Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fit for Duty: Strategies for managing injury

Sherry Dean   

Features firefighter fitness Sherry Dean

At some point in time active people will experience injury. Knowing whether an injury is serious or superficial can be difficult, especially if you haven’t previously experienced similar discomfort. Pain management is different for everyone and that complicates analysis.

Acute injury happens suddenly, such as a sprained ankle or broken bone. These types of injury are typically easy to identify because of the mechanism of injury and immediate deformity, bruising and/or swelling. Acute injury can also be a pull or tweak in muscle or connective tissue. A pulled muscle or strained tendon doesn’t have the same symptoms or visual cues of a broken bone and therefore are harder to recognize as injury.

A subacute stage occurs within a few days of an acute injury as the body attempts to heal and recondition itself and continues over a number of weeks. It is during this time that the actions of the athlete can make a minor injury into a chronic (long lasting) one. Chronic problems can last many months or a lifetime if not treated correctly.

DOMS (Delayed-onset muscle soreness) can start to occur 12 hours after activity and can last for up to three days. Muscle fiber tears down during activity and your body repairs itself by increasing blood flow and inflammation which can cause soreness (DOMS). This may not happen after every workout but tends to be more prevalent with new movements or an increase in intensity. DOMS is not generally considered an acute injury. Even though the muscle fiber is torn down, it is at a microscopic level. DOMS does not occur during your workout but you may feel DOMS during a subsequent workout.


It is important for an athlete to be able to recognize the type and severity of injury. Seeing a professional is the recommended path but it isn’t always that simple. Wait times, lack of a family physician, avoidance or feeling as though you are over-reacting are all factors. The difficulty for a lot of athletes is to decide whether to work through acute injury or not. Injuries require time to heal. Working around, not through, injury is the correct approach. Having a professional guide you through that work-around is always the best method.

Modify or adapt
While you are healing, modification is almost always a possibility. It may be as simple as changing a grip or range of motion if it removes pain from an exercise. If there is no way to remove pain it is best to avoid the movement until you are able to do it without pain. You may ‘feel’ a movement. It is important to differentiate ‘feeling’ or discomfort from pain. If you are re-introducing activity after injury it is not uncommon to experience discomfort as your body readjusts back into its previous level of activity.

When you cannot complete a movement without pain, adapt the workout. If you have a lower body injury you may be able to maintain an upper body exercise regime or vice versa. Adaptation may come in the form of moving from free weights to machines. This will help to keep you motivated, burn calories and move blood through your system.

Each injury is unique and requires a strategy specific to the needs of the injury and person. There are two approaches to recovery. It will be beneficial for you to apply the correct process through personal experience and professional direction.

RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation is a mainstream form of treating acute injury.

  • Rest your injured body part to allow it to repair and rebuild. .
  • Apply ice to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Compress the injured area with a tension bandage or wrapping to decrease fluid and swelling.
  • Elevate the injured part to reduce blood flow.

MEAT: Movement, Exercise, Analgesics and Treatment is lesser known and works on the foundation of active recovery, which increases blood flow.

Movement should be gentle with respect to pain threshold.

Exercise by modifying and adapting your routine to maintain blood flow.

Use analgesics to lessen and reduce pain. Pain management can be a key to being able to move and exercise injury. Medications such as aspirin and acetaminophen and natural products like turmeric and ginger are all analgesics.

Treatment may be professional or done at home.

RICE may be used to treat an injury directly after it happens and MEAT may be used to rehabilitate you from injury to health. If these treatments are new to you, educate yourself through reliable sources.

4 Round Chipper
Reduce the rounds or adjust the exercises or reps as needed

Round 1

• 2 minutes of cardio (run, bike, row, skip, etc. You can do something different each round)
• 50 squats
• 40 push-ups
• 30 butterfly sit-ups

Round 2

• 2 minutes of cardio (run, bike, row, skip, etc.)
• 50 KB swings
• 40 grasshoppers
• 30 burpees or burpee jump overs

Round 3

• 2 minutes of cardio (run, bike, row, skip, etc.)
• 50 lunges
• 40 alternating single arm press
• 30 Russian twists

Round 4

• 2 minutes of cardio (run, bike, row, skip, etc.)
• 50 wallballs or med ball slams
• 40 jump squats or med ball cleans
• 30 dumbbell snatches

I’ll leave you with this workout, if you are injured modify, adapt or save it for recovery.

Be well and stay safe and active!

Sherry Dean is a career firefighter/engineer with Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency Service. She has more than 20 years of experience in fitness and training.

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