Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Injured? You can still exercise if you follow these guidelines

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Should you exercise if you’ve had an injury, are in pain or after surgery? This is a common question, one that is asked more frequently as we age.  It’s not uncommon to become afraid of moving for fear you’ll exacerbate the pain. Consider this question- What aggravates the pain?  Does twisting, flexing forward, bending backward, or putting pressure on the area make it worse? Once you know what exacerbates the pain, you can decide which exercises are right for you. If you find you have recurring discomfort that seems random, try to think back to what you may have done out of your ordinary routine that may have caused it. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Did you wear different shoes?
  • Did you walk for longer than usual?
  • Did you have an event that required a lot of preparation- like a holiday dinner?
  • Was there a particularly stressful event that may have caused you to tense your whole body?
  • Did you do a different set of exercises that may have triggered an area predisposed to weakness?

Contrary to previous beliefs, it’s still a good idea to move gently despite the pain. The increased circulation brings oxygen for healing to the area, and the muscle movement can help decrease pain, which is why walking is usually helpful. It’s almost always a good idea to ice the area, and be sure not to lift heavy objects, as that will put extra pressure on joints and muscles.

So what exercises are useful when you’re feeling pain? Isometric exercises work the muscles without moving them through space. People can typically do this type of exercise with no risk of aggravating an injury or straining already inflamed muscles. Isometric exercises involve muscle contraction, so it’s getting stronger without additional external resistance like weight cuffs, bands or dumbbells.  Your own body weight will provide the resistance.

Here are some useful exercises to do when you’re feeling pain. Go to

Many of you are familiar with the plank. When done correctly, all major muscle groups are being used, and it’s easy to modify by putting your knees down on the floor, while still contracting abdominal muscles.

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V-sits are easy to execute, but tough to hold- careful if your back is tender. A good modification is to bend your knees while keeping abdominals tight. Getting into the position involves a lift, but then staying there is isometric.

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Superman exercise are prone while lifting arms and legs. Modifications include lifting only arms or lifting only legs, keeping chest on floor, or alternating arm and leg lifts. Again assuming the position is a lift, but staying there is isometric.


Crab Hold can be modified by not lifting your hips as high off the floor.

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Squat holds can be modified by using the wall or against a ball.

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The last exercise explained in the article is the “L” sit, which is an advanced exercise that should be done only if you’re properly trained.

Additionally, aerobic exercises that are gentle and controllable (not team sports, where you run the risk of taking one for the team) are best for easing pain. Walking, swimming, tai-chi, yoga, modified pilates, simple stretching and even exercise with light weights are all good for pain reduction and for overcoming functional limitations related to pain.



The old adage, “If you don’t use it, you lose it” has some application here. When you don’t exercise for an extended period because you’re afraid of hurting something, you run the risk of becoming weaker and stiffer. Check with your doctor, fitness trainer or physical therapist to make sure you’re using proper form and which exercises to avoid.

Here’s to aging gracefully through exercising even when you don’t feel 100%!

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