Hello, my name is Nick, and I am an injured athlete.
It’s tough to admit, but we all struggle with the realization that we need to take a step back from our training to address a chronic or acute injury. The quicker we identify as injured and the sooner we recognize what the recovery process will look like, the sooner we will be back to the activities we love.
When we get hurt, the first thought that runs through most of our minds is, “Okay, I will skip my next training session… or maybe just dial it back a bit and then I will be right back on track.” Trust me, I think this every single time because I fall victim to all the same pitfalls I write about. Hell, it’s often why I write about them. Recently I have been battling a toe injury, and despite having experienced many injuries in my time as an athlete and understanding that setbacks are almost always part of the process, I found myself frustrated, disheartened, and hobbling home down the local running path when my return to running didn’t go exactly according to the recovery trajectory I had planned in my head. So why not put out some “do as I say not as I do” knowledge, right?
In this post, we will discuss 5 keys to getting through injury and coming out as a stronger athlete both mentally and physically. The most important thing that athletes don’t understand is that recovery is not a linear process. It rarely happens overnight, and there are always going to be setbacks in your recovery.
Now, I am not going to sit here and tell you exactly how you need to go and recover from your injury because every injury and every body is different. If you are in pain and can’t engage in your normal day to day activities YOU ARE INJURED. You should consult a professional and create a recovery plan to address your specific issues. That said, what I can give you are some key things you can do to help the process along and deal with the frustration.
#1. Are you hurt or are you injured?
“Injury” is used all too often to describe pain, or simply being hurt, but first we have to separate those things and understand when we are truly injured so we can better accept that fact. Being hurt or having pain is not necessarily being injured. Many, many athletes are hurt, many have pain, but this does not mean that they are injured. There are painful experiences we can train through and correct along the way. Being “injured” however is when an athlete can no longer engage in their regular training or their pain reaches a level that affects their ability to perform day-to-day activities.
So, the first step in recovering right is recognizing when you are hurt and when you are actually injured.
#2. Create a plan of attack
If you are truly injured, it is time to create a recovery plan, which often means it is time to see a medical professional, get a firm diagnosis of what is causing your pain and create a plan that addressed your specific needs in repairing the damage or correcting the cause of the injury.
#3. Stay active
Activity is good for recovery from most acute and chronic injuries. Not only does staying active in a manner that doesn’t cause pain keep us from going stir crazy, but the response from the body can actually help promote healing of many common injuries. A safe and general rule of thumb for this is the pain threshold. If it causes no pain, go for it. If it hurts stop.
So, stay active while you are recovering, look to include new or different disciplines into your training. If you have a running injury, try swimming or aqua jogging. If you can’t ride your bike, try focusing on strength or yoga. Talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or coach for good options for your growth as an athlete.
#4. Focus on what you can control.
The stoics have taught this idea for centuries and it is incredibly important for athletes to know exactly what we can control: our thoughts and our actions. Everything else is outside of our control.
Great, but what does that mean for my recovery?
It means you can control what you do here and now to promote and facilitate your recovery, but you cannot control the speed at which your body recovers. You can take charge of primarily two things.
#1. Adherence to your recovery plan. That means doing all of the exercises the professionals tell you to, focusing on mobility, and keeping your body and mind active. All of these things will move you towards your recovery goals.
#2. Nutrition. What you put in your body has a huge impact on its ability or inability to recover from injury. Focusing on good, quality and varied nutrients is always a good idea, but when recovering from an acute injury it is even more vital. Give your body the best chance to recover by addressing your nutrition needs. Talk to a nutrition specialist or coach to figure out exactly what you should address to help maximize your recovery.
Recovery is not a linear process. You are going to face setbacks, roadblocks, hurdles, and obstacles along the way (what’s the difference between each of those? Honestly nothing, but it sounds more legit.) But seriously, one day you will feel great, you will feel like everything is going according to plan, and the next you may feel like you are back at square one. DO NOT GIVE UP, be adaptable! Take a breath and don’t freak out, all too many athletes throw tantrums at this point and think “ I will never do _____ again,” but that isn’t helpful. In fact, that stress can actually hamper your recovery process. When you hit a bump in the road, you don’t slam on the brakes and scream like a baby that got woken in the back seat, you gently correct your course and stay on the road headed in the right direction. Injury recovery is no different; a setback in recovery is a chance for you to evaluate what caused that setback and adjust your recovery plan accordingly.
Recovery, just like training, takes time, and everyone’s recovery path will be different. Focus on the things you can control and take charge of your own recovery. It does not need to be a passive experience, and you can gain a lot of value from understanding what your body needs to recover. Not to mention this is a great time to shift your focus and improve in an area that you may not usually focus on.
You will be back in action before you know it.