Feel Good Friday - Working Through Injury

Working Through Injury – Utilizing Your Mental Mojo

 By Hayley Bridgewater

It's a normal night in the gym, on your morning run, or out on the ball field with your friends, and all of a sudden you feel a twinge, a pop, a snap. In a split second, you know something is wrong, really wrong. You're injured. It happens to us all, no matter how careful or conditioned we may be. 


If it is clearly not a "Shake it off" or "Rub it out" type of situation, get thee to a medical professional ASAP. No ifs, ands, or buts. Unless this is your chosen profession or you have significant training in the field, this is not the time to be playing Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. It could very well be a cramp or minimal damage, wherein the standard RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) protocol might have you feeling good as new in a week, but in these days where bigger, faster, stronger is the name of the game, you could very well be dealing with something that could impact you for years to come if not cared for properly. 


So now you have a diagnosis, and the initial shock has worn off. Think you have moved past the difficult part? Think again. Sometimes the most challenging part of working through an injury is what's happening between your ears. You are stressed out and anxiety and fear is starting to take hold. Will this affect your work? Significantly impact your training? Will you have to put off a race/meet/contest/game? Could this change the way in which you view yourself? 


If physical activity is central to your life, it is completely natural that your injury could affect you mentally and emotionally. So don't be surprised if you find yourself angry, upset, or depressed. Identifying those feelings, and adopting strategies to cope with them can be essential to a quick and successful recovery. There is fascinating literature out there in the Sports Psychology field and it doesn't only apply to professional athletes. Understanding and using some valuable techniques can improve and sometimes even hasten your recovery.


 1. Understand That You're Injured – I know that this might sound silly, but it's really important to understand and acknowledge that you are in fact injured and have some limitations affecting your normal activity. Many people, myself included, have grown up active and have been taught to push through a little bit of pain. We think that if we ignore the problem, it will go away. If I can do a little, I can do a little more. This often results in making the injury much, much worse. The sooner that you fully accept your situation, the quicker that you will be able to take control and get the appropriate care.


2. Become Informed About Your Injury - Seek out information from your doctors, physical therapists, trainers, and coaches. Anxiety brought on by what is unknown, or feels out-of-control, can be detrimental to your progress. Don't be afraid to ask questions. A clear understanding of your diagnosis, the proposed course of treatment, the expectations for your progress and recovery, and signs of improvement and regression, can bring surprising calm and comfort to your rehab journey. This will help you focus and take responsibility. 


3. Find a Support System - Often when we are injured, it is typical to want to pull away from those that are around us. We feel we can't perform, so we can't participate. A day or two of solitude, no problem; A week of isolation, however, is something that might need to be addressed. Don't be afraid to reach out to friends, trainers, teammates, and coaches as you're navigating your rehab process. They can be your sounding board, and a source of comfort and encouragement. Just being present at the gym, practice, or game can provide needed motivation to keep you on the right track.


4. Set New Goals and (if possible) Train Around Your Injury- More likely than not, injury is going to change your programming, at least for a little while. This will affect the goals that you have set for yourself, but it shouldn't eliminate them completely. Confer with your doctor, trainer, or coach and set realistic, attainable goals that correspond with your recovery plan. Depending on the type and severity of your injury, it may be possible for you to train around it. The experts around you can determine if one activity can be substituted for another. Perhaps your focus can shift to balance and strength work instead of speed and agility, or vice versa.


5. Do the Mental Work- Someday you may be faced with an injury that completely shuts you down. In this case, mental training can be invaluable. As someone that has worked through a significant neurological injury, I cannot stress enough that this works. I promise you. Small daily periods of time reserved for mentally practicing your sport can keep your neuromuscular connections stimulated and will aid in your progress once you are cleared for physical activity. 


6. Stay Positive - It is in healing as it is in life. You can defeat yourself faster than anyone or anything. Attitude is everything. Staying positive and recognizing small victories will speed up the healing process, make the journey a pleasant one, and reinforce your confidence!