If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it. Michael Jordan
On our Facebook Live Show (every Sunday at 8pm as you know!) I had a request for an article about dealing with the mental impact of injury. The clinic has been running in Norwich for nearly 2 years and it's safe to say I have treated, rehabilitated and supported hundreds of people in that time. I studied sports psychology as part of my degree and it is an area that I know sets me apart from other sports therapists - I know what you're going through and I have many different ways to help you deal with the injury process.
I initially wrote this article 4 years ago and I have developed a lot in that time both professionally and personally. As my eyesight deteriorates the occurrence of accident induced injuries increases, so trust me - I know what it's like and these tips will help you cope.
Edited for 2018 - how to survive an injury.
If you regularly undertake exercise, sooner or later something like this is bound to happen. Some are luckier than others. One thing is the same for everyone - coping with injury requires physical and psychological toughness. Recovering from an injury will often concentrate on the physical components of the rehabilitation process - getting you up and running again as quickly as possible. In my experience it is more important to recover mentally and emotionally to allow you to recover as quickly as possible. Psychology can provide you with tools you need to achieve this and learn valuable lessons for the future.
In this article I will look at the emotion of sustaining an injury and how to turn it from a negative experience into a positive one. I will then discuss some useful strategies for getting yourself 'back in the game' and actually returning better than before.
The emotions of injury -
Humans react to the same situation in different ways - it’s what makes us fascinating. Whether you are an optimist, pessimist or realist, glass half empty or glass half full, every fitness enthusiast will react differently to the same injury.
Anyone who has suffered an injury in the past will know that you go through a range of emotions including anger, sadness and sometimes depression – all of this is normal. An injury often comes at the worst time and can feel really unfair. Although this might be true, the best way to cope with an injury is to step back from the emotion of the injury and begin to find positive, constructive and useful information you can use to help recovery. Your first injury can be a very difficult time. However, an injury can be used as an opportunity to become focused, emotionally flexible and resilient as an athlete.
Seeing the positives are not always easy - trust me, they are there! What caused the injury. Could you have avoided it? What would you do differently? Not every injury is caused by user error but there is always things to take no matter what. Once the initial emotion has come out, in whatever way it does, injury can help you to improve yourself for the future.
When pain strikes - don't ignore it - get professional help.
The most common thing I hear (usually from runners!) in my consultations is that they ignored a warning sign days, weeks or months before the actual injury. As the saying goes, play with fire and at some point you will get burnt. Our bodies often give us early warning, A little tweak, a tightness, an ache or sometimes a little pull. Sometimes an injury is completely out of the blue but if you have carried on as normal even when you've had a warning then you are going to get burned.
I always say this. Dr Google is fantastic. You trying to understand and self diagnose your injury is as useful as air conditioning in the winter. You will drive yourself nuts and 9 times out of 10 it'll be wrong. Treatment will be wrong.
Second mistake - lets poll our social media for advice and treatment of the self diagnosis. This really is not good. The same injury is caused and treated differently for every injury. Sure, there are many things which will be the same for the treatment of injury but rehabilitation is an individual thing. You need to understand that what helped Dave down the gym get over his bad back WILL NOT be the same process that will help you recover. There are so many factors to consider - too many to go into here - and without professional guidance you are likely to be caught in a reocurring injury cycle for a long time.
That doesn't mean Dave won't help you - the problem is Dave probably hasn't got the same knowledge a professional has. To make sure you've got all bases covered, get proper help.
Take the learnings forward -
Learning as much as you can about the causes, treatment and prevention of your injury will help you to take ownership of the situation and feel in control. If you know what you are dealing with it can alleviate fear and anxiety about the situation and allow you to formulate a plan of action. It is also worth remembering that often it takes time, persistence and dedication to get back after injury. Use the experience to learn all the things you neglected, strength work, core development, cross training, warm up and cool down, stretching, foam rolling - the learnings are endless. Immerse yourself in that and focus on being a better you.
Own your recovery -
You have an injury. You can go two ways. 1 – feel sorry for yourself, give up and talk about what you would have done were it not for your injury. No-one would begrudge you that. Or 2 – you can accept you have an injury, accept responsibility for your recovery and crack on. There are not many people who are willing to help someone who is not willing to help themselves. As brilliant as I am, if you ignore my advice, don't do the exercises and neglect your rehab then you won't get better! Cut the excuses, stop focusing on what you can't do and own your recovery.
Stay positive -
This one is tough and telling someone to be positive doesn't help. You yourself need to tell yourself to be positive.
It is important to monitor your thoughts and self-talk about your injury and rehabilitation. If your thoughts are negative and defeatist then guess what? Your recovery will not be easy. To get the most out of injury rehabilitation you need to maintain a positive mental attitude. Injuries are just barriers to break through, climb over or navigate around.
Research studies have shown that using specific mental skills and techniques such as mental imagery and self-hypnosis can speed up rehabilitation. I have built the foundations of Focus 4 Fitness on the fact that your mind is the most under utilised weapon in your arsenal. My business helps clients develop new ways of thinking, behaving and acting to improve sports performance. That extends to rehabilitation.
Find or develop your support network -
The normal response after an injury is isolation from the outside world. You just want to be by yourself to figure it all out. Social media can be a reminder of all the stuff you are missing out on. As tempting as it is to post rude comments, gestures and emoji's - just remember, people don't tend to do it on purpose, as insensitive as it might feel.
Others are always very sympathetic to injured athletes (for a while) so as frustrated as you are, smile, be nice and remember - injuries aren't forever - it's just a temporary blip on the road to greatness.
Set Yourself Goals -
Don’t let an injury stop you planning or setting goals – see it as a challenge. Focus on recovery rather than performance. By monitoring your goals you will notice the small improvements you make as your rehabilitation progresses. Aim to do something you couldn’t do last week, no matter how insignificant it might seem - even the smallest step forward is a victory.
Work with a professional who can help you set realistic goals will prevent you from running before you can walk. Athletes are the worst patients and we are all guilty of trying to speed-up our recovery by doing too much too soon. Setting goals can be a great way of motivating you to focus on getting back but unrealistic goals put pressure on your body to heal - or your sports therapist to make you better! Take time know your limits and be sensible - that race will be there next year..
And don’t forget….
Depending on your injury, you should be able to modify your training or find alternatives to maintain or improve cardiovascular conditioning and strength. Develop your flexibility and core strength. Allow a fitness professional to create a modified strength training program to make you stronger in the areas of weakness. Focus on improving nutrition. Learn how to prevent this injury from reoccurring. There are so many things you can do! An injury allows you the opportunity to do them. With the right knowledge, support and a little patience, your injury will be overcome. Take it slow, set realistic goals and maintain a positive, focused approach.
I hope this has been useful? Until next time....
Rob, Norwich’s Sport Performance Guy
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