Your musculoskeletal system consists of interconnected bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments that work harmoniously when you move your body or exercise. For people without a history of ligament or tendon problems, muscles represent the weakest link in the system; the necessary recovery time between workouts is a function of how long it takes sore muscles to process built-up lactose and rebuild tissue. However, if you suffer from ligament or tendon injuries, there may be factors other than muscle recovery to consider when planning your workout schedule.
If you are currently injury free and have no history of tendinitis or ligament rupture, your ligaments should be ready to return to the gym once your muscles are in workout shape. Scientific research published in the "Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology" suggests that the postworkout muscle-rebuilding process is largely complete 24 hours after workout, and for most athletes the process is entirely complete within 36 hours. Although most people are likely to fall within this 24- to 36-hour recovery range, keep in mind that everyone's body works differently, and your recovery rate may be shorter or longer. If you're just getting back to exercise, it may be best to start with longer recovery periods and gradually decrease the time between your workouts as your body adjusts to its new -- and healthier -- regimen.
Ligament Tear Recovery
Ligament tears are serious injuries that can occur when a great deal of body weight shifts suddenly to a single joint or when a ligament is bent beyond its normal range of motion. While most tears do not entirely sever the ligament, in the most severe case a torn ligament may rupture entirely. When recovering from a torn ligament you should begin a light exercise program as soon as possible, under the supervision of a physician. Your doctor or physical therapist will prescribe simple rehabilitation exercises that you can perform several times per day to retrain your joint to work normally. After several weeks of basic rehabilitation, swelling should subside and your physician should prescribe a more strenuous workout routine. The amount of recovery time necessary during this period of rehabilitation will vary based on your injury and your physician's advice, but ligament tear rehabilitation programs often call for strengthening and range-of-motion exercises three days each week and stretching exercises five or more days per week.
Tendon injuries occur when you suffer tearing at the site where a muscle connects to a bone. Although tendon injuries such as tendinitis are often less severe than ligament injuries, they can take a very long time to heal fully. You should only return to working out once you no longer experience any pain in the tendon while performing stretching exercises and normal, day-to-day movements; most people with tendon injuries need to rest for three to six weeks before working out is appropriate. Once you are ready to work out, you can start doing light resistance exercises up to three days a week, or as prescribed by your doctor. Be sure to stretch the tendon or joint before you work out, and stop immediately if you feel a recurrence of tendon pain.
Runners who suffer a ligament or tendon injury should only resume running once taking a 1-mile walk no longer results in swelling or pain in the affected area. According to Mass General Hospital, you should begin with a slow, 1/4-mile run and increase your distance by 1/4 mile each workout session until you reach your desired training distance; then you can begin increasing your running speed each session until you are back to peak form. Allow at least 24 hours between each running workout, and allow more time if you feel any pain or swelling at the site of the injury.
Dan Howard is a sports and fitness aficionado who holds a master's degree in psychology. Howard's postgraduate research on the brain and learning has appeared in several academic books and peer-reviewed psychology journals.