13 Exercises to Help You Recover From an Injury

No one likes being sidelined by an injury. But you can cope by doing certain rehabilitative exercises (depending on your injury and if your doctor gives you the OK, of course). While these exercises won't heal your injury, they can make you feel stronger.


Let these physical therapy exercises help you recover from an injury. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

If you're experiencing pain in your knees, shoulders, lower back or hips, follow along with these 13 exercises from Melanie Archer, certified Pilates master trainer and owner of Archer Pilates in Los Angeles.

1. Knee Injuries: Single-Leg IT Band Stretch

Does your workout involve a lot of pounding the pavement, jumping or bouncing? The cartilage in your knees is getting a lot of wear and tear. Stretch your IT band to counteract these effects.

HOW TO DO IT: (see top image) Lie face up on the floor and wrap a resistance band around your foot. Hold the ends of the band with the opposite hand. Extend your leg out straight. Rotate the big toe inward and stretch the leg across your body as far as you can without bending the leg or lifting the hip. Breathe four long, deep, steady inhalations and exhalations. Slowly release and switch legs.

ALSO GOOD FOR: bursitis in the hip

It's important to work your VMO to help relieve knee pain. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

2. Knee Injuries: Standing VMO Contraction

You may have never heard of your VMO (vastus medialis oblique), but it's vital for helping to relieve knee pain. It's located above the knee on the front inner part of your quads, says Archer, and its main function is to straighten the leg while stabilizing the knee caps.

HOW TO DO IT: Stand with feet hip-distance apart, heels slightly lifted and knees slightly bent. Place a small ball between your knees, contract the VMO muscles and hold for 10 seconds. You'll know you're doing it properly when you can feel the muscles pressing inward or into the ball. Repeat 10 times.

ALSO GOOD FOR: bursitis in the hip

This movement is small but great to work your VMO. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

3. Knee Injuries: Standing Releve Pulse

Here's another great exercise for the good ol' VMO. To strengthen this muscle, Archer likes to add a series of pulses to isometric exercises (ones that are usually held in one place).

HOW TO DO IT: Stand on the balls of your feet with heels slightly lifted and knees slightly bent. Place a ball between the inner thighs or go without. Use a wall for stability if necessary. Contract the VMO muscles and slowly pulse up and down an inch. The move is small and slow, allowing your brain to check in with the muscles you're trying to contract. Do 10 to 20 pulses and rest.

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening calves, quads, glutes and ankles

This small movement is a great exercise to rehab the knee. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

4. Knee Injuries: VMO Stability-Ball Press

Once again, small movements are the name of the game when it comes to exercises to help you recover from an injury. Even though this might not look or seem like much, rebuilding the strength in your knee takes time and is done with baby steps.

HOW TO DO IT: Standing with stability ball in front of you, place one foot on the surface and with a very slight bend in the knee, gently press down on the ball. Do three sets of 10 presses. (NOTE: You can do this exercise sitting in a chair if needed.)

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening calves, quads and hip flexors

You don't have to do a full extension to get the benefit of stability ball hamstring curls. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

5. Knee Injuries: Stability-Ball Baby Hamstring Curl

Bridging hamstring curls are perfect for rehabbing a knee injury, but they can be too aggressive on a gym bench or machine. For these situations, Archer suggests baby hamstring curls on a stability ball.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back on the floor with a stability ball near your butt. Keeping your tailbone down, place your feet hip-distance apart on the ball. Place your arms along your sides with your palms pressing into the floor. Gently curl up to a bridge position at least two inches off the floor. Keep the hips level with each other as you roll the ball an inch or two back and forth.

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening calves and quads

This exercise is perfect for keeping stress off the knees. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

6. Knee Injuries: Glute Bridge Pelvic Tilt

Anyone with a knee injury wants a good lower-body exercise that won't put extra stress on the knees. Enter: this glute bridge variation.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your feet hip-distance apart, knees bent, heels under your knees. Your arms should be along your sides, palms pressing into the floor. Keeping the hips level, lift up into a bridge (as high as you can without feeling pressure in the knees). Tilt the pelvic bone slightly up and toward your belly button and back to neutral. Do this tilt 10 times before lowering back down. Do one to three sets.

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening glutes, hamstrings and quads

The back extension is great for improving lower back pain. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

7. Lower Back Pain: Stability Ball Back Extension

Lower back pain is a surefire sign of an unbalanced workout. "But clients who strengthen the low-back muscles see a dramatic reduction in low-back pain," says Archer. (NOTE: Don't do this exercise if you have disc herniation or a bulging disc in the lumbar spine.)

HOW TO DO IT: Start either on your knees (with a smaller stability ball) or on your feet. With a stability ball in front of you, come into a plank on the ball, belly and chest lying on the ball. Bring the fingertips to your neck and elbows out to the sides. Use your abs to lift your chest off the ball. Do one to three sets of 10 to 15 reps.

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening glutes, upper back muscles and abdominals

The foam roller is great to alleviate joint pain. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

8. Joint Pain: Foam Rolling

Joint injuries are all too common (and very tricky to exercise around). To help, Archer likes to loosen the muscles and tendons with a foam roller. "The trick is to move slowly and to stay put for a moment when you reach a particularly tense spot."

HOW TO DO IT: To target your hips (and relieve knee pain), start in a side plank and support your upper body on your forearm. Starting with your hip on the roller, roll over the IT band from your hip to just above your knee. Switch sides.

To target the shoulder blades and upper back, sit on the floor with the roller behind your back, feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Wrap your arms around your torso and lie back on the roller. Roll back and forth with the roller between the shoulder blades.

The resistance band pull apart targets not only your shoulder but your biceps, too! (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

9. Shoulder Pain: Resistance Band Pull-Apart

Got shoulder pain? This is the exercise to try.

HOW TO DO IT: Hold a resistance band with both hands about a foot apart (wider to decrease intensity). With your palms facing either the ceiling or turned in toward each other, lift the band to chest height with a slight bend in the elbows. Stretch the band so the hands stay on a level plane, actively resisting as the band comes back together. If this feels too easy, move the hands closer together at the start. Do 10 reps.

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening upper back muscles and biceps

The rotator cuff needs a lot of TLC if it's injured. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

10. Rotator Cuff Injuries: Close the Book

This exercise targets the internal rotators and can be easily dialed down for those with serious pain, says Archer.

HOW TO DO IT: Tie one end of a resistance band to something sturdy at waist height. Stand with the attachment point at your left side and hold the band in your left hand. Begin with your elbow close to your waist, and your hand in front of the elbow. Stretch the band across your belly and actively resist back to the starting position. Do 10 reps and switch sides.

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening upper back muscles and biceps

The resistance band walk-away is an easily customizable exercise. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

11. Rotator Cuff Injuries: Resistance Band Walk-Away

One of the moves Archer suggests for people with any degree of shoulder pain is the resistance-band walk-away. "The isometric hold will help stabilize and work to strengthen all of the muscles in the region," she says.

HOW TO DO IT: Tie one end of a resistance band to something sturdy. Stand with your left side next to the band and the band in your left hand. Begin with your elbow close to your waist, hand in front of the elbow. Side step away from the band's attachment point. When the band is taut, hold for a few seconds. Repeat a few times, as long as you can handle the resistance. Switch sides and repeat on both sides for three sets.

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening upper back muscles and biceps

This exercise is great for bursitis or tendinitis and requires a pilates ring. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

12. Hip Injuries: Bridging Inner Thigh Pulse

Tendinitis and bursitis (when tendons become inflamed from overuse) are two common hip injuries. If either happens, Archer suggests this exercise to help strengthen the hip muscles and relieve pain.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet hip-width apart, flat on the floor. Press down through the feet, raising your butt off the ground. Place a Pilates ring between the inner thighs. Slowly squeeze and release the ring or ball. Do this 10 times, and then slowly lower your spine down toward the floor. Repeat up to three times.

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening abdominal muscles, pelvic floor muscles, hamstrings, inner thighs and lower back muscles

The baby fire hydrant helps keep the blood circulating to the injury. (Image: Describe the Fauna/LIVESTRONG.COM)

13. Hip Injuries: Baby Fire Hydrant

Hip injuries don't have to sideline you completely. Unless under strict doctor's orders, "there is no reason not to keep moving and get blood circulating through the area," says Archer.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie down on your side with the pelvis stacked vertically and legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Contract the abdominals and use your body's resistance to open and close the legs. Lift the top leg off, keeping the L shape. Do three sets of 10 reps (if you can) on each side. As you get stronger you can add a resistance band around the thighs, if cleared by your doctor.

ALSO GOOD FOR: strengthening glutes