Physiatrist Dr. Alice Chen answers users’ questions on starting or returning to exercise and why you always hear “consult with your physician.”
How likely is it that a previous injury may resurface when I start exercising again?
Injuries to bone, muscle, tendons or ligaments heal at different rates and with variable completeness of healing. For instance, tendon injuries are vulnerable to reinjury due to poor blood flow and therefore slower healing rates. Fractures often heal more completely, with less risk to reinjury as a result. This is why it is important to follow your physician’s guidelines on return to activity. Physical therapy can be helpful in guiding the patient back to activity by strengthening the surrounding musculature and addressing muscular imbalances, which are often the cause of the injury in the first place. If done properly, patients can often return back to exercise stronger than they were before they got injured.
What are some tools that will help me track my exercise or motivate me?
Goal setting can be very helpful when exercising as it makes the nebulous “get healthier” resolution more concrete. Recording your progress can be as basic as logging activities performed with pen and paper. With the explosion of handheld personal devices come a myriad of applications (apps) that can help track everything from miles run to calories consumed with cheerleading built into the program. Blogs have become a popular way for people to connect with others who similarly strive to achieve their exercise goals. Having a network of virtual “friends” to share tips and pitfalls can make daunting goals more accessible.
How closely should I follow a workout plan? Should I push through if I’m feeling tired or sore?
There are many shared programs and exercise regimens that people read about and upon which they base their goal setting. Whether it is with a trainer or with a physical therapist, if there is a target you’re trying to reach, it is important to report discomfort or pain, especially if it persists through the next workout. Muscle strengthening can cause achiness, but it should not cause outright pain that persists. Working out to a level of fatigue can strengthen the muscle to a certain extent. However, prolonged exercise through fatigue can make one vulnerable to injury because proper posture and technique often fail when fatigued.
Is diet or exercise more important for well-being?
For health maintenance both diet and exercise are essential. Diet supplies the body with the building blocks for the maintenance of good health. However, it is the exercise that takes the “raw goods” of good nutrition and builds it into healthy tissue, whether it be the heart or muscle or mind. Exercise builds muscle mass, which helps regulate the body’s metabolism, and improves circulation and oxygenation. Building good core strength through exercise also goes a long way in preventing injury.
If we are getting our yearly physical, what more could “consulting with a physician” really do for us? We should already know if we have a heart condition or something that may affect our activities, right?
When people are told to consult with their physician, it is often because the activity requiring “medical clearance” may be more rigorous than some people with certain conditions can handle. Some conditions such as heart disease obviously necessitate physician clearance for physical activity. Other conditions may not seem as obvious a risk to activity. Some patients have conditions that do not affect their day-to-day life but may preclude them from more rigorous activity. For instance, even something as peaceful sounding as scuba diving may have ramifications for a healing injury due to the pressure changes that occur to the body. If medical clearance is suggested, it is wise to get it.
Dr. Alice Chen is a physiatrist and interventional specialist in the non-operative management of spine and sports disorders. She treats disorders and injuries of the neck, back, muscles and joints in a minimally invasively manner. Dr. Chen sees patients at the HSS Stamford Outpatient Center.