Written by: Nicholas Licameli PT, DPT
Thinking of starting back up that running routine? Warm weather can be exciting; everyone wants to be outside and spend their day doing outdoors activities. When doing so, it’s important to take note of where you once left off and working your way back to that level of intensity instead of trying to make up for lost time. In doing so, it is more likely for you to experience an injury from the sudden increase in the intensity, duration, or frequency of activity.
The gym doors have finally opened, now where do we go from here? What do we do first? How far should we run? How will we assess things like muscle damage and fatigue? Are we at risk for injury?
Not having a plan can result in confusion and poor outcomes at best, and injury at worst. We don’t want to return after all those months only to sustain an injury that could have been prevented with some proper planning and be forced to take even more time off. Injuries can decrease our overall quality of life and keep us away from exercise for much longer than quarantine. Obviously we all want to avoid injury, but how do we do it?
It is important to keep in mind that we cannot prevent injuries, but we can reduce our risk. Risk factors for injury include but are not limited to previous injury, spike in workload, sleep, age, stress, nutrition, hydration, body weight, current level of fitness, fear of injury, occupation, emotional resilience, etc. It is important to remember that injuries are multi-factorial, poorly defined in the scientific literature, extremely variable from activity to activity, and are rarely simply a result of a single event that lead to tissue damage.
The most impactful way to reduce injury lies in our ability to manage the balance between load and capacity… and that is where a qualified healthcare practitioner like a physical therapist can help. Workload management is the management of the load we expose ourselves to and our bodies’ capacity to recover from it (see above image). In order to gain a better understanding of how to properly monitor workload, let’s quickly define load and capacity. Load includes physical stress such as miles run, weight lifted, daily step count, duration of a sporting bout, and gardening/yard work, but also mental stress such as feelings of anxiety and depression. Capacity includes things like sleep quality/duration, fitness level, prior exercise tolerance, strength, endurance, skill, coordination, comorbidities that impact recovery such as diabetes, preparedness for a specific activity, and mental resiliency.
Now that we have defined terms, it is easier to understand how to keep load and capacity in harmony to reduce injury risk. First week back to exercising after 3 months of quarantine? You will likely experience a rapid increase in load as well as a decrease in capacity due to the layoff. Add in mental stress due to the uncertainty of the worldwide pandemic, and the balance gets more and more one-sided.
The main takeaway is that we cannot prevent injuries due to their multi-factorial nature, but we can reduce injury risk. Our most powerful tool in injury reduction is workload management and balancing load and capacity to recover from that load.
Unsure of what first steps to take? A physical therapist can develop a plan for you to return to your favorite exercises while reducing your risk of injury. Schedule an appointment today your local clinic; visit us at https://www.professionalpt.com/physical-therapy-clinics/.