Serious injuries such as broken bones, separations, strains and sprains can put you off the bike for weeks, sometimes even months. I’ve often seen people exacerbate their healing times by having a pity party. Doing nothing but sitting around drinking beer, eating ice cream and feeling sorry for yourself while you wait to recover so you can “get back at it” is probably the worst thing you can do.
Although I have no magic cure for making bones heal faster, I do have a few tips to get you back to full strength as soon as possible after injury, with a minimum of muscle and cardio loss. Remember, injuries cause imbalances. If you injure a leg, you start to limp, and if you never re-train yourself to walk properly again, you can retain a portion of that limp into the future (which could cause another injury years down the line – yes, seriously).
This is roughly how my ideal timeline looks when I get injured.
First 72 Hours
This is usually the assessment time. Everything is puffy and swollen. Right here, in this time frame, is the only time I recommend using ice. Modern research shows that over-icing an injury can actually impede recovery time1. I might use a little to help with pain but that’s about it. The only activity I’m doing right now is resting.
First Two Weeks
This is where I get in to see my physiotherapist. Depending on the injury, the sooner the better. Regardless of the injury, a physio will be able to get you started on some sort of recovery program, and it’s this time frame right here that will pay off big when it comes to the tail end of your injury. Doing rehabilitation as early as possible will reduce pain, reduce muscle atrophy and give you full strength and mobility sooner.
Also depending on the injury, this is when I start getting back into light activities. Obviously, a leg injury can make it hard, but that’s the only excuse you should have. If you can walk, get out there and start hiking. I know a lot of bikers who feel lost without their bike, but you don’t have to go and hike the Grouse Grind. Go explore your local trail network, hike up trails, see what’s out there. Right here in this time frame, you are starting to ensure you don’t loose all your cardio gains.
Lastly, this is where I begin seeing what else I can do to help my recovery. I’ve used both acupuncture and massage therapy to help reduce pain and promote healing. I also clean up my diet, meaning no beer and no junk food. Lots of good wholesome foods along with some vitamin supplements to make sure my body has everything it needs to heal itself.
Three Weeks to Six Weeks
At this point in time your physio (and hopefully a little common sense) will have told you what you can’t do, along with starting you on a rehabilitation program, but this is also the time where you return to the gym. Lower body injury? Work the upper body. Upper body injury? Work the lower body. Though I am generally a “free weights are king, leave the machines alone” kinda girl, this is the one time where I ignore that rule. If you have a broken arm, it’s gonna be kind of hard to do deadlifts and squats.
This is also where I get back into more intense cardio training. I’m not a stationary bike person, other than teaching spin class, since I personally find it very hard to sit on such a bike and spin! If you can do that, awesome: you can use the stationary trainer as a great training tool to work on intervals or even put in some longer distances.
Personally, I prefer to get out on foot and hike up mountains, most of my epic hikes have been done while I was recovering from injuries and couldn’t ride my bike. Actually, I recommend it; hiking will get you outside — ideally with other people — give you plenty of fresh air and exercise, and if you start hiking up mountains, it may even give you a sense of achievement (at the very least it will give you a really cool view).
Six Weeks and Beyond
It’s hopefully in this time frame that you get the thumbs up to return to full activity. If you have just spent the last six-plus weeks doing what I’ve suggested, then you should find that your fitness levels shouldn’t be too far off from where you left them when you injured yourself.
Now imagine the person who spent the last six-plus weeks sitting around, waiting to get better so they could start rehabbing! Doesn’t make a lot of sense.
At the end of the day, everyone’s injury and recovery times are different. If they are serious enough, they can take months to heal. This article isn’t a one-recovery-fits-all program; it’s some general advice and thoughts from someone who has been injured many times and who often has people ask me, “Wow, you sure seemed to recover quickly. How do you do it?”
1. Hocutt, J. E., Jr., R. Jaffe, C. R. Rylander, and J. K. Beebe, 1982, Cryotherapy in ankle sprains: The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 10, 316-319.