Cross-training while recovering from injury is not only an effective way to maintain your fitness, but it forms an important part of the rehab process. That being said, it can also aggravate symptoms, so how should you cross-train when you are injured, and what things should you avoid?
There is minimal information out there that recommends specific forms of cross-training that should be used with specific injuries. My recommendations come from seeing what types of activities aggravate certain injuries, and what activities are usually well tolerated. There are also a set of guidelines that can help you determine what is best, as no 2 injuries are the same.
During injury or shortly after, the right amount of exercise can actually help to stimulate healing and recovery due to the increased blood flow and movement in the muscles/joints. For example, if you are a runner, try and keep up with some running but adapt it to a comfortable level - this is much better than stopping entirely. Your goal is to be able to continue with the irritating activity, so stopping completely may cause more pain when you return, and the injury might just come back. It's best to promote healing and recovery while still participating in your "goal activity." Obviously, some injuries do require a period of complete rest (ie. stress fractures or very acute tendon pain.) A pain scale is a useful guide:
When running or cross-training keep pain to a minimum. It should be less than 3 out of 10 during activity with little to no reaction the next day. If it does react, you've probably over-done it, but that's ok! Now you know your limits, so try a little less next time.
Running and cross-training isn't about dos and don'ts. We aren't creating a list of things people can't do - just a guide to help and be aware of some activities that may be beneficial in small, manageable amounts. This is important because when people avoid certain activities/movements, they can be hard to get back into. Also, its easy to assume we avoid them because the activities are harmful, but they aren't!
Be guided mostly by symptoms and pain, as not all injuries will be aggravated by the usually provocative activities - these recommendations are just a guide. See how you respond to the cross-training and progress from there. Consult your PT for a rehab program that is specific to your needs.
In tendon injuries such as achilles tendinopathy and hamstring strains/tendinopathy, symptoms are often aggravated when the tendon is required to store and release energy quickly. This happens during running and other plyometric activities like jumping, hopping, etc. There isn’t usually this quick stretch/shorten during cycling, normal walking, or slow resistance training. In fact, heavy, slow resistance training is an important part of rehab for tendinopathy.
PFPS (Runner's Knee) symptoms are usually aggravated by activities with high levels of load on the patellofemoral joint, especially with the knee goes past the toes. Also, knee extension machines are most certainly a no-no for anyone in my opinion. Cycling (with low resistance), swimming and aqua jogging are usually well tolerated.
Shin Splints are an injury caused by increased load/pull on the tibia bone. Cross-training involving minimal weight-bearing such as cycling or swimming is usually well tolerated. That being said, you should try to include some periods of weight-bearing to stimulate healing, so try short periods of walking.
Another thought: If you are wanting to keep up with your cardiovascular fitness, try to mimic the activity. If you were planning a long run, do a long slow bike ride or swim. Be careful though! If you’re new to the activity, build up gradually. Don’t replace a running injury with a cycling one!
If you're unsure about cross-training options, or if you should rest from running completely, schedule an appointment with your Physical Therapist.
All information on this site is considered for education purposes only. They do not make a diagnosis and are not considered as treatment. It is not a substitute for a health evaluation.