How To Come Back Even Stronger After An Injury

One of the questions that we get asked about frequently about injury is:

“Will I ever regain full range of motion and will I ever get my strength back after an injury?”

Yes and yes.

What happens when you get an “injury”?

Sometimes there’s tissue damage. Other times there isn’t. Pain does not always mean that there is damage. It is like the check engine light of your body, and is your body telling you to investigate further. 

If there is actually tissue damage, you’ll have some inflammation for a little bit. But, the inflammation is not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing because it means blood flow is coming to the area to help restore and rebuild that tissue. After the inflammation goes away, your body continues to heal your soft tissue. This process can take anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks. So yes, you can come back stronger after an injury. However, you do have to have realistic expectations of how long your recovery is going to be.

What does healing look like?

Usually, the healing process alone is going to be 8 to 12 weeks. During that healing process, your body tends to guard, so if you had maybe a hip, knee, ankle injury, your body will naturally want to protect it. Usually, your body does this by limiting your range of motion.

That’s why you might notice that you are lacking range of motion even after everything has healed. It’s really important for us to re-train your body so that it learns that it is safe for your joint to go through its full range of motion. It was a protective mechanism that you no longer need after healing, and you just need to help your body learn that it is okay to move through full range of motion. For example, we see a lot of people with ankle sprains in our clinic, and a lot of times what happens is they lack ankle mobility because their ankle just got really stiff while the ligaments were healing.

During the inflammation phase, swelling can limit range of motion. It’s good to have swelling for a little bit, because you do need that in order to heal, but you don’t want it to stick around forever. You do want to  start early mobilization to help bring down inflammation at the right time. Prolonged inflammation can delay regaining your full range of motion and strength. In the ankle example that I gave, it’s really important for us to regain motion at the ankle. It’s especially  important in active people, because if you are limited in your ankle mobility, it can lead to: knee pain, hip pain, trouble squatting, or even foot pain.

Limitations in one place in the body usually affect other parts of the body.

Usually ankle limitations in range of motion will lead to pain in other areas of the body. So you might not necessarily feel pain in your ankle after the injury, but you might feel it in your knee or in your foot. It’s very important to know when it’s okay to start moving your joint through the full range of motion, that way you can get back to crushing your goals as soon as possible. 

Another thing that commonly happens when your body goes through that healing process is that your body starts to guard the injury. This means that the muscles all around the area tighten up because they’re trying to stabilize you and make you feel safe.

That’s great in the short term because you want your joint to feel safe while it’s healing. But, in the long term, this can lead to issues with motor control, stability, and even decreased strength; because muscles want to be long and strong. In order to be strong, your muscle has to be able to lengthen to its full length in order to fully contract and use all of its strength. Another important step of rehabbing an injury is decreasing muscle tightness. This can decrease pain and set you up for success when you start strength training and regain motor control. 

What is motor control?

Motor control is your brain telling your muscles when to fire to move and stabilize your body. It’s important to retrain motor control because without it, your body doesn’t move as efficiently, and not having motor control can lead to pain. If you’re a performance athlete or  looking to improve performance, but lack stability, that means that while you’re performing, your body is leaking energy to help stabilize you.

If you didn't have to work so hard to stabilize, you could use that energy towards your performance to squat heavier, run faster, and squat and run longer. 

That's another reason why it's really important to train motor control and stability.  Training stability and motor control is how you can prevent future injuries as well as set yourself up for success for strengthening.

How to come back stronger after injury is by working on the quality of your movement, not the quantity of your movement.

Can you stand on one leg with eyes closed? Can you perform a full depth bodyweight squat?These are all important things. You can do these two tests even if you aren't injured to see if you have a motor control problem.

If you had trouble with that test or if you're someone who is injured and you're really not sure how to get back your range of motion, or if you got your range of motion back but are not feeling strong and performing as well as you would like, you need a total body diagnostic.

What is a total body diagnostic?

We look at how your whole body moves, listen to your goals, and where you want to be performing, and then come up with a plan to help you reach your goals.

It'll tell you what the problem is. Do you have a mobility problem? Do you have a stability problem? We will develop a plan for how to make sure that it isn't a problem anymore to get you back to reaching your goals, crushing it, and coming back stronger than before, which prevents future injury. So, if this sounds like something that you are interested in, click here  to apply for a FREE total body diagnostic.

About The Author

Dr. Kaitlin Herzog

Dr. Herzog attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. She went on to earn her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Wheeling Jesuit University. Kaitlin has been an athlete for most of her life and was introduced to physical therapy when she had several sports-related injuries. She decided to become a physical therapist to help others maintain an active lifestyle while staying pain free. Kaitlin uses a hands-on approach to help people of all backgrounds optimize their movement and performance. Dr. Herzog is a record-holding competitive powerlifter, and you can find her training or competing in her spare time. She also enjoys Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, sports, hiking, baking, crafts, traveling, and exploring Greensboro with friends.​

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