How to Minimize Injury Risk When Returning to Activity

author

Eric Bowman

Physiotherapist Ontario, Canada

As I write this article – the world is locked down thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. People are itching to get back to work, gyms, and sports. While I appreciate the eagerness to resume “normal life” – one of my big concerns, aside from the obvious “second wave” of the virus, is a spike in musculoskeletal injuries when people return to physical activities.

In this article I discuss strategies that you can apply to minimize injury risk.

Disclaimer: this advice is “painting in broad brushes” and may need to be adjusted to the individual based on fitness levels, goals and medical/injury history. Also – you can never 100% prevent injuries although there are steps you can take to minimize risks of getting one.

DURING THE QUARANTINE

1) Continue to stay active

Unless you’re a die-hard strength, physique or mainstream sport athlete – you probably don’t have a decked out gym with a sled, squat rack, bench, barbells and dumbbells. If you were one of the lucky people (I was one) to get proper gym equipment, or at least some powerblocks & some bands, before the shutdown – then koodos to you. Most aren’t that lucky.

That said – you can continue to work on your base fitness through simple body weight workouts with use of a backpack/books for resistance as well as through consistent walking or; if you have the fitness, health, and desire; running – albeit at a distance from others.

There are lots of good resources for simple at home workouts with minimal equipment. If you have a set of dumbbells and/or some bands, are training hard & smart, and want something more – Renaissance Periodization and Westside Barbell have some good options for home workouts. Again – they may need to be scaled or modified to the individual – but they give somewhere to start.

Nothing can never replace doing your specific physical job or sport – but doing some activity is better than nothing.

2) Manage sleep & psychosocial factors well

Poor sleep has been outlined as a risk factor for both work and sport injuries in the research. If you’re not working or are working ever-changing hours, and/or are stuck at home due to the pandemic – it certainly isn’t easy. However – there are some tips you can use to optimize sleep including

  • (When possible) Going to bed and getting up at the same time
  • Having a sleep environment that’s cool, dark and quiet
  • Minimizing caffeine consumption in the afternoon and alcohol consumption in the evening

These are simple things that can make a big difference if you aren’t doing them already.

Psychosocial factors are tougher to manage and can also predispose people to an increased risk of work and sport injuries. I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist – and as such managing psychosocial factors (outside of negative beliefs surrounding pain, injury and activity) is out of my scope of practice. All I can do is encourage you to practice healthy lifestyle behaviours and seek help from one of these individuals if you’re struggling right now.

AFTER THE QUARANTINE

1) Accept that your baseline fitness has probably dipped a bit

The nice thing is that, research has shown, that training doesn’t need to be crazy to maintain or even build fitness. That said – if you’re away from your activity of choice for a while, have not been active much during the quarantine, and/or if you have not been able to train at or near your normal intensity … your fitness may drop off after a few months. You have to accept this and not try to make up for lost time. Which brings me to…

2) (The Big One) Ease back into activity!!!!!!!!

Having a baseline of activity, and making small adjustments to it, is arguably the biggest way to minimize risk of non-contact injury in activity.

Tim Gabbett’s numerous excellent papers in athletes have shown that a 10-25% increase in activity, relative to what your relative activity has been over the past 3-4 weeks, can produce increases in fitness while minimizing risk of injury.

It should be noted that this ratio applies to specific sports and, as Gabbett says, different people can tolerate different increases in activity (some smaller, some larger than indicated above) – but the idea is the same….take the time to build up your activity level slowly.

3) Continue to manage sleep, nutrition and psychosocial factors as described above

There is no way to 100% prevent injuries in work or sport – but I hope you find these strategies useful as you look to return to your normal lifestyle after the pandemic. In the meantime continue to stay safe, wash your hands, stay physically distant and take care. Thanks for reading.

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About the Author

author

Eric Bowman

Physiotherapist Ontario, Canada

Eric Bowman is a Registered Physiotherapist and Strength Coach in Ontario, Canada who works in the areas of chronic musculoskeletal pain, sports rehab, geriatric rehab, and strength & conditioning. He’s also intermittently involved with the University of Waterloo Kinesiology program and the Western University Physical Therapy program. He also competes occasionally as a powerlifter and has completed the CPU Coaching Workshop & Seminar.

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