Weight Training in Rehabilitation

Recover Quickly from Injury

Standing leg curl
Standing leg curl. (c) Paul Rogers / Cooloola Fitness

A less well publicized goal of weigh training is in rehabilitation from muscle and skeletal injury. Injuries to muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments can be rehabilitated with the assistance of weight training, especially where these tissues have been immobilized for some time as in the case of plaster or splinted limbs.

Rehab training should be guided by a qualified physical therapist, exercise physiologist or sports medicine medical practitioner in the first instance.

Personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches can chime in under instruction from these higher-level practitioners.

How Weights Help You Repair and Recover

Musculoskeletal injuries include injuries to the complex structure of muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. Muscle and tendon and cartilage tears, ligament sprains and at worst complete severance or detachment of these units make such injuries often complex to treat and repair.

When muscles are constrained by plaster of splints for example, the muscle starts to waste, reducing bulk and strength. Muscle needs exercise to be sustained and for growth. After injury, targeted muscle building with weights can help improve the speed of recovery of muscles and associated soft-tissue components. This is particularly relevant after recovering from broken bones and the required isolation required for bone growth and repair. When this phase is complete, then work on the surrounding muscles must occur for complete recovery.

Strategies for Weight Training in Injury Recovery

The number one rule is to start with light weights and gradually add more weight as the muscles and joints involved in the injury become stronger. Initially, exercises may involve body weight and movement only. External weight may not be required. For serious injury and rehabilitation, your doctor or physical therapist should guide you on this matter.

The second rule is not to start serious physical activity that stresses that injury region too soon. For athletes, this generally means not playing or competing until given the 'all clear' by a sports physician or therapist familiar with your activity and the stresses inherent in that activity.


Knee injuries occur mostly in twisting sports and activities. The vertical forces applied in weight training are much less likely to cause knee injuries, although repetitive strain injuries can occur. Knee joints are controlled to a large extent by the large quadricep muscles at the front of the thigh. The leg extension machine can assist you to build strength in these muscles when in recovery mode. The key strategy is to start with a very modest weight and increase the weight lifted very progressively, preferably under the guidance of a physical therapist.


Shoulder injuries, especially rotator cuff injuries, are common. The rotator cuff is a complex of muscles, tendons and ligaments that controls the complex movements of the shoulder.

Exercises that increase the strength of the rotator cuff include internal and external rotations of the shoulder.


Many muscles control the movement of the hip back, forward, out to the side and back in again -- extension flexion, abduction and adduction. Exercises that can help remediate hip injuries include bridges, knee raises, and hip extensions and flexions.

Lower Back

While lifting from the floor with poor form and posture can create back injuries, similar exercises performed with good form can help create a stronger back. Examples of such exercises are good mornings, deadlifts, squats, and bent-over rows. Not only will practicing good form prevent injury, but strengthening the back muscles will ensure additional protection from injury.


Exercises such as glute-ham raises, and standing leg curls with catch, deadlifts of various types, and good mornings may also be useful in strengthening the hamstrings for injury prevention purposes and may be used in rehabilitation, but you need to progress according to a plan under supervision.

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