Recovering from injury ‘may not be what you instinctively think’

When you suffer an injury as a result of exercise and overuse, the remedy may not be the first thing that comes to mind, says Chris Judd.

Chris Judd

Chris Judd

Chris Judd is a former AFL footballer and twice winner of the Brownlow Medal.

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When suffering muscle or tendon pain from overuse, your first instinct may be to rest up.

Of course, if the injury is a broken bone or something that needs attention from your GP, then this is usually the best course of action.

But the correct treatment for a sports injury may not be what immediately comes to mind. The truth is, rest can be bad for your muscles in some cases, and even stretching your tendon (which is what your injury might feel like it needs) may not be a good idea.

Rehabilitation: rest may not be what the doctor ordered

If you injure yourself exercising, the best thing to do immediately is ice it and rest that part of your body for 48-72 hours.

But after that, rest isn’t always the answer.

I’ve suffered from Achilles tendonitis in the past and discovered that complete rest wasn’t what my body needed. On the other end of the spectrum, lots of running wasn’t what it needed either. The best treatment for me was exercise that put a consistent amount of load (weight) on the tendon on a weekly basis, keeping the tendon active without damaging it.

Experts: forget the title, focus on the skill

When you have any sort of pain, seeking expert advice is always advised. When it comes to sports injuries, for me, the skill of a practitioner is far more important than their title. Whether they’re an osteo, chiropractor, acupuncturist or physio, what’s important is that you find a method and a practitioner that works for you and your injury. You need to make sure you’re comfortable with the person, and feel convinced that the exercises or prescribed approach is the right course of action for your injury.

When you feel like this, you’re more likely to follow their advice and be diligent with your exercises at home.

If I get sore, I’ll go see an acupuncturist because I’ve found that it’s the most effective method for my hypertonic (tight) muscles. But my approach won’t suit everyone – try out a few different practitioners and find the right method for you. Don’t assume that one practitioner knows the lot – you’re in charge here and it’s up to you to make a considered choice.

Taking ownership: it’s on you to recover from an injury

It’s all too easy to not take responsibility for your recovery. After all, it’s the traditional approach: go see and expert and they’ll fix it for you.

That kind of mindset isn’t good for your recovery process. Say you tear a hamstring; you might go and see a physiotherapist and they’ll diagnose the problem and provide you with guidance for treating it.

If you don’t then go away and do the rehabilitation work, you physically won’t be able to re-establish the muscle strength in your hamstring.

Often, the fix for an injury isn’t easy and, unfortunately, someone else can’t shoulder the responsibility for you. But if you do your homework, try a few different approaches and follow through with some hard work in between appointments, you’ll give your injury the best chance of recovery.

Jill Cook is a professor in musculoskeletal health in the La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre.

The way science approaches injuries

“We’re moving away from a patho-anatomical perspective: a medically-dependant model where someone else is going to find your problem and fix it. That model’s failing us.

“What we find across many injuries – not all of them, of course; you break a bone, you do need to rest – but for many soft-tissue injuries it’s about function and the loads you put on it.

“Our whole approach now is to assess function, and work to restore your function. And we tend to find that better function means less pain.”.

The method

“For tendons, it’s very much about weights and using heavy, low-resistance training. Once it’s a bit stronger, we add faster movements. That’s more load, and we gradually increase that.

“It takes time. You can’t strengthen muscles and restore function in a week. You have to commit a substantial amount of time to changing the ability of the tissues to be able to tolerate the loads that you want.”

Make your #onechange

Schedule time in your diary, as you would for a meeting, to do a few reps of stretches every day

Chris Judd

Former Australian Rules footballer Chris Judd is familiar with how to get your heart rate up and push yourself physically. Twice winner of the prestigious Brownlow Medal, Chris is an honoured sportsman and father to four children, Oscar, Billie, Tom and Darcy. The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional, tax or other advice. It does not take into account any individual’s personal situation or needs. You should consider obtaining professional advice from a financial adviser and/or tax specialist, or medical or health practitioner, in relation to your own circumstances and before acting on this information.