If you’re an exercise junkie, being forced to scale back your gym routine because of a knee injury can be frustrating. Tempting as it may be, resist the urge to fire along, fighting through the pain. Not allowing your body the essential time it needs to repair means you risk exacerbating the damage and prolonging your recovery.
Although it’s vital to take the appropriate precautions and make suitable changes to your exercise routine when you’re injured, it doesn’t mean hanging up your trackies, sports bra and sneakers entirely. According to SPORTSMED-SA orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Andrew Saies, safely maintaining your fitness will not only help prevent weight gain while injured, but also improve your general recovery.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the four major stabilising ligaments that connect the bones of the knee joint. Tearing your ACL is a common injury, which often involves damage to the medial meniscus (cartilage) that cushions the knee. Often the injury is caused by a direct blow to your knee, especially in collision sports, or twisting the knee while your foot remains planted – ouch!
Orthopaedic surgeon, Dr James Clayton suggests non-impact sports, such as cycling, and upper body workouts to maintain cardiovascular fitness and prevent muscle wastage. Sports Medicine Australia (SMA) recommends an orthopaedic surgeon and physiotherapist oversee any rehabilitation for a surgically reconstructed ACL, which usually takes six to nine months, starting with protected mobilisation and strengthening activities. Weight-bearing exercises and balance activities can be cautiously started under professional guidance. Rehabilitation following a tear of the meniscus starts by focusing on normalising walking and ensuring a pain-free range of motion, with a full return to sport expected within eight weeks.
Knee braces, straps and taping can help with rehabilitation or important sporting events; however these can be potentially detrimental if used long-term.
SMA recommend plyometric training, involving jumping and balance, to improve neuromuscular conditioning, which decreases the risk of further ACL injuries. Programs focusing on strength, balance, coordination and flexibility can prevent future meniscus damage.
Of course there is no one-size-fits-all with fitness programs, particularly those of a rehabilitative nature. Your recommended recovery time and regime will vary depending on the type and severity of your injury, so be sure to seek regular advice from an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist. Listen to your body and ease back into your former fitness regime safely. It is natural to be filled with an abundance of enthusiasm when symptoms subside, but remember: slow and steady wins the race!
Words by Diana Timmins.