Returning to Activity after Quarantine

Adam J. Money, MD October 21st, 2021

With vaccination numbers rising and new cases of COVID beginning to decline, you have decided to get back to activity. After a year of working from home, you are ready to shed those extra quarantine pounds. Prior to the pandemic, you could run a few miles, play a pick-up game of basketball, and lift weights at the gym without much issue. One weekend morning, you grab your tennis shoes and head outside, ready to take on the day for the first time. You figure not much has changed since your last workout so you hit the ground running. Then, 20 minutes later, you feel a pop.

This story has become all too common in orthopaedic offices recently. As the world slowly opens back up and individuals return to activity, we have seen an increase in orthopaedic injuries among our working age population. Here are a few ways to avoid injury as you return to activity.

Stretch and Warm-Up
If you take anything from this article, it should be this section. Giving your body an opportunity to prepare for the work-out is crucial in avoiding injury. There is a reason professional athletes who are trained at the highest level spend several hours prior to games warming up their bodies. Warming up increases blood flow to your muscles and stretching will elongate the muscles helping prevent that dreaded "pop." I'm not saying you need to warm up for an hour before every workout but taking a small amount of time can help to prevent injury.

Progress Activity in Stepwise Manner
You are not in the same physical shape you were prior to quarantine. Your body will not be able to handle the same 5 miles you ran a year ago. Give your body and mind a chance to catch back up. Start your workouts slow. Run fewer miles and lift lighter weights initially. This is ok! You will be able to get back to those same activities, but it may take a month or two.

Know Your Limits
As a former collegiate athlete, I personally struggle with this. I have a hard time remembering that the all-out mentality I had as a 20-year-old is not what my body needs today. Then, I was training to sprint all over the field and tackle guys twice my size. Now, I need the strength and stamina to stand for hours in surgery and then chase my two-year-old around at the end of the day. 
After dealing with several injuries and pains that wouldn't go away, I recognized my new activity needs and changed the way I trained. I had to replace free-weight power lifts with alternatives and plenty of stretching. I didn't completely eliminate power lifts from my routine, but I recognized which ones were causing the issues. Understanding these limits post quarantine is even more important. It helps prevent injuries as you increase activity levels.
Choose Lower Impact Activities

Research has demonstrated that higher impact activities such as running can potentially lead to increased rates of injury and early degeneration of your joints. Much like your car, the harder you drive it, the higher the likelihood that it will break down. While it's true that high impact activities like running and jumping can improve your bone health, it's often wise to do them in moderation. Replacing one of your running workouts with a bike or swim workout can help reduce the forces your joints, tendons, muscles accumulate.

Recognizing Early Injury Signs
So you pushed it too hard and now something hurts. Is it just because you are sore or is something wrong? Sharp pains that last greater than 24 hours can be indicative of an early injury. Often, soreness following workouts can last several days but this tends to be a global dull ache rather than sharp pain. Pushing through the sharp pains is likely to result in injury. Modify your workouts to avoid activities that continue to hurt. Elevate and ice the extremity/injury initially. If the problem persists, please reach out to your friendly orthopaedic surgeon.

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