Does Exercise Speed Up Healing?

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If you’ve suffered an injury, your first step is to evaluate its severity. If an injury occurs while in the middle of a physical activity, it is likely sudden. If it develops over time, it is likely chronic. Both types of injuries can be serious and require medical attention. Only after seeking out professional help should you attempt incorporating exercise into your recovery plan in an effort to speed up the healing process.

Dealing with Injuries

  • Immediately following an injury, you shouldn’t attempt to exercise. Instead, you should use the RICE method -- Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation -- according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. You should keep the affected area immobilized as much as possible and apply an ice pack for 20 minutes between four and eight times a day. You can use a bandage or elastic wrap to apply pressure to the injury and place the affected area above the heart to cut back on swelling. Keep this up for 48 hours and see a medical professional if need be.

Range-of-Motion Exercises

  • After receiving your doctor’s go-ahead, you can begin range-of-motion exercises to speed up the healing process. Range-of-motion exercises gradually return flexibility to the area before you attempt anything more strenuous. For instance, if you injured your arm or wrist, you may attempt exercises like the kneeling wrist-extensor stretch and single-arm wrist-flexor stretch. Or if you injured your shoulder, you can do the pendulum exercise, which involves lying face down at the edge of a bed and allowing your injured arm to hang off the side and swing back and forth.

Weights

  • While stretching and range-of-motion exercises are effective in restoring flexibility to joints, adding weights can hasten the process. To do this, an article published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” suggests adding weights to the exercises to increase joint range of motion. A loss of range of motion is often associated with injury, so increasing this flexibility can aid healing. This was found to be effective with shoulder flexion and ankle plantar flexion specifically, but could be easily applied to other areas of the body as well. A moderately-intense program would suffice, according to the study.

Cardio

  • Cardiovascular exercise promotes overall good health and may speed up muscle recovery. After you perform weight training or any activity that heavily taxes your muscles, they need time to heal and recover. Soreness often sets in after a workout because of the damage done to muscle tissue. According to a study conducted at California State University-Fullerton, those who perform moderately-intense cardio after vigorous leg workouts recovered quicker and experienced less delayed-onset muscle soreness as a result.

Precautions

  • In some cases, exercise will not help with the healing process. If you feel sudden or significant pain upon movement, experience swelling, can’t bear weight on a limb or have a loss of feeling, see a doctor immediately, says the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. These are signs that your injury is serious and requires medical attention.

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