Returning After Medical Leave

By Joyce Florance

Just recently I had to stop my normal exercise routine due to surgery. During my recovery I was reminded of the precautions we need to take when trying to heal from illness, surgery or injuries. I was very worried that I would not be able to come back from a lengthy medical leave.

The good news is when you are in good shape you can bounce back faster. The body is amazingly adaptable and can bring you back to where you were and then some. Coming back means you need to be cautious and observe some common sense rules.

  1. First and foremost, listen to your doctor. If you are told to rest, find out exactly what you should and shouldn’t do, including regular daily activities. Maybe you can’t exercise at the level you were before, but you might be able to do light walking or stretching exercises.
  2. Let your body heal first. If you do too much too soon, you may cause a setback and need to stay out longer. Several years ago I had a stress fracture and the doctor told me not to run for six weeks. After two weeks I felt good so I went out for a run and had to limp home.
  3. Remember, some movement is better than none. Being too sedentary can do more harm than good. Anything that gets your heart rate up will do your body good and aid the healing process.
  4. Ease back into your workouts. Reduce your efforts by 20 percent or more of what you think you can do and build back up from there. Add time before adding intensity.
  5. “No pain, no gain” does not apply here. Listen to your body. Pain means you have gone too far. You should never be so sore that you have to hobble around the next day.
  6. Remember to eat healthy foods and drink water. Both are essential to recovery.
  7. If possible, work with a fitness specialist to help you get back to the level of fitness you had before. Sometimes someone on the outside can have more insight into what would be best for you.

During recovery you may become discouraged and feel as if you will never be able to return to your previous level of fitness. A friend of mine recently told me, “The healing process is rather mysterious. It seems like one is making little progress, then at some point it begins to accelerate.” Don’t become discouraged. Remember this quote: “Some people follow their dreams, while others wake up and make them a reality one step at a time.”

Fitness Tip: When ill, use the “neck rule” to know whether it is safe to exercise. Symptoms below the neck (chest cold, nausea) require time off, while symptoms above the neck (runny nose, sneezing) are unlikely to pose a risk.