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Paige Waehner

Reader Question of the Week: How to Stay Motivated Through Injuries or Illness

By January 9, 2013

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Last year, I asked my readers what they wanted to know about exercise and I got some great responses. One question, posed by Reader Teresa, really got my attention because it's something I've had to deal with and that I know many of my readers struggle with: "How to exercise after an injury; how to stay motivated and fit."

I know that Teresa struggled through an injury for many months and discovered just how hard it is to keep some kind of exercise routine going when you're a) In pain and b) Can't do what you normally do. Even experienced exercisers often flounder in the face of an injury because we simply don't know what to do.

Now, I do have some specific articles about this very topic: Should I Exercise With an Injury?, Getting Through an Illness or Injury, and I have some information about Avoiding Injury. I even have FAQs and workouts that may work depending on the injury in question - What exercises can I do with a lower body injury? (one answer: Seated Upper Body Workout) and Exercising With Knee Pain.

All of that said, there are some things that have helped me keep moving through injuries and illnesses. First, of course, is seeing your doctor if you haven't already. Your doctor should be your first resource to figure out what you need to do. Beyond that, there are other ideas to consider:

  1. Gather Information - A sure way to feel more in control of your situation is to get all the information you can about your injury/illness. That may mean consulting with doctors, physical therapists, trusted friends, other experts and, of course, the Interwebs. I'll caution you to avoid too much Googling, which can really freak you out. I'm saying that as a person who has gotten sucked into the self-diagnosis Google black hole.
  2. Be Willing to Try Anything - When I had a back injury for several months, about the only exercise I could tolerate was the elliptical trainer...my least favorite machine. And, at first it made me cranky, like the runner who can't run because of knee problems or the lifter who has to avoid heavy weights or certain exercises. However, what kept me going was figuring out what I could do and doing it. Maybe it isn't the same and maybe I miss what I used to do. But the point is to do two things: 1) Heal your injury and 2) Keep your spirits up and your body moving. If that means swimming instead of running or yoga instead of intense strength training, try to accept and create the best workout you can.
  3. Work With an Experienced Personal Trainer - Almost all the clients I see have come to me because they have chronic problems (knees, feet, shoulders) and don't know how to exercise around those issues. If you're in the same boat and you can manage it, consider a personal trainer. He or she can help you find tons of ways to exercise that you've never thought of. That alone can make you feel better as you realize you don't have to sit around and wait for your injury to heal.

Now, it's your turn. Do you have any tips for staying motivated through injuries or illnesses? If so, leave a comment and tell us how you've stayed motivated to exercise.

January 12, 2013 at 5:40 am
(1) Fitness fan says:

Working through a serious injury has been the hardest thing for me to deal with. Iíve had several injury setbacks the last two years that required some real down time. I am not good with compromising my workout and cutting back, especially when not knowing how long it will take me to recover and resume my normal activities and workout.

Iíve been down those long tunnels in the Worldwide Web worming my way through articles and information on specific ailments (love how you call it getting ďsucked into the self-diagnosis Google black holeĒ. I donít know whatís worse; sitting in ignorance or trying to sort through vast amounts of data and ending up down the wrong path and not knowing it, or simply overwhelmed and unable to come to a conclusion.

In the case of three injuries, I had to take some agonizingly long (weeks/months) of total or partial rest and avoidance of certain exercises before healing and total recovery occurred. I had the help of a workout instructor at my fitness center, and she has provided me with a general approach to recovery that has been effective. She has also shown me some static positions and exercises for strengthening while avoiding the excessive forces of my extended exercises.

I injured my lower back some time last year doing my leg lifts, and my greatest fear was of permanent damage. I went into recovery mode, and the regimen of total and partial rest and going easy on my workouts is finally paying off; my back is feeling much better, and I have much of my strength back. During the process, I simplified and modified my exercises to maintain core strength while avoiding further injury. I have currently resumed my extended core exercises.

Paige, your three tips are right on, I can attest to their value and effectiveness from practical experience. The hardest thing for me has been first admitting that I may have a serious injury, and then backing off enough for healing to take place.

January 14, 2013 at 6:55 pm
(2) martac says:

I injured my forefoot 1.5 years ago and am still in pain. I am just now coming to grips with living with low grade pain and limited options for ever because there may simply be nothing to do about the condition. I’ve sought medical support, including second and third opinions, and tried many treatments but this just might not get better. That is a hard one. I know people with serious illness and disability face far worse, but even the small stuff can get one’s spirits down. I appreciate Paige’s advice. Not moving, not exercising enough has not been working, having a cascade effect on overall fitness and strength, stress levels, and of course weight. So now I have a choice – how I do look after my physical and emotional health while working within my limits? Thanks for a timely post!

January 14, 2013 at 8:52 pm
(3) Cross eyed says:

I have been suffering with orbital myosotis (muscle inflammation of the eyes) but I haven’t given up despite the fact that I wake up every morning with crossed eyes and they are lazy the rest of the day. The meds I’m on relax my muscles and so I can’t focus well and walking straight is sometimes challenging. However, I haven’t stopped, I do stationary bike, treadmill, weights, and stretches because if I need to do them with my eyes closed, it’s no problem.

January 15, 2013 at 1:57 am
(4) migmog says:

I have ankylosing spondylitis, exercise really helps, if I don’t exercise I feel worse, in more pain and my long term prognosis is worse as my spine is more likely to become rigid. So the motivation is very clear. Many exercises are painful and difficult. Often I don’t want to get out of bed but at least 3 times a week I head straight to the gym. I’ve had to change my attitude to low impact exercises, which used to bore me, now they are my only option so I’ve learned to enjoy them. Staying active with this disease has been very empowering. Even though I think some conditions would make exercise much harder than mine does, I’d encourage everyone to find a way to keep moving, change your expectations of your body and be kind to yourself.

January 15, 2013 at 8:15 am
(5) SHEILA says:

this doesnt help me i have an injury which leaves me unable to use my left leg. i fell and twisted my knee contusions of hip and thigh. what can i do while im going through physical therapy.waiting that is for physical therapy. im used to power walking an hour twice a day.doing pilates. now what to do.im so frustrated.

January 15, 2013 at 8:41 am
(6) sheila says:

what about us who cant use a leg due to injury.i fell and got contusions on hip and thigh and twisted my knee in midair.still waiting on physical therapy its 45 days im used to power walking an hour twice a day! i dont have access to a pool

January 15, 2013 at 9:27 am
(7) Annie C says:

I’m just getting over the nasty winter virus, lots of coughing and feeling tired, plus I’m in the throes of my second attempt to get rid of the Lyme bacteria. I have to take Doxycyline x 2 daily. I work out in the water because of my unstable and reduced cartilage knee joints.

I find that if I feel really unwell I pace myself and rest. I try and get out in
the fresh air and walk and relax. On days of feeling well I go to the pool and do my aerobic 40 mins in deep water, this includes jogging, bicycle, cross country, knee tucks, side and forward flips and stretches. Tone with the bars bells and stretch in the water. Working on the stretching, lying on my side reaching out from my finger tips down to my toes to straighten out my spine and obliques. I do pendulums in the water using my abs. I practice 100s in the water paying great attention to form and contracting all my muscles. I then move to shallow water and breathe and relax with AI Chi. Final wall stretches and deltoid, latissimus dorsi, gastrocnemius hamstrings. Not forgetting neck flexion, extension, retraction and depression of deltoids. Stretching quads, inner thigh and hams.
Then I hydrate, sauna and feel I can deal with my illness and injury and feel very positive . For anyone with an injury and post rehab, buy some water shoes and start with water walking, no impact, then slowly progress to aquatic jogging, deep and shallow at your local Y

November 6, 2013 at 8:33 am
(8) Nikki says:

I have found myself in the most unhappy condition. Over 30 years of a very physically active life came to an abrupt end with the detection of cervical cancer in its earliest stages, The cancer and surrounding cells were removed, later more surgeries and biopsies, have left my insides so fragile that physical activity any heavier than walking my dog results in uncontrollable vaginal bleeding. I have gone from 117 lbs to 180 lbs since June of 2012 and quite literally can’t stand the sight of myself, and I can’t stand the way I feel. I go for a second opinion with a new gynecologist this month. I just want it to stop, so I can resume a healthy exercise regimen, that not only makes me feel better physically, but is a wonderful therapeutic tool

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