By Tia Norris, September 2019 Issue.
Fact: anyone who is active will eventually get injured. Now, that injury may range from minor to major, but it’s virtually a certainty for all athletes, eventually. To believe that you’ll be able to train forever, without any injury, is simply a fantasy. If you’re new to training, just accept this cold, hard truth now.
If you’re not new to training, certainly then, you’ve dealt with injuries along the way. We’ve all been there: we’re feeling strong, feeling confident, pushing ourselves, trying to ignore the good pain in pursuit of the goals… when all of a sudden, BAM: injury strikes. It’s heartbreaking and can stir up a hot mess of emotions if you’re not focused. So, here are my do’s and don’ts when it comes to resuming training after an injury:
Do keep training, using the pain scale 0-10 at all times. The number one rule when it comes to the majority of injuries is: don’t stop! Unless you just had surgery, or are paralyzed, I promise you there’s a way to keep working. If your lower body is injured, try focusing on upper body. You can still lift weights with one functional arm or simply use bodyweight. You can try a new activity like running, rowing, or swimming. There is always a way. But here’s the catch: you must stay aware of the quantitative value or your pain at all times. “0” is no pain; “1-3” is mild pain, hardly noticeable, and still very much trainable; “4-5” is moderate pain and must be treated with serious caution; “5+” is your cutoff point … any pain equal to or above a 5/10 means STOP, and switch exercises or muscle groups. This single doctrine alone will keep you training through injury, while simultaneously not exacerbating your problems.
Do consider calling in an expert, but make sure it’s the right one. There’s always someone out there who knows more than the sum of all the parts you know right now. I’m talking about personal trainers, physical therapists, sports medicine doctors, and more. Don’t forget about acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and other therapy-type of practitioners, too. If you’re stuck, contact someone who knows how to get you unstuck. Just a word of caution here: really do your homework when it comes to trusting someone on this topic. There are a lot of pretenders, hustlers, and, quite frankly, basic dumbasses who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk in health and fitness. Read reviews, poll your friends for referrals, and don’t be afraid to shop the market to find the perfect fit personally, academically, and financially for you.
Do get creative, stay perfectly patient, and be ready with substitutions. Be prepared for sessions where your pain either escalates to a 5/10, or even worse for some days where your pain never drops below a 5/10. On these days, you need a bank of exercise variations, substitution activities, and modifications on ranges of movement, etc. It’s vital in these moments that you remain calm, patient, and agile in adjusting course when needed. When “Plan A” doesn’t work, remember that there are 25 other letters in the alphabet.
Don’t go full-speed too early. Proceed with caution. Again, referring back to the pain scale … you need to temporarily suspend your goals, events, races, and other time-sensitive elements in order to allow full, fast recovery. If you continuously train above the acceptable pain threshold of 5/10, it’s a certainty that you’ll at least slow down your recovery, or worse, you’ll end up re-injured. Give it some time and space, and work on other parts of your program in ways that don’t hurt. Don’t be a stubborn ass about this one — don’t roll the dice with the only body you’ve got!
Don’t get overly emotional about it. Move forward and stay logical. Real talk: stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop the negative spiral into the emotional abyss, and get a grip. It can be a sharp downturn after injury, to dwell on feelings of regret (what did I do wrong?), hopelessness (now I’ll never reach my goal), and despair (what am I going to do with my time now?). But none of this shit is going to get you anywhere. You must fight to stay positive, to focus on what you can do, to call for help from experts, and to solely rely on ice cold logic in the face of the difficult road ahead.
Don’t give up! Most importantly … remember, people defy the odds every minute of every day. So, why can’t you? Now, this isn’t some rah-rah b.s., or some saccharinely sweet fake motivation, this is an expert’s experience, seeing and training people to break out of their boxes, and finding new ways to do so, consistently. I don’t care who you’ve talked to, what their qualifications are, how many therapies you’ve tried, how many times you’ve failed, or anything else. Stay logical, listen to your body, and move forward. Period.