3 Big Picture Action Steps For Better Injury Recovery

In Part 1 of this post, I covered items you can do yourself to immediately get yourself on a better path to healing from an injury. In terms of ‘seeing the forest from the trees’, in the last post, we were looking at ‘the trees.’ Today, we’ll look at ‘the forest’ – that is – what needs to be in your ‘big picture’ for you to achieve true injury recovery.

There are 3 key elements a smart human puts into their big picture plan for healing themselves:

  1. Use science on your side, in particular, pain science.
  2. Use the “one ounce less” principle.
  3. Get thee to a physiotherapist, a good one mind you.

The hope is always to avoid injury, but sometimes, that’s just not the way the cookie’s going to crumble. Learn these strategies so that next time injury strikes, you’re ready.

Brain Makes You Say What?


Your brain can make you say “ouch”, even when there is nothing to actually “ouch” at.

Did you know that your brain can continue to send “ouch! pain!” signals to you when you move the injured area even after the injury has healed and there should be no pain left?

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It’s true. Pain science has shown us that the brain connects the movement that occurred during the injury to the pain of the injury. Even once the tissue has healed, the brain can hold on to a signal of ‘perceived threat’ when you move into a position similar to the one that you were injured in.

Simply put, the body can still ‘hurt’ even though it doesn’t actually hurt anymore.

I can attest to the truth of phantom pain. After a major fall off balance beam, that resulted in a fantastic ankle injury, complete with a popping noise on impact!, any time my doc would work my ankle through ROM work, into the exact position it was in during the injury, I’d feel pain well up inside me.

But it felt different. I could tell it wasn’t real, but it still felt like it was going to hurt. My hands would get clammy, and I’d have to take a few deep breaths as he slowly moved my foot into that position.

Only after doing that numerous times and realizing that once we got to the injury position and it didn’t actually hurt, did my brain start to reset the connection – ankle movement does not equal pain – and the pain & fear subsided. You have got to move slowly and methodically if you’re going to work out any residual phantom pain.

When we feel pain, we naturally move away from it.

We compensate. We recruit other areas to do more of the work so that the pain-filled area doesn’t need to do as much. Is that really what you want your body doing when you head out on a run after tweaking your low back so bad you can’t stand up fully straight?

You’ve got to put yourself in a controlled, conscious environment first and build the movement pattern, before moving into an uncontrolled unconscious environment. This means doing controlled, thoughtful movements with great care & attention before going into something that has to be unconscious & reactionary because of how quickly it happens – like running, jumping, sporting.

And this is where the “one ounce less” principle comes in.

Less Is More: The One Ounce Principle

When it comes to returning to workouts after an injury, my motto is this:

“One ounce less is infinitely better than one ounce too much.”

One ounce too much is that “oh god” tweak you felt that time you were working out because you wanted to ‘feel’ a workout again but your body just wasn’t healed enough for what you dished out to it.

One ounce too much is the limp that comes back after you run because your social group was doing 3 miles this morning and rather than do just a portion of that with them, you went the whole way and did it at their non-injured pace.

One ounce too much is the injury that never seems to heal because your output in workouts post-injury looked something like this: 0% effort during injury…40% during 1st workout back…100% intensity there-after.

As you return to training, plan what you’re going to start back with first, and then plan to do 50% of what you think you’re capable of.

Plan it. Write down your plan. Stick to your plan.

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All good planning requires coffee

This isn’t to say that sticking to your plan is going to be without challenges. 

It’s incredibly easy to go off the rails once you get into a workout. Either the feeling of endorphins kicks in and you go running for the horizon with your workout, or, you forget what you needed to do in terms of controlled, conscious movements and you miss the chance to do rehab work.

When “ankle mobility drills” need to be done, wanna take a guess how easy it is to ‘forget’ to do them in your workout when fun things like rows, handstands, and kettlebell swings lay ahead?

As easy as boiling water.

It’s stupid easy to conveniently forget to do one of the most important portions of your workout, your injury rehab!

Why do we forget if we don’t write it down?

Because injury recovery exercises aren’t a normal part of our training routine so they’re not front-of-mind. Because we don’t want to think about the injury. Because we want to do things that release endorphins, and lets be honest, rotator cuff drills don’t necessarily invoke the endorFEELS in ya.

How To Start Smart Using The “One Ounce Less Principle”

So you’ve got recovery to do, and you know that your brain will chase the dopamine if you let it. 

But letting your brain chase that cheeky dopamine kick is an easy way to skip the recovery, and find yourself in even more pain. So let’s not do that.

Instead, when you’re in recovery, here’s how you can start your workouts smarter, by using the “One Ounce Less Principle.”

  • Do an appropriate amount of movement prep to warm-up your body and brain for the workout ahead. Start slow. This could be the very same movements you were doing all week prior to this to bring mobility back to the injured area – hip circles, arm raises, air squats, etc.
  • Test your desired movements first for function & pain before loading them up. Start at <50% work capacity. Slowly increase your intensity or load.
  • Plan on doing only a FEW of everything you had planned for the day. You want to stop before you are near fatigue work volume. Remember, workouts are a signal to your body. It’s like continuing to practice a skill when your capacity to do it has been passed for the day. If all you’re practicing is garbage reps, all you’re getting is garbage stimulus.

Injury Isn’t Forever

As I hope you’ve seen over the 2 parts of this article (starting with Part 1, here), there are smarter ways to fix yourself after an injury. No one likes injuries. I advocate bullet-proofing yourself against them. But if you do get injured, and it’s such that there is pain – take action please.

Start self-care. Use pain science to your advantage. But also – get in to see someone to help you heal. You don’t have to go the injury-recovery route alone.

You can do injury recovery better. You can do it differently next time (although I hope your ‘next time’ is a long way off).

What injuries are you dealing with? What part of the injury recovery process laid out here will you dive into first to help yourself heal?


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Want to understand, once and for all, how to start feeling good and moving well?
My book, The Movement Manifesto, will help you get started on the right foot.



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