A fellow reader, Henry sent in these great questions, and I thought my answers would be helpful for others too. Shared with permission and slightly edited by me.
What is the best course of action to take when you hurt yourself physically – twist a knee, pull a muscle, wake up stiff?
I enjoy my training but when I get hurt, I’m not sure what to do and beside limiting my ability to train, directly affects my mood and temperament for the worse.
I feel like I am wading through a murky swamp. [Should I] Continue exercising / rest. Ice / don’t ice. Take Advil (or similar) / Don’t take it. Etcetera.
And here’s my reply:
It’s tough to give super specific advice on this one but in general…
Movement is usually the best thing you can do for niggles. It helps bring nutrients to the area and remove waste products. So for a stiff back, cat camels, walking etc usually help. How much movement you do depends on your pain tolerance. But for most niggles, keeping the pain < 3 out of 10 is a good rule.
Here are a few things I’ve written about pain that might help.
Advil etc. might prolong the healing of the tissue as they reduce the inflammation. Inflammation is good for healing. But I obviously wouldn’t go against what your doctor might advise.
Icing is the same. Although icing will make the area feel better (because of numbing), it will slow the inflammation.
As for reducing the odds of getting hurt, this advice took me a long time to internalise. Reduce how often you push your limits. For most workouts, avoid failure (2-3 reps shy of failure tends to be the best for progressing while reducing injuries.) Use a similar approach to other activities. If you compete in something, save your max effort for those.
And here’s something I wrote about training with injuries. And here’s another.