Nearly all of us have experienced some sort of injury at some time in our lives. How did you know you were ready to return to the activities your injury forced you to stop doing?
Some of us don't stop. We are hurt but we are determined to battle on. We think that if we carry on, our pain will eventually disappear without any special precautions or activities needing to be performed. Sometimes, I have seen this strategy work. More often than not, I have seen it fail dismally. I know many people who have battled on doing things with pain for so long that pain is now the norm. Personally and professionally, I think that long term adoption of this strategy is a disaster waiting to happen.
Some of us stop and rest a la the common GP advice - “Rest it for a few weeks and take some ibuprofen.” Within this strategy, we use at least one of the common RICE methodology tools (sidenote: there are many articles springing up online at the moments questioning the use of ice with injuries. To my knowledge there have been no conclusive studies done on the no-ice approach to rehab but there are some interesting points being made. Keep your eyes peeled for more conclusive news.). Something tends to be better than nothing. The removal of higher demands on the injured area will allow some recovery but does nothing to address the causes of the injury (for any injury you caused yourself) and any changes that have resulted from it.
Some of us will add some rehabilitative exercises to our RICE protocol. This is a step further forward, as this will address some of the strength and mobility issues that will come from the injury and rest taken after a soft tissue injury. Slowly reintroducing the muscles to higher levels of resistance in a controlled, progressive manner to get back up to speed is often a great idea.
The next level of recovery protocol involves dealing with what you did that led to your injury and any adaptations you have made due to it. If rigid movement habits have led to a soft tissue injury, soft tissue recovery methods are of course advocated in addition to freeing up your habits so that you don't go injure yourself in the same way again. Addressing your athletic freedom is being clever.
There is always a weighing up of these levels of recovery to consider. How badly are you hurt? How long have you been hurt for? What will it take for you to access any quality help you may need? How is your life impacted? Do you have anything you consider important that you want to be ready for?
If you have a little pain but are 99% functional and it is your World Cup final tomorrow, you may choose to act differently than if you have an injury that is stopping you standing up without painkillers. Your circumstances are best known by you and so only you can make the best call on your strategy having filled in any gaps in your knowledge of recovery with the help of some effective health professional who may know more about your best path back to full fitness than you currently do.
I have spoken to somebody recently who had pain so bad they were struggling to get out of bed. During their enquiry about my services, they asked if they could start going back to the gym yet. This person's strategy was so far out of whack with the signals they were getting from their own body, they will probably set back their own recovery many times. Be realistic and truthful with yourself. Even with the best expert help, you are almost always best informed to know what you are currently capable of. If you can't sit-up in bed today, maybe sit-ups can wait for a day when that being an issue is a distant memory.