Have you ever been challenged by an injury? It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, whether it’s for fun, or work, to get fit, or compete in a sport. The risk of pain, and potential injury will always be present. Learning how to overcome injuries when they happen, and learning how to work through them in a safe and appropriate way, can make a big difference in the success of your recovery, and your ability to continue leading a healthy and active life.
To overcome injuries there are a few simple steps you can take to help ensure a quick and complete recovery. And I say “quick” but that word might not mean what you want it to mean. I don’t believe it’s as important that you push to get back to 100 percent fast, but rather to focus on doing what’s best for your body, with the understanding that TIME is a very important part of the healing process.
Here are 10 Smart Solutions to Overcome Injuries for the Quickest Recovery Possible:
1. Acute Injuries vs. Chronic Pain Problems
Don’t let an acute injury (you know you just got hurt!) become a chronic pain problem. i.e. Your lower back hurts, you know exactly when it started, and you’ve been just “waiting” for it to go away (for the past 6 months.) Or, maybe you didn’t experience an instant “injury” but over the past several years of sitting in front of your computer at work, you now experience neck pain, or fingers that tingle and are numb – some, or all of the time. In the long run, it’s much easier to get on it, and fix what’s wrong when it happens, rather than limping around, creating even more compensation patterns, muscle imbalances, and potentially additional injuries. How much are you really enjoying life when you hurt all the time? How does it affect your mood, your family, your ability to do and enjoy the activities you want to participate in? Dealing with an injury is no fun, but dealing with chronic pain with no end in sight, is not going to lead to a healthy and active life. It’s better that your injury be a blip on the radar, rather than something you have to deal with daily for the rest of your life.
2. Evaluation to KNOW What’s Wrong vs. Ignoring the Problem
Too many people tend to ignore pain and injuries. They avoid going to the doctor because they don’t really want to know what’s wrong. Or, they’re afraid of what might be wrong and what it’s going to cost to fix it. If you are truly injured, ignoring it will never solve the problem! Want to overcome injuries? Make an appointment with your Doctor to get things checked out. It will be the fastest way to a full recovery.
3. Repetitive Stress vs. Rest and Recuperation
The Definition of Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. If you want to overcome injuries, rest and recuperation are a HUGE part of the healing process. Continuing to do what you did, that got you hurt in the first place is not, on any level, going to help you overcome an injury. Let’s say you have a foot injury and it hurts to walk (you’re a runner, and love to run) but you’re still running because it only hurts a little bit: or you tell yourself that you don’t “feel” your foot pain when you run. (Because you’re too busy getting high on the endorphins of your exercise fix…) You are NOT listening to your body and are probably making things worse instead of better. Are the choices you’re making today worth the challenges you may face for your long-term health? Take the time required to rest and recuperate.
4. Rehabilitation: Taking Right Action vs. Taking No Action
Action and more importantly RIGHT Action is a key ingredient for overcoming injuries. Sure it’s important to rest and recover, but at some point you’re going to have to rehabilitate from your injury. Sitting on your butt and doing nothing is not going to help. Once you’ve had an injury, you face a higher risk of re-injury without proper rehabilitation. Once your Doctor has cleared you to get back to exercise, get back to it! If he/she doesn’t refer you to Physical Therapy, I highly recommend you request it! Or, seek the expertise of an Athletic Trainer, Pilates Teacher, or Personal Trainer, to get some one-on-one help fine-tuning your fitness, and re-balancing your muscles to stay healthy.
5. Seek Professional Help vs. DYI Diagnosis with a Google Search
It’s way too easy these days to type your symptoms into Google, self-diagnosing your issues. Unless you’re a Physician, (in which case you have the education and expertise and you don’t have to go to Google looking for an answer) this is the stupidest strategy out there. Seek professional help for your injuries! Don’t wait, no excuses. Make an appointment with your Doctor ASAP! Sure your primary care physician might have to refer you to a specialist. And yes, they may need to run tests, take X-rays, or do an MRI. But seriously, even if it’s going to cost you a little money to get help, it’s very reassuring when tests come back normal! Which means, your injury isn’t quite as serious as it feels like at the moment. And if your injury does happen to be more serious, somebody’s on it and can get you taken care of as quickly as possible. This is only going to increase your chances of a full recovery. It’s worth getting things checked out. Seek professional help sooner, rather than later, for a speedy recovery.
6. Select Safe and Appropriate Exercises/Activities vs. Risky Unsafe and Inappropriate Choices
I know this sounds like a no-brainer. But for many people, this is one of the biggest reasons folks never really overcome their injuries. If you continue to participate in activities that repetitively reinforce movements and muscle firing patterns that aren’t functional, your body is going to break down, wear out, and stay hurt.
I’ll use me as an example: I was a top-level competitive gymnast and I had major, debilitating ankle pain. Yes, I went to the doctor. They ran tests, did nuclear scans, and the diagnosis: degenerative arthritis in both ankles. I was walking around bone on bone. Imagine how it felt to run, jump, leap, tumble, vault, mount and dismount! My diagnosis was not something a teen-age gymnast really wanted to hear. I was committed and very passionate about my sport. I trained 4-6 hours a day, 6 days a week, and competed in local, state-wide, and regional events. The advice I got was to quit gymnastics.
Instead I bought athletic tape by the case; loaded up on anti-inflammatory pills; limited my practice time for tumbling, vaulting, mounts, and dismounts; and tried to muster on because I “loved” my sport. Meanwhile, I could barely walk: every step excruciatingly painful. I truly believed I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 20, so why not just keep pounding my feet into the pavement? I think I was stupid enough to do this for another year or two. And then reality really set in. I couldn’t compete at the level wanted to because I couldn’t practice any of the skills I needed to improve. I could barely walk, and no amount of anti-inflammatory medication could put a dent in reducing the chronic inflammation I continued to aggravate daily in practice (and just walking around). I was still a teenager, and had accepted “pain” as a normal state of being… what was my life going to be like when I got older?
So I finally retired from my sport. And for the next year all I did to stay active was swim and lift weights. Swimming got me off my feet, was a great whole-body workout, and gave me good cardio. Lifting weights, I could use machines that kept me off my feet, while still using my whole body to maintain my strength and flexibility. After a year of swimming and weight-training, my feet were feeling surprisingly good. It didn’t hurt to walk anymore so I enrolled in a dance class and discovered that it didn’t hurt to dance! I ended up going to college and getting a BFA in dance. My entire career has been in health and fitness. As an adult, I’ve actually run a couple half-marathons! All of this has been possible because (although a little slow at listening to my body and stopping the activities that were creating the pain and injury in the first place) I finally DID make some smart, safe, and effective choices – and the payoff has been an active and healthy life with pain-free feet as an adult. If you need help improving your foot fitness, I recommend getting a RunFit Kit! Whether you want to walk or run, healthy feet matter. The RunFit Kit has all my favorite foot fitness resources in one spot, to keep your feet fit for a lifetime of good health. Smart choices sooner, rather than later, can help you overcome injuries to keep you moving, healthy, and hopefully able to lead an active, pain-free life.
7. Learn New Strategies for Better Health vs. Continuing with Habits that Got You Hurt
It’s not always what you want to do, but it may be what you NEED to do, to ensure you can successfully overcome injuries and lead a normal and healthy life. Pilates and functional movement training have been an eye-opener for me. If I knew then what I know now… Are there any areas of your life that you’ve used this phrase? I think it’s relevant for overcoming injuries. You might have avoided having problems altogether if you had better body mechanics to start with. Or, if you had listened to your body and made a different choice the day you experienced your injury, you might not have gotten hurt. Would-a, Could-a, Should-a… You can’t go back in time, but moving forward, you can learn new strategies that can help you unlearn bad movement habits. Add something into your workout program for cross-training to help you re-balance your body for better health and more efficient healthy movement habits. With this smart solution you’re going to be setting yourself up for success, rather than re-injury.
8. Patience and Persistence vs. the “Quick” Fix
How patient are you? This skill, on the backside of an injury, is one of the most important things needed for healing and achieving the best outcome possible for a full recovery… Too often people think that when they are told to take a pain pill, or opt to get a cortisone shot that THIS remedy is solving their problems. But in reality, they are only MASKING the symptoms so they can’t feel the pain. And the trouble with this thought-process is, if it “feels better” then we think we can go on about our business or continue to push through workouts because, “problem solved” – It doesn’t hurt today! And while it doesn’t hurt today… How much MORE is it going to hurt when the pill or shot wears off? And how much more damage will you have caused in the process?
I’ve got a client right now who fell on the ice at a winter cross-country running race. She managed to catch herself on the way down with one arm. Her legs felt ok so she got up and continued the race. But two days later, when she came in for her Pilates session, she could barely lift her arm. Three days, several doctors’ appointments, a trip to the Physical Therapist, and an MRI later… she was scheduled for surgery to repair a torn muscle in her shoulder!
Now begins the recovery process. In our first, post-surgery conversation, she said, “The doctor said 6-weeks in a sling. I’ve got to keep my arm and shoulder immobilized, but I still want to do Pilates!” And I said, “That’s great, once you get a written release from your doctor that clearly tells me what we can and cannot do, I’d be happy to work with you.” do believe there are lots of Pilates exercises that can be done safely for the lower half of her body, but it’s completely out of my scope of practice to make that judgement call: her surgeon knows best. Plus, in reality, everything is connected. So, even with an arm in a sling, it’s difficult not to flinch and contract muscles. Her daily life activities: maintaining posture, and counter-balancing everything she’s now doing with the other arm right now, might be more than she should be doing to rest that shoulder. Her body needs time to heal in order to have a full recovery from surgery. But patience can sometimes be a problem.
One week later… I get a text message that says, “The P.A. won’t release me for Pilates. Says I have to talk to the PT and that the Doctor will go with the advice of the PT. But I have not heard back from anybody this week!” She was furious, sitting around is not an activity of choice for this energizer-bunny athlete! At minimum, 6-8 weeks is not an unrealistic amount of time to be on the sidelines HEALING. It’s when that turns into a new sedentary lifestyle that your health will decline. There may be activities you can safely do in the interim. Let your health-care team help you figure out what those are for you, and accept the fact that rest may be the best medicine to heal your body.
Here’s the truth: there is no real “Quick Fix” when faced with recovering from an injury. The quickest way to heal is to actually listen to your body. STOP doing exercises and activities that aggravate the problem. Get your injury checked out by your doctor. Find out what you can, and can’t do, that’s safe and appropriate. Avoid letting an injury turn into a chronic, long-term problem by resting, rehabilitating, and figuring out what you need to do differently to avoid future incidents. Accidents happen, and sometime there’s no getting around that. But, if your injury has been caused by overuse or poor body mechanics, there are definitely things you can do. Be patient and give your body the time it needs to heal FIRST. Then be persistent in fine-tuning your fitness and functional movement habits to ensure you move forward stronger, fitter, and more flexible for better health, rather than plagued with chronic pain, and risk of re-injury.
9. Getting through the 5 Stages of Grief to Recover from an Injury
The Five Stages of Grief
(Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance)
It might sound weird to think about needing to get through the five stages of grief to recover from an injury, but they all play a factor in helping you recover your good health. Understanding and figuring out how to deal with the 5 stages of grief is a smart solution to overcoming injuries. The five stages of grief are a normal evolution of human emotions. And let’s face it, when you can’t do what you want to do because your body is unable, due to pain or injury, we’ve got a lot of emotions wrapped up in how we feel about the situation! It’s pretty likely that most of those emotions are negative thoughts, but what’s best for healing is positive energy. The faster we can process what’s happened and work our way through all five stages of grief to reach acceptance, the quicker we will be on our way to doing what’s necessary to recover and hopefully get back to 100% to be able to participate in all the health and fitness activities we love.
10. Practice Being at Peace with the Process of Healing
I do believe that everything happens for a reason. While I’m never a fan of having to deal with an injury, I’ve had my fair share of time and practice working through the recovery process. Every time this has happened in my life, I’ve learned amazing new things about my body! Ultimately, I believe my injuries have all been blessings in disguise to help me deepen my mind-body connection, learn to better listen to and respect my body, and help me shift my focus or priorities (and sometimes even the fitness activities I am able to do and enjoy) to get me back on track, stronger, more fit and flexible than I was before my injury.
At some point there is no use “crying over spilled milk.” Looking backward and fretting about what we can’t do right now (or potentially ever again) or worrying about IF we’ll be able to do certain activities again, is an unproductive use of healing brain power.
Take a couple of deep breaths of acceptance for where your body is at today and embrace the fact that you are now on a new, and perhaps, healthier path. Practice being patient and being at peace with the healing process.
Be prepared to handle issues and injuries when they arise and, most importantly, be pro-active to keep your body well-balanced, strong, fit, and flexible to help reduce the risk of getting injured in the first place. It doesn’t mean you’ll never get hurt, but chances are you’ll bounce back a little quicker by learning to listen to your body (and heeding the advice of your health care providers). Use these ten smart solutions, keep a positive attitude, and take safe and appropriate action steps to overcome injuries for the quickest recovery possible.