Just when you think you're tough enough

Cross Train

How to mentally and physically deal with injuries

If you are serious about fitness and exercise unfortunately, at some point, you are going to suffer an injury. Injuries are either acute which means that they come on suddenly and are usually caused by a specific trauma e.g. a strained muscle, a sprained ligament or an impact or are chronic and as such the result of cumulative stress (over use, long term poor exercise technique etc.) or not allowing a minor acute injury to heal.

Writer Patrick Dale after second collar bone repair surgery.

Take it from one who knows; being injured sucks! It can stop you doing the workouts you love to do, may require you to modify your exiting workouts so you can avoid making the pain worse or cause you to reconsider your competitive season. Either way, when it comes to injury, avoidance is the best policy so…

  1. Always warm up properly. If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t have time to work out!
  2. Pay attention to your form and don’t sacrifice extra weight or reps for good technique
  3. Listen to your body 1 – don’t do things that don’t feel right to you. Structural differences mean that some exercises simply won’t suit you
  4. Listen to your body 2 – don’t ignore minor aches and pains; they have a habit of getting worse
  5. Pay attention to your recovery – training hard is all well and good but days off, sleep, good nutrition and keeping a lid on stress can all help avoid unnecessary injuries

Unfortunately, even if you adhere to all these points, you’ll probably still suffer at least a few minor injuries in your exercising lifetime. Hopefully they will be minor and you’ll be back at it in a few short weeks. However, whether your injury is a minor twinge or a major catastrophe, there are several things you can do to ensure you make as fast a recovery as is possible…

Stop! – pain is your body’s way of telling (screaming actually) that something is wrong. Don’t ignore pain; act on it. If you try to work though pain you may well make the injury far worse and what initially needed a couple of days to heal may end up taking several week.

Ice and rest – ice is a controversial subject in therapy right now with some experts suggesting that the application of ice may actually slow the recovery process. While this may be true long term, in the initial stages of an injury, ice provides pain relief and prevents swelling. It also gives you something to do so you feel you are contributing to the healing process. Assuming we’re talking about a mild sprain or strain, use ice for the first 24-hours post injury and then start using heat. Make sure you also rest the injured limb and resist the temptation to see if it still hurts every couple of hours!

Seek professional advice – if you are in serious pain, there is obvious deformity, or your injury shows no signs of improving several days after the event, seek professional medical advice. Who to see is a tricky thing to decide but seek out someone who is sympathetic to and has experience dealing with exercisers and athletes. Seek out a diagnosis, not just a prescription for rest and anti-inflammatories.

Learn about your injury – once you know what your injury is, become an expert in it. Google, Google and Google some more. Find out the likely cause, the treatment options available, the prognosis and how to avoid it happening again. Take what you have learned to your newly hired healthcare professional and get involved in your recovery by discussing your options. Make sure you are as informed as possible.

Make rehab your new priority – most injuries are caused by weakness, tightness or imbalances that need to be addressed so that healing can occur and the same injury does not happen again and again. Treat your rehab like you would your training. Half-hearted efforts will yield half-hearted results so COMMIT to the rehabilitation process. Okay, you can’t bench press because of shoulder impingement but you can do face pulls, external rotation work, shoulder stability work and shoulder mobility work. If you want to get the most from rehab, you need to work it like you would a workout.

Find stuff you CAN do – being injured can be disheartening, especially if you see your fitness or strength begin to decline. If possible, find some physically challenging activity that you can do in place of the training you want to do so you get that same endorphin fix and exercise buzz you love. Can’t run because of a knee issue? You can probably work on your upper body strength. Shoulder pain? Beast your legs with safety-bar squats and calf raises. Seek out things you CAN do rather than dwell on the things you can’t.

Eat to support recovery – it’s all too easy to let your diet go if you aren’t training the way you want to. You might even fall into the trap of comfort eating to cheer yourself up. Remember though, recovering from injury is similar to recovering from a workout; you need plenty of essential nutrients including protein and healthy fats. Consider taking supplements like chondroitin, glucosamine, MSM and fish oils which may help the recovery process.  Also, letting your diet slip will result in fat gain making your return from injury even harder than it needs to be.

Exercise patience – the hardest muscle to exercise when you are injured if your patience. Even a few weeks away from training can seem like a life sentence! Remember though, rushing back to your workouts before you are healed will probably cause the injury to reoccur. It’s better to spend a few extra weeks recovering fully than lose a few months coming back too soon and when you do return to “proper” training, do so gradually.

As hard as it can be, try to remain positive and don’t let being injured get you down. With determination and by following my hard-learned tips, you can come back from injury and be stronger and fitter than you were before.

Article by Patrick Dale