A question I often get asked is, ‘can I keep training with this injury?’. Many of my patients are passionate about their fitness pursuits, and the thought of missing a week or more of training is upsetting to them.
I can sympathise with this because I love to train too. I am currently training for an ultramarathon, and during my plan, I have had three niggles that I was convinced would stick with me until the race.
Well, thankfully, the short answer is, ‘yes’, you can train through injury. In my case, I made a few adjustments to my plan, and I was able to keep up with my weekly mileage whilst the injuries recovered. I am now back to running injury-free and I didn’t take any rest.
Before we get into it, I want to make a little caveat to this article; the advice here should be taken carefully. Some injuries should be rested, and I do advise this from time to time. I will try my best to explain how to train through pain, but if you are ever in doubt, seek advice from a professional.
With that said, yes, you can train through (most) injuries. The reason for this is that science is starting to realise that recovery from injury largely happens in the brain. There are cellular changes that need to happen locally in a damaged tissue, which is facilitated by the nervous and immune systems, but the way the brain processes what has happened and how it coordinates the body in response to the injury is perhaps a more important factor in one’s recovery.
When you are training, you are sending information up to the brain that helps it reconfigure your movement patterns, and this also helps coordinate the response from the immune system.
The other important benefit of continuing to exercise is that you are staying strong. Strength (or lack of it) is the number one predictor of one’s risk of injury. It’s important to note that strength is task-specific, so if you are a runner, it is important to stay ‘running strong’, and the best way to do that is to run!
The way I think about problems in the body is that if we are taking two steps forward and only one step back, we’re winning. So the goal when training is to not aggravate the system so much that you’re taking two steps forwards and two steps back.
If you are injured, I have a few rules to follow which should help you win the battle:
Are there any times that you shouldn’t exercise through injury? Yes, of course! Everything I have spoken about above involves adapting your training in a way where you manage the pain to prevent it from getting worse. This often involves reducing the intensity significantly to find a level of training that works for you.
Sometimes, however, this isn’t possible. This is why I often advise my patients to avoid matches, races and team events where the intensity is out of their control. It’s one thing to train on your own in an intelligent, controlled way, but another to ramp up the intensity and put your body at risk.
If pain and injury are holding you back, we can help in this clinic. We also like to discuss lifestyle factors, not just to get you out of pain but to live a healthy life with well-being as a priority.