After an injury, the most common question people have is when they can return to their normal, physical activities. The most common injuries in athletes are to the foot and ankle areas. While all time frames depend on the severity of your injury, there are three simple physical therapy steps that you can follow to get back to activity faster.

1. Rest

After an injury, the most important thing you can do is rest. That doesn’t mean you have to sit on a couch for 3 months though. Rest will come in stages and is important in making sure you don’t make the injury worse.

At first, you might need to stay on a bed or couch, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to help yourself heal. Taking your medications, along with alternating hot and cold to the area, are important things you can do. Taking an anti-inflammatory prescription or over-the-counter medication will help to keep inflammation down and pain under control. The hot and the cold help bring blood to the area to promote healing but also help with inflammation and pain too. To avoid injury to the skin from the cold packs, make sure you stick with 15-minute applications before removing it from the area.

2. Stretch

Once your injury has healed a little more, you can start stretching and massaging the injured area. Stretching out the muscle fibers relieves tension and loosens the area for movement. By easing into stretching, you minimize the potential for pain when you start moving again. It also helps to slowly increase the range of motion in the injured tissue. Massage is also helpful because it helps loosen the tight ligaments.

Just make sure that you don’t stretch too far or rub too hard. These stretches are particularly important with injuries such as plantar fasciitis and tendonitis in the Achilles tendon, which are aggravated by tight tendons.

3. Ease Back into Exercise

Once your doctor gives you the green light for exercise, it is important that you start out slowly. Increase the weight on your injury and build up strength a little at a time. Wear proper shoes to give you the right support. Make sure you do some warm-ups before starting on your walk or run, doing the stretches you were taught in the second phase of healing.

After you are exercising, pay attention to how you feel and make sure you stop at the first sign of pain. Pushing through pain isn’t good so close to an injury because you might re-injure yourself.

Always follow your doctor’s orders exactly. Since they know the extent of your injury and know your case best, they will be able to give you more specific information for recovery. Keeping inflammation down and doing slow rehabilitation exercises can help to restore full function to the injured area. Following these simple physical therapy tips in an appropriate time frame can help you heal faster and return to your normal activities.