Physical activity while injured

Hi Alice,

About five days ago while I was doing step aerobics I stepped down incorrectly and injured my foot. It turns out, after seeing the doctor, that I cracked a bone on the outer side of my foot and will have to wear a boot cast for about four weeks. My question is, since I can no longer do aerobics, what other kinds of exercises can I do to help me lose weight? I already do weights, abs, and any other type of leg exercise that don't involve me standing, but I don't feel that this is enough and since I am prone to gaining weight easily, I really want to do as much as I can but in a way that I don't aggravate my injury or make it worse.

Please let me know,

Dear April,

A fractured foot can be a pain — figuratively and literally — especially when trying to stay physically active. The good news is that there are plenty of low- and medium-impact ways to step up your physical activity routine instead of feeling down. But before you pack your gym bags, it’s wise to run any new physical activity plans by a health care provider to avoid causing more harm than good to that foot. As you might realize, one of the keys to healing a broken bone is giving it time to actually heal. Once your foot is healed, you can start to slowly ease back into your regular physical activity routine.

Before jumping into physical activity routines, it can be helpful to understand how bones heal. In general, bones in younger patients heal faster than older patients. It usually takes six to twelve weeks for bones to heal significantly, and it also depends on the location and severity of the fracture, if any surgical procedures were performed, and other considerations. In addition, immobilization is a critical part of treatment because any movement of bone fragments slows down the initial healing process. During the immobilization period, weight bearing is limited as instructed by the health care professional. Once the bone is healed, physical therapy often helps with rehabilitation.

You mention that you're already doing weights, abs, and leg exercises that don't involve standing. It's great that you've found some options that work for you and your injury. Before adding more, you may want to speak with your health care provider about adding more activities. They may be able to recommend some seated cardio activities that will get your heart rate going without putting pressure on your injury. While you may be anxious to continue working out as much as possible, experts recommend focusing on healing your foot first before prioritizing weight loss. Overdoing it while your foot is still injured could further exacerbate the injury and result in it taking longer to heal. This would make it longer before you could return to your usual routine.

These weeks could also be a good opportunity to learn more about injury prevention to set yourself up for success in the future. Those who are injured may want to think about getting plenty of protein, calcium, vitamin C, iron, vitamin D, and potassium to improve bone strength. In addition to getting proper nutrients, being familiar with how to best use the equipment when or if you get back to the aerobics class after healing can help prevent injury. Using the bench (a tool often used for aerobics classes) properly can help prevent foot and knee injuries. First, having the bench the correct height will make it easier to use and make sure that too much pressure isn't being put on the knee. A bench that is the right height for you won't require bending more than 83 to 90 degrees. If the knee needs to flex more than that to step up, it may be too high for you. Another common mistake occurs when the foot is placed once actually stepping onto the bench. If the foot isn't placed fully on the bench, the Achilles tendon may get stretched too much when the heel dips below the bench. Finally, injuries can occur when getting up and down from the bench if you're hopping or bouncing. This puts more pressure on the joints and has the potential to result in inflammation in the foot, shin splints, and stress fractures. In addition to how you use the bench, it can also be good to look at your athletic shoes to make sure they are sturdy and support your feet as you move around the aerobics class.

Paying attention to your body is critical to ensuring that your foot heals properly. Again, it's recommended for anyone who's injured to check in with a health care provider before adding to their physical activity regime. In addition, feel free to check out the Fitness section of the Go Ask Alice! Nutrition & Physical Activity archives for more information about fitness safety and other types of workout routines.

Before you know it, you’ll be giving that cast the boot and getting back to unrestricted movement!

Last updated Aug 17, 2018
Originally published Jul 13, 2006

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