Unless you’re really, really lucky, at one point or another, you’ve had some kind of injury or are currently struggling with one. Whether it’s muscular, nerve, tendons, or bone, recovering from any injury is challenging.
What doesn’t get discussed as often, though, is how difficult the mindset of recovering is, as well. Anyone who has ever to mend a torn muscle knows how much work goes into it between icing, wrapping, stim, physical therapy, etc. But what is sometimes more difficult is bringing yourself back to the level of intensity or even range of motion that caused the injury initially.
Real life example: when I was 16, I tore my quad. BAD. Those of you who have seen it, nine years later, can see the severity of the tear still. This tear happened over the course of four very stubborn months. After nine months it was finally healed and I got the OK from my physical therapist to start to try running again, under close supervision. Even being reassured I was healthy once again, I found myself favoring my right leg significantly and holding back a great amount.
Fear. The tear had occurred during sprints, so my subconscious was telling me over and over: “this isn’t safe!” For months on end and even until the next track season, I ran into the same problem every time I tried using my leg for lifting or running.
Not to mention, during this time, my mindset took a severe turn for the worst. As an athlete, your passion and outlet is your sport and when that’s taken from you for whatever reason, there’s no denying that you struggle.
So, how did I finally overcome this? How can you overcome yours?
1.Take time to recover properly
This may seem obvious until you’re on the receiving end of an injury that puts a grinding halt to your endeavors. You start to feel better and think “maybe I can go back to lifting/ running/ sports/ etc.”, soon realizing it was just the pain easing away, not the damage done- thus reinjuring it. What this does is perpetuates your injury time and builds up a fear.
Go all in for a shorter time rather than prolong your suffering for a longer time. Give your recovery an honest effort for as long as it needs, not as long as you’re willing to rest.
Implement whatever methods necessary for mobility and recovery (I won’t recommend anything here because each injury is unique and requires different things to heal properly- consult a doctor and/or physical therapist for yours specifically).
2. Find something else to use your energy towards
For the sake of not losing your mind, find a new hobby, sport, or way to lift that will not aggravate your injury. Especially if you are a dedicated athlete or lifter- you feel pride, identity, happiness, etc. wrapped around what you do… so when you’re unable to do that, where do you get your sense of identity from?
Use your time of injury to possibly even reflect on what your identity means to you and why you do what you do (I know, I’m getting real deep here) but if you’ve ever sustained an injury that is bad and painful enough to force you out of doing what you love- you understand the mental toll it takes.
Taking time to redirect your mental and physical energies and reflect rather than wallow will benefit your mindset far more.
3. Reintroduce movements in parts and under close supervision
This is for the purpose of getting your confidence up as well as being smart with your body. In my case, I wouldn’t just test out my newly-healed leg in an all-out sprint first. I would try a day of walking at a quicker pace first, then wait to see how I felt over the next couple of days. Then stairs, then running at a moderate pace, increasing while monitoring pain and recovery levels closely.
This applies to all injuries. You can’t anticipate to jump right back into where you left off. First reintroduce the most basic levels of your sport, then slowly progress it from there. For example, say you were injured on a squat, but would love to get back to them. First, master the air squat once again. Do it perfectly so many times you would never be able to do it wrong. Then progress to single leg movements unloaded. Then load the movement: light goblet squats first, then just the barbell, then begin to load the barbell.
Follow these progressions under the guidance of a qualified coach, though. They will be able to tell you what movements to do first and what movements to keep away from as long as you’re still working your way back.
4. Use mental imagery
This may sound *crazy*, but taking time to visualize not only a healthy, injury-free body, but visualize yourself participating in your sport once again and do so regularly. The mind has a huge impact on the body, especially during the healing process. This has been proven to decrease feelings of fear upon returning from injury, improve attitude, and create a kind of activation in your muscles that emulates the activation during exercise (obviously intensity is not equal, however).
This maintains mental sharpness, muscle activation, motivation, confidence, etc.
To do this, visualize what you want so vividly and realistically that your body believes your mind. Take several minutes at least once a day to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and maintain a positive attitude, and picture exactly what you want to happen.
5. Don’t get discouraged
Healing takes time and there’s no way around that. Don’t get discouraged by setbacks- they’re normal and intended to show you where your limits and weaknesses are so you can work past them.
You will return, healthy and happy, but that comes with a positive mindset and a conscious decision to heal and return to 100%.
6. Assess why you got injured
This is, I would say, is the most important one. If you cannot understand what caused the injury, you might as well not bother with the healing process. Identifying the fundamental flaws in your body is crucial to preventing injury and reinjury. This also takes some ownership, honesty, and hard work to correct. Were you using incorrect form? Were you overly exerting yourself and not listening to your body? Were you overusing a muscle and it finally had too much?
A study conducted found that nearly 30% of all collegiate injuries suffered were from overuse. That’s a big number for college athletes who take big hits and are well-conditioned. For the average lifter, this number is anticipated to be far higher. This means we need to be real with ourselves and evaluate the efficiency of our movement.
Really examine your form and even posture to assess if you can take preventative steps in the future. Consult a coach for help with this.
I may actually be the most injury-prone person alive, I could probably rival Big Ben’s track record, so if you’re struggling or need some advice, don’t hesitate to reach out.