Whether you’ve broken a bone or undergone reconstructive surgery on your elbow, hand, or shoulder, when your arm is in a cast due to sports injuries, your workouts are a challenge. But even if you’re not an athlete, it’s essential to stay active as your arm heals.
Keeping the rest of your body healthy and strong helps your arm recover, too. And, when it’s ready for play again, you’ll have the core muscles and lower-body strength to support it as it swings, throws, or shoots.
David Lintner, MD, a leader in orthopedic sports medicine, is an expert in reconstructive surgeries that may require an arm cast, brace, or sling for short periods. At Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, our Kingwood and Houston, Texas, team also offers rehab protocols for your shoulder, elbow, and wrist.
If you’ve injured your arm and are facing life in a cast/brace/splint, here’s how to work out safely while you heal.
Caution: If you have an incision that is not yet completely healed, you should not be sweating. Doing so can increase your risk of infection. So, make sure you have clearance from your doctor before working out and sweating.
Start with low-intensity and the lower body
In the early phases of recovery, you don’t want to jostle your arm during workouts. Concentrate on using your lower body to increase your heart rate and stimulate circulation to your healing tissues.
Walk quickly but don’t jog until Dr. Lintner gives you the go-ahead. You can add intensity by building up strength in your legs through the following:
Avoid lifting weight plates until cleared to do so by your doctor. Gripping heavier objects can put unwanted stress on your arm. Weight machines that use pins to determine the resistance are safer./
- Leg curl machines
- Leg press machines
- Hands-free cycling machines
Be sure to stretch your muscles to warm up and cool down to maintain flexibility and avoid injury.
Concentrate on your core
A cast gives you the opportunity to focus on core strength rather than building up the throwing or swinging arm that’s now in recovery. Go for:
- Supine snow angels
- Straight-legged lifts
Try a Pilates class with modifications for your injured arm or shoulder.
Keep your other arm strong
Use dumbbells, kettlebells, or the machines at the gym to maintain muscle tone in your good arm. However, you may need to lighten your load to avoid stressing the casted arm. Try:
- Biceps curls
- Triceps extensions
- Shoulder press
- Lateral raises
Make sure to keep your injured arm protected.
Mind your cast
Your cast absorbs liquids, including sweat. That can lead to some unpleasant smells.
Cover your cast with a plastic cast liner when you shower, and seal it with medical tape.
If you sweated during your workout, use a blow dryer on a low setting to dry the moisture inside the cast. Run the dryer over the surface of the cast rather than blowing air inside, which may cause itching.
Sprinkle baking powder on the outside of the cast and rub it in to absorb moisture and odors. Wait 30 minutes and sniff. If you still detect odors, try again.
If you’ve experienced a sports injury that’s put your arm in a cast, contact our friendly and knowledgeable staff at the nearest office by phone or the online form for rehab tips today.
Special message: Even if you live far from Houston, consider sending your MRI on a DVD to Dr. Lintner along with a summary of your injury and symptoms for a second opinion. If appropriate, we can schedule a video visit, review your MRI, and discuss whether surgery might be needed. Many of our patients come from far away for their surgery and rehab closer to home with close follow-up by Dr. Lintner via telemedicine.