off. I can tell you from experience that trying to push through injuries will almost never work out well in the long run. You may be able to keep playing in the short-term, but the injury will never go away. At best, it’ll linger—at worst, it’ll result in something much more serious. Sometimes, a few days of rest will do the most possible good. Also, if it hurts really bad and it doesn’t go away—go see a doctor.
But you want to work out. What do you do? Like I said earlier, get creative. First, identify the specific area that hurts. Next, avoid that area. That may sound completely unrevelatory, but you’d be surprised at how many people conveniently forget that step. If your upper body is hurt, work your lower body, and vice versa. You just have to remain extremely mindful of how the injured area feels.
If your upper body is hurt: I’m guessing the jostling of running will be too painful (unless you have a broken wrist or something that’s in a cast), so try getting on the stationary bike. The bike is great because it not only works the lower body, it’s also non-weight-bearing. One step up from that is the elliptical, but since that’s more like running, that may come later in the process. You can also do un-weighted squats, lunges, or calf raises.
If your lower body is hurt, the bike is, again, usually a good option. You don’t have the ankle movement of running (your foot can remain relatively stable and you don’t push off), and, again, there is no pounding involved. Weights to work your arms, chest, and back are, of course, another good option. And there’s always my favorite rehab tool, the hand bike (sarcasm!).
However, I can’t stress enough the wonder that is the swimming pool. Swimming was the first real exercise I was able to do for each of my injuries. You bear no weight whatsoever because of the water, and so there’s no pressure on the injured area. Even if you have to keep your leg completely straight (as I had to with my knee surgeries), you can put a pull buoy between your knees and just use your arms. You can also get a flotation belt and do water running—exactly like it sounds.
Lastly, I just want to take this opportunity to give a shout out to all of the athletic trainers/physios out there. I owe the salvation of my soccer career to my wonderful surgeon, but also to the incredibly patient and knowledgeable trainers at Middlebury. I was in the training room every single day for a year—and for those who remain relatively healthy, what trainers do sometimes goes underappreciated. I literally can’t say enough good about what they do.