How to Modify After an Injury

It happens to the best of us. We try to move with mindfulness, but every once in a while, we get injured. In many cases, though, there are things you can do to still stay active. Below, are ideas for how to modify after an injury.

My Story

June 30, I broke my neck while teaching my kids how to play baseball. That has been one heck of an obstacle to my previously active lifestyle. When I met with the neurosurgeon, he told me that the only thing I could do for the next three months was walk. That meant no Pilates, no yoga, no baseball, no swimming, no running, no bike riding, no CrossFit.

In the beginning, I was extremely compliant. That was very easy to do because I was still adjusting to the cervical collar and my body was still requiring extra rest. Plus, it was hot as hell outside, so my kids and I didn’t really want to go outside.

When the weather started to cool and I started to walk more, I decided that I needed to modify my doctor’s orders. Here’s the thing:  If you walk without stretching afterward, you’re probably going to injure yourself. At the bare minimum, you need to stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and soleus after walking. Without this simple stretching, there can be increased muscle tightness which can tug on the pelvis and cause low back pain.

Since avoiding all back pain is a primary goal of mine, I decided to modify my doctor’s orders. Now, I decided my orders were to walk and lightly stretch afterward. For a couple of weeks, this was fine. However, one day, my low back started hurting because my abdominals weren’t doing their part to support me while walking.

Did you know that weak abdominals can lead to back injury? In fact, many people end up with a back injury after wearing a cervical collar because they reintroduce movement to the spine when the abdominals are weak. The abdominals are not strong enough for movement, and the spine pays the price.

I definitely don’t want that to happen. So, once again, I began the process of modification.

Modifying After an Injury

Please understand that in no way am I saying you should ignore your doctor’s orders. On the contrary, I am advocating for you to be thoughtful and responsible for your actions. Think about what activities your doctor has approved and how you might need to prepare for them before integrating them into your life.

For example, my doctor has approved walking. This means that I could walk around my neighborhood, walk on a treadmill, walk at a track, walk community trails, or take low-intensity hikes. I can create variety in my activities by adding a little creativity. To prepare for my walking adventures, I will want to engage my abdominal muscles.

Now, I am not cleared for any physical exercising, so I am not going to do anything intense. Instead, I focus on quality. Here’s my warm up:

Leg slides

All of these exercises help to communicate with my abdominals. My very basic goal is to tell them that I am getting ready to expect them to be working. If they do their job and support my spine, it makes it less likely for me to injure myself while walking.

After walking, there are a couple of basic stretches that I do to make sure that my muscles stay balanced.

  • Dandasana helps get the pelvis to neutral and lets the abdominals engage without letting the psoas grip.
  • From Dandasana, hinge forward into Paschimottanasana.
  • Stand up to do a simple calf stretch at the wall.
  • If you are able to grab your ankle to perform a traditional stretch for the quadriceps, do so. Otherwise, you can use a strap or begin on your stomach. These modifications can help you stretch that muscle.

Create Your Modifications

When you’re modifying your workout post-injury, think about all the activities that you are able to do. Make a list if that helps. Spend some time brainstorming all the different things you can do to stay active.

Now, take some time to think about what you absolutely should not do. For example, if you broke your arm, you absolutely should not do Planks or other exercises that involve supporting yourself with your arms. Do not include any exercises that may put you in a dangerous situation in your workout.

Just because you are temporarily omitting some exercises, doesn’t mean that you have to become inactive. There are always other ways to incorporate movement so you can do your best to maintain your strength and flexibility. If you are unsure of ways to modify for your situation, I suggest Google.

We live in the age of information. If you look in the right place, you will always find the answer. However, if you can’t find what you need on Google, leave a note in the comments and let me know what you’re looking for. In the past, I have done Weekend Workouts for friends and family with a plantar fasciitis boot, the inability to get down to the floor, and balance issues.

Are you currently using a good modification? Let us know what you’re doing in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.