Physical Activity While Sick

Sport & Spine Physical Therapy in Auburndale and Marshfield Wisconsin share what to do when you are sick and have an HEP (Home Exercise Program).

Prioritizing your physical activity while sick can be tough!

In these ongoing challenges navigating health concerns like COVID-19 and the recent emergence of the norovirus, Sport & Spine understands the importance of adapting your home exercise (HEP) program while also prioritizing your well-being. Amidst these uncertainties, maintaining consistency with your HEP becomes even more crucial. We know that being under the weather can make it tempting to skip exercises, but it is during these times that the significance of your HEP is magnified. In this blog post, we pick Merrie’s brain when it comes to juggling HEP when you’re feeling sick.


JB: What advice do you have for individuals aiming to maintain their health and fitness, particularly when they’re not feeling their best? 

MD: Maintain slow and steady progress.  You don’t have to exercise every day!


JB: How can someone stay motivated to adhere to their Home Exercise Program (HEP) when they’re experiencing discomfort or not feeling well? 

MD: Discomfort can be part of starting a new exercise.  It will improve as time goes on, with the use of heat/cold, or even walking. Stopping exercise will prolong your recovery.

Delayed muscle soreness is a byproduct of the muscle that is working harder than it previously had. With movement, the soreness will resolve, and you will feel better.

We often work with people to decrease the severity of the soreness. This should never be an excuse to stop your exercise. We encourage and show you your improvement with numbers in your ROM (range of motion, meaning movement of the joint) or strength gains which will help you return to your goals. We will continue to motivate you and cheer you on to help you see the improvement you are making.

Now being sick… that is different.

When people are sick, there are many factors to consider when deciding to exercise. Stretching is usually safe all the time but consider slow and sustained stretches if you are feeling ill.

If you have nasal congestion or a sinus infection, laying on your stomach or bending over will help drainage flow but should not be done if it induces headache. Again, if you feel sick or this makes you worse, listen to your body and don’t do this. Here are some general guidelines we recommend, but please check with your primary provider to know what is best for YOU.

Do you have?photo of a woman sick with a fever for a blog post about exercise when you are sick by Sport & Spine

  • Fever: If you have a fever, it means your body is already busy fighting off a virus whether it be a cold, flu, etc. Your body needs all its weapons currently, and we suggest holding off on exercise.
  • Diarrhea: One would already be “running” to the bathroom, and again, exercise should be put on pause.
  • Colds: It is generally OK to exercise with a cold but listen to your body.  However, if you are experiencing chest tightness, consider walking and trying lower-key exercises.

It is okay to miss a couple of days of exercise.  We recommend you continue with your exercises that include gentle stretching, and exercises that do not raise the heart rate when you can.

Continuing to increase exercise and movement will help your immunity.  However, if you overdo your exercises when you are sick, it could compromise your immune system and it may take you longer to recover.

JB: Are there alternative exercises or modifications you recommend for patients who are unable to perform their regular routine due to illness or feeling unwell? 

MD: I recommend you skip a day if needed or cut your exercises in half or only do half of your routine.

JB: What strategies do you suggest for someone recovering from an illness or feeling sick to gradually resume their exercise routine without risking setbacks? 

MD: Depending on how long you were sick will depend on how to proceed. You may need to just start walking again but cut time in half. Be sure to listen to your body, exercise should make you feel good when you are done.

JB: Are there specific breathing exercises or relaxation techniques you recommend for patients who are recovering from an illness or feeling fatigued?

MD: Interesting question. Sometimes the muscles between the ribs, the intercostal muscles, will become tight causing pain and allowing deep breaths.  You can try lying on your back with one hand on your stomach and one on your chest.  Slowly breathe in through your nose while expanding into your belly, chest, and then the collar bone area working up to a count of 4. Hold for 2 seconds. Then slowly breathe out through your nose and a small amount of mouth again counting for a count of 4.

You may be able to gently use the hand on the stomach to assist with air motion by using the abdominal muscles. If you have trouble breathing for an amount of time, please see your primary care provider.  Physical therapy may be a great avenue to help with the rib movement for breathing to allow you to return to activity/exercise.

JB: How do you typically guide patients in maintaining overall wellness and preventing setbacks while they’re on their road to recovery? 

MD: Everyone is different.  Listen to your body, allow rest and activity breaks, drink fluids, and start slowly again. Again, checking in with others to help motivate you with your fitness journey will help.

What is the standard protocol for Sport & Spine?

JB: What is your standard protocol when a patient is feeling sick and has a scheduled appointment?

MD: If you are sick, we hope you take care of yourself and not share with us. If you can’t go to work or school, please don’t come to physical therapy. We can help you reschedule your missed appointment.

JB: Any other tips, advice, or tricks?

MD: As always, this is not intended to take all care from your physician. If you are sick for over a week, you may want to check with a primary care provider. If you have been sick for a prolonged period, we suggest you contact us to assist with fatigue and recovery, and to have an individualized program made just for you.

Physical therapy can help

Your commitment to your prescribed exercises, even during bouts of illness, not only contributes to your recovery but serves as a powerful tool in fortifying your health against unforeseen circumstances. Our team remains dedicated to supporting you through these times, ensuring that your journey to wellness remains steadfast, resilient, and adaptable. Click here to request an appointment. You can trust Sport & Spine, where we have been “straightening people out” for over 20 years.

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