Training injuries are inevitable. When pushing yourself to new fitness boundaries, you are bound to experience an injury at some point. Of course, accepting that fact is not necessarily a license to become reckless. You want to train as safely as you can in order to stay in the gym but off the bench. That’s half of the battle.
The other half of the battle is knowing the right steps to take when you have sustained an injury. Some coaches will tell you that you need to stretch an injury to encourage it to recover more quickly. But when you consider that some injuries occur because a muscle is stretched beyond its natural limits, this advice begins to sound pretty useless or even detrimental.
In this article, we are going to discuss the right steps to take involving stretching when you have an injury. Aside from stretching, one of the most effective and easiest measures to take when dealing with an injury is to use recovery wear. Like stretching, compression gear has the ability to increase blood flow to the affected area which helps those tissues to heal. Compression gear should be in every athlete’s toolbox, as recovering from hard training sessions is just as important as performing the session itself. If you’re injured currently, implementing stretching carefully and wearing compression gear will be your shortcut back to the gym.
Let’s talk about some of the do’s and don’ts
Do know what type of injury you are dealing with first
Not every injury should be stretched. Some are better left alone. A muscular strain (or a pulled muscle) occurs when a muscle is overstretched or torn. This can be the result of overuse, fatigue, poor form or simply lifting too much weight. The injury will cause pain and inflammation and more serious occurrences can result in bruising and swelling. A severe muscle tear can cause a complete rupture which needs surgical intervention to be reattached.
Don’t stretch a torn or pulled muscle
This will only aggravate the issue. If you’re unsure about the severity of the injury, it’s best to get the expert opinion of a medical doctor before you proceed. For mild pulls/strains, you can use the R.I.C.E. protocol:
- Rest the muscle as much as you can
- Ice the muscle to ease the inflammation
- Compress the muscle by wearing compression gear
- Elevate the limb while resting by using a pillow or folded blankes
Do wait until inflammation subsides before stretching
Within the first 72 hours after an injury, your body will create inflammation in the area as it brings more fluid and nutrients to the area to begin the repair process. Your tissues will be very sensitive during this initial period and stretching can cause more harm than good.
Don’t wait too long to begin stretching
After an injury, scar tissue will develop to reattach those muscle fibers. Scar tissue is your body’s natural response, but it is not as flexible or strong as your initial muscle fibers. To combat its inflexibility, begin stretching often once the inflammation subsides. This will help to keep your muscles flexible even while scar tissue fills in the gaps.
Do follow a consistent stretching routine
As previously mentioned, some of the most common sports-related injuries are strains and pulls. These injuries are the result of muscles that have been overstretched or used improperly. By adhering to a stretching routine that prioritizes your tight muscles, you can reduce the chances of suffering future injuries.
Don’t push your boundaries too far
Stretching involves some level of discomfort. The idea is to push a muscle beyond its current range slowly to build incremental increases in flexibility. You don’t want to push too far, though. Taking an aggressive approach to stretching can cause you to overstretch the muscles which can lead you back to strains and muscular pulls
Do incorporate different types of stretching
There is more than one correct way to stretch a muscle. Actually, a combination of different stretches works best to condition your muscles and prevent future injuries. Let’s go over the different forms of stretching:
- Static Stretching–This is the most common form of stretching and the easiest method to start with. With static stretching, you slowly ease into the stretch and hold the position for an extended period of time–usually 20 to 30 seconds.
- Active Static Stretching–This form of stretching is common in Martial Arts and Yoga positions. To perform an active static stretch, you would hold a stretch via the strength of agonist muscles (one group of muscles contract to support and lengthen the opposing muscle group).
- Dynamic Stretching–This form of stretching makes the muscles more flexible through motion, as opposed to static stretching. The actual stretches are similar; however, the way you implement them differs. A dynamic stretch is basically performed for various repetitions. You can go through the stretching motion gradually and then return to a neutral position. You would repeat these movements to gradually stretch your muscles. While greater gains in a range of motion can be seen from the static approach, dynamic stretching has been scientifically proven to enhance athletic performance and seems to be a great way to warm up before a workout.
- Ballistic Stretching–This form of stretching is very similar to dynamic stretching, except it involves more rapid movements that can generate momentum to stretch the muscles further. While we do not condone this type of stretch without supervision, prominent certified athletic training bodies have recently supported its benefits for strength and increases in flexibility.
Dealing with a serious injury?
Always seek medical attention before implementing a stretching program. You want to be sure that you know what you’re dealing with and take note that stretching can be counterproductive under some circumstances. There is a time and place for everything. Also, don’t underestimate the ability of a back brace to speed up your recovery from injuries or just general soreness from training.