You’ve been training for a big event. You’ve worked hard. Pushed yourself to the limit in the purist of a goal and then the unthinkable happens. It could happen quickly with a fall, snap or pop, or it could happen slowly with a gradually deterioration. Either way, you’re injured and out for an undetermined period. Sometimes it’s only a few weeks, sometimes much longer, and while the physical pain can be bad, it’s nothing compared to what you endure mentally after it happens. The mental pain of not being able to train, loss of fitness and change of routine is something that burdens any athlete at any level.
At some point in your training career, you’re very likely to get injured. If anything, it comes with the territory of being an athlete. It could range from something as small as a pulled muscle, to so something more substantial which could put you out of action for weeks or even months. To those who don’t participate in exercise, they may not understand why having to sit out for a few weeks and watch TV is problem. ‘Great’ they’ll think ‘I can catch up on the latest box sets!” and while they aren’t wrong, sport and exercise can be a very important part of a person’s life.
If you’ve invested a lot of time, money and energy into a sport, or you participate at a high level, training can give you a sense of identity and when you lose this, it can feel like you’re losing a part of who you are. Training also gives you a major sense of confidence and self-esteem through continued development and mastering new skills. When these ceases, it can bring you down.
While there’s no way of turning back time to prevent the injury, how you respond to it can have a significant impact on your fitness, both physically and emotionally. It’s easy to come back too early, do too much, too soon or downplay the severity of what happened, and while you may feel happier because you’re back doing something, any of these can potentially cause more problems than they will solve. Accepting what has happened is a major step in the recovery process. By truly accepting the situation, you stop trying to force recovery, or think of the ‘should-have-beens’ or ‘could-have-beens’ which can cause significant mental stress. Here are a few things you can do to help with your recovery.
The first thing to do is maintain perspective. Missing a few weeks of training may seem like a big deal and a lot of time, but put into perspective in both time and severity, it’s never that bad. In most cases, you will return to normal training before you know it and soon be back to full health, probably benefiting from the extra rest and recuperation.
Follow the rehab process
The second thing to do is make sure you follow the FULL rehab routine. Occasionally, an injury will require the help of a doctor or physical therapist, and when this happens, there is a good chance you’ll be set a series of exercises to help strengthen the muscle which has diminished with inactivity. These exercises are key. Not only will they help you recover faster, they’ll ensure there is no long-term damage and weakness. If you’re used to hard, strenuous workouts, the rehab exercises will probably seem unnecessary and ineffective, but remember, they’re training the muscles needed for balance and coordination.
Focus on the positive
It’s very easy to focus on what you can’t do, and this is normal. The third and better option is to focus on what you can do until you are back to full strength. You may not be able to run, but maybe you can swim. Or you might not be able to cycle, but maybe you can use the cross trainer. When you have an injury, maintaining, as opposed to improving, becomes the top priority until you’re back to normal.
Watch your nutrition
The fourth thing to do is watch your nutrition. While injured, you won’t be training at the same level as you were before. Therefore, calorie intake will need to be reduced, too. It’s not too different from reducing calories during the offseason. Focus on high-quality calories: lean protein and plenty of vegetables and fruit.
Watch the psychological side of recovery
Tackling the psychological side of the injury is just as important as the physical recovery. Depression is all too possible when injured because of the perceived isolation, decreased serotonin, loss of fitness and loss of identity. If this is something that impacts you, then speak to people who can help. This could be family, friends, other athletes who have experienced the same thing or professional help.
The final piece of advice is probably the simplest, but at the same time the hardest: be patient. This will pass and time (plus some help from your body) will heal wounds.
When you’re fully recovered and back training, I would advise leaving the old goals in the past for the moment. That’s not to say you should abandon them, simply focus on some smaller goals in the short term which build up to a point where you can begin to entertain the