Safely Exercising After Injury

Enjoying a beautiful Florida summer bike ride - Fort Myers, Florida - August 2023.

If you’ve experienced a bad injury, you know how frustrating it can be to not be able to workout.

This is especially true when training for an event.

There is also a lot of conflicting information about what to do and when.

Let’s clear up the confusion.

In the first few days after an acute injury, the body will go through the first stage of healing, the inflammatory phase.

If you’ve had a sprain or strain in the past, you might remember that the first 3-4 days are usually the worst in terms of pain, stiffness and swelling.

To protect the injured tissue from further damage and avoid any subsequent bleeding, the advice is to avoid ‘HARM’ for 72 hours.

The acronym HARM stands for:

  • Heat - Avoid any heat packs, prolonged hot showers or hot baths.
  • Alcohol - The less the better - that unfortunately includes that post-game beer with your mate.
  • Running - Try to avoid running for at least the first few days.
  • Massage - This is especially important to avoid in any acute muscle injury.

It is important to avoid the above because they can lead to vasodilation, a widening of the blood vessels, and therefore increase the risk of bleeding at the injured site.

To reduce bleeding, swelling and pain, management after injury should also focus on practicing PRICE:

  • Pause - After an acute injury, such as a rolled ankle or sprained wrist, take a break and give yourself a chance to assess the possible damage once the adrenaline from the incident has settled.
  • Rest/Optimal Loading - How long to rest after an injury depends on the type of injury. Seek advice from your health care provider to help determine the most appropriate time frame for a fast recovery and prevent unnecessary deconditioning.
  • Ice - Applying ice after an acute injury can reduce pain, limit swelling and reduce bleeding. Ice can be applied for 10-20 minutes, using a wet towel as a barrier between the ice pack and skin. After each icing interval, take a break from for at least the same time (ie, 20 mins on/20 mins off).
  • Compression - Just like icing, compression can reduce swelling that forms after acute tissue injury. Ask your physical therapist about compression sleeves to minimize swelling. Sizing is important to combine the best compression effect without restricting blood flow
  • Elevation - Elevate the injured limb by using a sling for upper limb injuries or elevate the leg above hip height, for example, on a chair.

Once you have received a diagnosis and management plan for your injury from a general practitioner, including avoiding HARM and practicing PRICE, adjust your training program for the period of your recovery.

It will most likely look quite different from the usual, but this doesn’t mean you can’t still work on your fitness and conditioning goals. 

Happy healing!

Angie Ferguson is an exercise physiologist and Tony Robbins Results Coach from Fort Myers. She also is a Corrective Biomechanics Specialist, USA Triathlon Advanced Level 2 coach, USA Cycling coach, has a Specialty in Sports Nutrition certification, and a PhD in results!

Contact her, or find out more about her monthly online program, at:!


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