Updated: Mar 4, 2020
One of the most common questions I get asked by clients who are rehabbing injuries is: 'when do I know when I'm ready to go back to training?' Most often the client wants a concrete timeframe, a specific number of days or weeks that they have to wait before they get back doing the sport or activity which they enjoy, and of course they hope for the shortest wait possible. Depending upon the specific issue, this obviously varies greatly, as some injuries are much more severe than others. For instance, recovering from knee surgery is most likely going to require a much more lengthy rest period than a mild muscle strain. Even two people with the same injury can vary greatly in terms of recovery time due to factors such as age, and discipline when following their aftercare programme. All that considered, my answer is usually the same, and that is to listen to your body.
Clients often don't trust themselves when they hear me saying this, but as long as a reasonable amount of time has been spent resting, you have adhered to the aftercare programme you were given, and you aren't in any pain in your day to day life, then there is nothing wrong with trying a very light session, and if no pain is present, continuing to build gradually from there. Only you know how your body feels and this is a way in which the client is (in a sense) more qualified than the practitioner to know if something is wrong. Essentially, if you feel hesitant about training because your body doesn't feel right, then deep down I think you know what is the best thing to do...
"if you feel hesitant about training because your body doesn't feel right, then deep down I think you know what is the best thing to do..."
This is one example of many where people struggle; or even fail completely, to listen to their bodies, and this is a vital thing we must do on a day to day basis in order to avoid injury. For instance, many runners adopt the 'just run through it and hope it goes away' approach because of an unhealthy obsession to run more and more miles no matter what, due to a 'the further the better attitude'. Any of you who know a lot about what I do through having appointments, experiencing my workshops or reading my other blog posts will know that I absolutely, firmly and wholeheartedly disagree with this attitude (for reasons that I won't fully explain here at the expense of repeating myself). Most of the time running through it as normal, without altering your training load is the wrong thing to do. For the most part, the injury won't just magically disappear, and although the majority of the time I don't feel it necessary to tell a client to rest completely, unless you are an expert, you are not qualified to make that call yourself.
Furthermore, when I do recommend continuation, it must be with caution. Pain is your body telling you that you are doing too much, or that certain parts of your body aren't strong enough to cope with the workload you are subjecting it to. It is a warning sign, so don't do what many athletes do and leave it for weeks or even months before booking that appointment with an expert, because without finding the cause, you will only make things worse for yourself and most likely then require a longer rest period than if you had taken action straight away.
"Pain is your body telling you that you are doing too much, or that certain parts of your body aren't strong enough to cope with the workload you are subjecting it to"
Another key mistake that people make other than doing too many miles, is trying to perform all of these miles at a very quick pace. This is not sustainable, because this is like trying to run a race every time you go for a run, and very soon, your body will not thank you for it. There is nothing wrong with training with intensity, in fact I encourage it (more on this in my next blog post). However, you shouldn't constantly combine this with a high volume, pick one or the other. It won't take long before your body will tell you it's starting to struggle to recover from these sessions, so listen to it!
Finally, one trap people fall into is not taking other lifestyle factors (other than sport) into consideration. In the past, I have had several clients who have stopped running due to injury, but several weeks down the line can't understand why it's not getting any better. Then when I dig a bit deeper, I find that they are walking several miles a day in order to keep their fitness, vastly increasing this load from what they would normally do. While doing some walking is good, the fact that you are still loading your joints while walking is adding to the damage you have already sustained (even if it isn't as impactful as running), therefore preventing or elongating any recovery. So again, listen to your body - if your pain is not subsiding through rest as expected, then you need to look at other causes e.g. a lack of strength or non-sporting lifestyle factors. For instance, if you have had a busy week at work which has forced you to increase your time on your feet and distance walked, then the chances are your body is going to feel much more fatigued than usual, hence it would be a good idea to drop down your training load so you don't overdo it - listen to your body!