Dealing with BIG Injuries
This month I am going to talk about how to get through a BIG injury. For someone who is very active in running, cycling, swimming, etc. any time off for an ache or pain seems big. However when something really big happens it can force you to have to stop dead in your tracks for a very long time. Those of us that love to run can think a very long time is a week or two. I am talking about months. Weeks of inactivity, months not running.
For those of you who may follow my blog or twitter feed, you may have found out that I sustained two stress fractures in my hip/pelvis during the Sporting Life 10km. I could talk about what not to do in training so you don’t sustain BIG injuries but I think I have already done that in a previous post. Maybe I should have read it! Instead the following are things I have learned or am continuing to learn when dealing with the injuries that take you out of what you love to do for a prolonged period of time:
- Plan BIG injuries for winter. Ok so this is sort of a joke but honestly after the Polar Vortex winter we had the worst time of year to get injured is the month of April or May. Just when things turn nice. Now I will get to the serious stuff .
- Try your best to get a quick diagnosis. Luckily being a Physiotherapist I had access to quick medical care. A quick diagnostic test and having the understanding of what was wrong. Not everyone has such luxuries but there are a lot of great Sports Medicine Physicians around who you can see and quickly if you need to. They are your best bet for a thorough diagnosis and the appropriate tests if necessary. If you feel big bad pain don’t wait to get it addressed. I have to think that my saving grace in this (albeit still a long recovery) was that I stopped the day it happened. I did not try to ‘work through’ it and knew I needed to see a doctor immediately.
- Get a good medical team behind you. This may be multidisciplinary. Sports Med Doctor, Physiotherapist/Chiropractor/Osteopath/Massage Therapist (one or a combination of these to help you rehab properly), Sports Psychologist (this can really help with the mental aspects of losing your athlete identity, an objective person who will listen to you and help you with techniques to be mindful, deal with the disappointments and any other issues which may be affecting your ability to deal with the injury).
- Connect with athletes who have experienced similar injury. I have to admit I am always looking to hear about others experiences and to see how they handled their adversity and time off both physically and mentally. I got some wonderful emails from 4 professional Triathletes. Amazing emails with great advice on how to find the silver linings. How this is all part of being an athlete and to treat the recovery the same way I treat my training. With focus and determination and goals for recovery. The number one tip was that magic P word…..yes Patience! So hard but I re – read these emails almost daily to remind myself that these great athletes made it through prolonged time off and not only did they live to compete another day but they also came back faster and stronger!
- Stay off Google! This is a biggie. Everyone loves Google. Especially runners. My clients tell me all the time they look up their injuries on Google and it said ‘x, y and z’. I tell them to stay off Google. What did I do when I got these stress fractures? Googled and way too much. My lowest points of the day were when I got on to those runners forums and saw the horror stories of year long recoveries, never running again, recurrences etc. What a way to throw your positive thoughts of healing and goals for yourself out the window. Stay off those forums! The only positive thing I got off Google was the articles on the pros that I emailed.
- Use friends and family for support. As much as your immediate family may be tired of hearing you complain and angst over not being able to run or do what you want to do, theyare the ones we can reach out to and be ourselves with . Good friends are also invaluable and sometimes even better than family as they don’t have to live with you! Coffee dates are key during this time. Just try to ask a few questions about how they are doing so it’s not all about you
- Accept that your fitness will decrease and your body will change. This is one of the toughest things mentally. There is no way to go from training regularly to full rest without losing fitness and seeing changes in your body. Accept that it will happen and that it is temporary. Trying to fight this by pushing through is a recipe for disaster and longer healing time. Some people will be careful with their intake of nutrition when not training and some will go the opposite way. The body needs good nutrients to heal itself. If you indulge too much during this time and you are at all concerned with adding too much extra weight then be mindful of the in vs out equation. Regardless of what happens , it is temporary and once getting back into training it will change slowly again. Fitness takes two weeks to decrease. Sad but true!
- Focus on what you can do not what you can’t . This all comes down to attitude. Some people are naturally glass half full people. I admit I am not one of them. I cried daily for three weeks (yes that’s today…. I have not yet cried today!), others accept immediately and move into positive healing mode. This is one thing I am learning about. Give yourself time to grieve and be angry about your injury then move on. The faster one does it the faster the world looks brighter. Stress produces increased cortisol which delays healing. Deep breathing and positive thoughts can accelerate it. Or at the very least make it easier to deal with the disappointment. If you can do little bits of activity like upper body weights, core, swimming (even without leg use) it is better than doing nothing at all and it can balance out your weaker points in your fitness. Make it part of your new routine.
- Keep looking forward . Forget about the what ifs, coulda shoulda woulda……bottom line is it happened. Focus on the future and that each day is one more day closer to being healed. Only look back to see what you can change for next time so there is not a next time! Balancing training with rest, nutrition, core work, sleep, stress, etc. Look to why things may have happened then change that when you get back into training.You will get back to running or doing whatever else you did and want to do. The body has an amazing ability to repair itself and come back stronger than before. It takes time and each person heals at different rates and with different stimuli sometimes. Patience is the key. Plus our running injuries are not life threatening as much as they may feel as though they are. They are a blip in the road. Part of being an athlete. Testing our ability to make it through the tough times.
Time for me to re – read this again so I take my own advice . See you all out there on the roads again soon………it may not still be summer but I will be back and so will you!
I am happy to chat with anyone else looking for support and commiseration. Follow me on twitter (@eliseyanover) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I would love to hear from anyone else getting through BIG injuries.
Elise is a long time competitive amateur triathlete and Physiotherapist with 20+ years experience treating runners and athletes of all kinds. She also has an online coaching business for runners and triathletes looking to reach that next distance goal or PB. She is very passionate about biomechanics in running and does gait analysis and shoe recommendations as part of her practice. Elise also has a self admitted running shoe and apparel fetish. She is mom to an active 10 year old girl and is married to a man who also runs and races.