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Don't Play Through the Pain: Alternative Exercises for Injured People

Whether you are a weekend warrior or a fitness fanatic, you probably do not like being sidelined with injuries. Time away from your favorite sport or activity means missing something you enjoy and all its health benefits. But experts say you should not ignore your injuries. Here's how you can keep exercising without worsening your injury.

Injuries Need to Heal

IMAGE Just about all injuries require recovery time, but time is one thing most athletes do not want to give to an injury.

The key to recovery is patience. Returning to sports or activities can make your injury worse. The best bet is to return to your sport only when you have been given clearance by your doctor, trainer, or physical therapist.

Alternative Exercises

With most injuries, alternative activities can allow you to rest the injured area while still getting exercise. In fact, you just might find a few new activities to love. Here are some examples of alternative exercises for specific injuries.

Ankle Injuries An ankle sprain can take you out of commission for many sports and activities. You can keep fit by doing other activities, such as rowing, that rely on the upper body and do not stress the ankle.

You can also do strength training exercises like leg curls or leg extensions. Just make sure there is no stress on your ankle.

Knee Injuries Knee injuries can be serious, and trying to keep going through a knee injury could make it much worse. Talk to your doctor or trainer to find out if cycling or riding a recumbent bike will make your injury worse. If not, these might be good replacement activities, because they take the weight off your legs. If your knee injury is more serious than that, consider jumping into the pool for an aerobic workout.

Pulled Muscles Trying to play through a pulled muscle or tendon is tempting, because once your muscles warm up, you may not feel the injury as much. It is better to resist the temptation

Hamstring injuries are especially common, often caused by rapid deceleration or change of direction. If you pull a muscle, you need to let it rest and follow the RICE method of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

One way to work up a sweat using only upper body muscles is to toss around a medicine ball with a partner for a while. Try it for 20 or 30 minutes just tossing it back and forth, not running around at all. You'll workout using your abs and shoulder muscles.

Achilles Tendinopathy An aching Achilles tendon has been the downfall of many athletes. So, if you feel pain, do not ignore it. Take a break from all sports that make it worse, especially running or activities that involve running. Using a rowing machine is a good way to stay fit while resting your Achilles tendon. You may be able to use an elliptical trainer as well.

Tennis Elbow Players of racquet sports are familiar with elbow pain. If a case of tennis elbow starts to interfere with your game, take time off to let the injury heal. You can keep running and doing interval training, including plenty of short bursts of speed and side-to-side movements to stay in top tennis shape.

Shoulder Injuries Hurting your shoulder can interfere with your ability to participate in a host of popular recreational sports. You do not want to serve, swim, swing, or throw with a shoulder injury. With particularly painful shoulder injuries, even the arm-swinging inherent to running can be too much to take.

Avoid overhead movements and any arm position that causes pain. And make sure you get professional guidance before picking up a racquet or swimming again. Do as much lower-body weight training as you can handle. Try running, cycling, stair climbing, and even rowing.

When You Can't Run

Running is the foundation of many fitness programs, because it produces such effective cardiovascular results. But it is also an activity that is likely to be hampered by a sports injury. It's impossible to mimic the effects of running, but you can come close by using a stair climber or elliptical trainer.

Circuit training also helps runners who are taking time off the road. Have 10 or 12 weight machines that you want to use, and go through them in a regular pattern. Do one set on each machine with light to moderate weight—less weight than you would usually use.

  • American College of Sports Medicine

    http://www.acsm.org

  • National Strength and Conditioning Association

    http://www.nsca-lift.org

  • Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology

    http://www.csep.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Core training for injury prevention. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/blog/2906/core-training-for-injury-prevention. Updated September 28, 2012. Accessed September 30, 2013.

  • Resistance training and injury prevention. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/rtandip.pdf. Accessed September 30, 2013.