How to fully return from an injury

knee injury

Everyone gets hurt. This statement seems to surprise people about the fact that injuries are more the norm than the exception. However, fully recovering from an injury is rare. We often see the aftermath (compensations and alterations in motor patterns) for years after the injury due to failing to return the body back to normal (or as close as we can get). Have you ever heard someone say “an injury came back”? This is a very misleading saying, it indicates that you participated in the exact same actions that caused the injury initially. The truth is the number 1 predictor of an injury is a prior injury. Why? You did not return the injured area to full use by balancing out the body side to side, removing the compensations you developed, returning to full mobility, strengthening the stabilizing muscles around the injury, and working on your balance.
Strength and mobility imbalances side to side need to be returned so that there is less than 5% difference between the left and right sides. You will never be exactly the same on both sides, you will always have a dominate arm/leg. But, more than 5% difference will increase your risk of another injury, and also indicates you are probably still compensating (shifting weight, favoring one side, over use of 1 arm or leg, etc.).
After an injury your body will naturally tighten up and limit Range of Motion to prevent you from further injury. You need to gradually return mobility to the injured area with mobility drills and stretching, foam rolling, myofascial release, and activation techniques.
The stabilization musculature around the injured area needs to be challenged slowly to increase strength, providing support to the injury and allowing you to work larger muscle groups while reducing the risk of re-injury.
When some or all of the above have been hurt, your balance is also reduced from the injured side to the non-injured side. This is especially true if we are talking about a lower back, hip, leg, knee, or ankle injury. Working on your balance will help break some of the compensation motor patterns you have developed during the injury. This is one of the last steps in the recovery program, but it is very important. We can get you stronger, but if we do not break the compensation patterns then you still favor 1 side and increase the wear and tear on the “good” side. This means your chance of injuring the “good leg” is increased and you are now left with 2 “bad” sides.
Injuries happen to us all. It does not matter if you are involved in sport or not. Life is a contact sport. The stronger and more mobile you are, the less risk of injury. Sometimes the injury cannot be avoided, but with strength and mobility you will recover quicker and return to your normal life and the activities you enjoy.

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