The potential for injury is an unfortunate reality for anyone who leads an active lifestyle. I’ve been there and it’s not a pleasant experience. If you’re unlucky enough to be bitten by the injury bug, following a few key steps can improve both the quality and duration of your recovery, regardless of the injury.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is attempting to push through an injury when they should be treating it. “I’ll work through it” is an all too common refrain. Unfortunately, failure to seek treatment inevitably turns a minor injury into chronic pain. For example, muscular imbalances in the hip can lead to minor knee pain. Should that pain be ignored, patellar tendonitis may develop. Chronic patellar tendonitis pain severely limits activity and often necessitates medical intervention. In some cases surgery may be required to correct the issue. Regardless, the rehab required for pain free movement will take far longer than it would have had it been addressed sooner.
Sometimes, serious injuries occur with no prior warning or injury history. When I injured my knee, I knew I’d done serious damage because it instantly swelled up like a balloon. I had the weekend to assess the situation, but by the time Monday rolled around I knew I had to see a doctor. While I held out hope that it wasn’t as bad as I thought, an MRI confirmed the worst case scenario – a torn ACL. By getting to the doctor and confirming the diagnosis quickly, I got a head start on the next steps prior to my surgery.
Whenever injury strikes, rehab is the key to a complete return. While there are no absolutes about injury recovery, generally speaking, patients who steadfastly adhere to the rehab protocol implemented by their doctor or therapist have excellent recoveries. Unfortunately, you might only see a physical therapist 2-3 times per week at the beginning, and even less frequently as your rehab progresses. However, with 168 hours in a week, 2-3 hours spent working on injury recovery isn’t enough. Therefore, these professionals will often assign homework” for the patient. The best outcomes occur when the patient is actively engaged in the rehab process. The worst outcomes almost always involve a failure on the part of the patient to take their rehab seriously. You must do the work.
If a failure to do the rehab has a corollary, it’s trying to do too much. Each point in the recovery process involves a set of performance markers that the doctor or therapist would like to see you accomplish. You cannot get to step 4 in the recovery protocol by skipping the first three steps – it doesn’t work like that. You can, however, increase the time it takes for you to reach step 4 if you push too hard, too soon.
Though you might feel as though the process is taking too long, remember that the doctor and therapist establish protocols that are based upon years of research. Setbacks occur because we think we’re ahead of where we are. We wind up doing something that we’re not really able to do and boom – we’re back to step 2, when we were on step 3. If you’re truly ahead of schedule, the doctor or therapist will adjust accordingly. Also remember that the job of the doctor, therapist or strength coach is to responsibly guide you toward a return to full activity. It’s not to tell you what you want to hear. Put your trust in the pros and listen to them.
Injury recovery can seem overwhelming, long and arduous. You may feel as if there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You may be frustrated because movements that you previously took for granted are, at the moment, extremely difficult or impossible. You have stay disciplined and push through it.
In my case, I hate being sick or injured, I knew my path toward feeling “normal” again was a disciplined approach to rehab. I took my daily tasks seriously and rarely, if ever, skipped an opportunity to work on them. My goal was to be ahead of the timeline at each checkpoint, provided I was doing everything per the doctor’s prescription. I’ll admit there were many moments of frustration along the way, but I’m glad I stuck with it. By many accounts, I had a relatively smooth recovery from an ACL tear.
The best moment in the recovery process comes at the end, when you’re rewarded with full clearance to return to your favorite activities. If your injury required surgery (e.g. an ACL or rotator cuff tear) there may be some mental hurdles to overcome. Those will pass with time and increased exposure to sports and activities. The key is to get back out there. Run, jump, sprint and play with abandon. Take care of your body by strength training, performing mobilization drills and trigger pointing/self-myofascial release to reduce the risk of future injury. Most importantly, appreciate it and enjoy it!
No one is bullet proof – injuries can happen at any moment to anyone. Should an injury occur, keep the points above in mind as you begin the recovery process. While it may seem daunting, stick with it. You’ll come out stronger and get back in the game sooner than you realize.
At Vitalifit, we recognize the frustration that goes with being injured. If you’ve dealt with an injury and would like strength training advice we’re here to help – simply contact us with questions. If you’re ready to resume strength training following an injury, you may be a fit for one of our Vitalifit Coaching Programs. Don’t hesitate to reach out for guidance as you progress in your recovery.