In some of my posts over the last few weeks, I’ve briefly mentioned the dislocated shoulder I’ve been dealing with. And if you’ve been hanging out with me on any of my social media channels, you’ve probably heard me complain about it a lot.
Because here’s the thing: being injured sucks.
Not being able to do the activities you want to do. Missing out on races and events you signed up for. Spending a shit load of time and money on rehabilitation. Worrying about what this means for your upcoming fitness goals.
When my injury initially happened, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I mean, it hurt, but not so much that I couldn’t finish my workout. I got my shoulder back in, gave my arm a few shakes, and went on with my lifting session.
But the recovery has proved to be much more of a process than I anticipated, and while I’m still impatient and there are still unanswered questions, I’m learning to take it day by day.
I have a few clients who are in a similar boat right now (side note: not as a result of anything I’ve made them do!), and since musculoskeletal injuries do occasionally happen when you live an active lifestyle, I thought I would share a few tips that have helped me maintain my sanity and stay on track with my recovery while dealing with an injury.
Take Your Recovery Seriously
When your doctor/physiotherapist/alternative health practitioner tells you to rest, rest. If they say you can do other activities that don’t aggravate it, then great! Do those! But especially in the first few days, rest is incredibly important.
I made the mistake of hitting a 6am spin class the day after I dislocated my shoulder. Even when I went to bed the night it happened nothing felt terribly painful. But after a mostly sleepless night I woke up an emotional mess and didn’t know what to do with myself. After class I was sore and exhausted, a sign I should have saved my energy to allow my body to heal.
By trying to do too much and not giving the injured part of your body the rest it needs, you’re just prolonging the recovery process. I had a swim meet I had scheduled the week after my injury, and while my chiropractor said I could probably give it a shot, I made the tough decision to back out because it wasn’t worth the risk of making things worse.
Find Something Else You Enjoy Doing
Once I was given the OK to get back to some activity, I started getting REALLY creative with lower body and core workouts! I did my shoulder rehab and my hip strengthening exercises religiously, played around with different pieces of equipment for my lower body that didn’t require any use of my upper body, and did a TON of mat-based ab work.
I kept up my cardio by logging time on the elliptical without using the handlebars, got in a few Stairmaster sessions, and did lots of low-intensity seated work on the spin bike, keeping my right hand by my side and using my core to hold myself up.
My activity levels had already started to decline since I was in my off-season by that point, so combine that with shorter workouts and no pool time, and I had a ton of extra time on my hands!
I caught up on some reading, made some good headway in my business, and took some extra time to chill out, take care of myself, and cook my meals when I was ready to eat them instead of prepping everything in advance.
If you’ve sustained an upper body injury, what other activities can you do? Can you go for power walks outdoors, spend time on a bike, or do some higher-intensity lower body workouts without any additional weights?
Similarly, if you’ve injured something in your lower body, what can you do to work your upper body? Can you lift some weights while you’re sitting? Spend some time in a pool?
They may not be your favourite options, but there are ALWAYS options.
Work On Your Weak Areas
This isn’t necessarily a popular approach, but it’s an important one. Your weak areas may be the area you injured. If you’ve been given rehab exercises to do, see my first tip and take them seriously. Maybe you’ve been slacking in your core work prior to getting injured, and now you’ve got a great opportunity to get back at it.
When I was first cleared to get back in the pool, I wasn’t allowed to do front crawl. Which is the only stroke I really know how to do. And so as much as I hate kicking and doing breast stroke, that’s what I did for 30 minutes twice a week. Those sessions made me miserable, sometimes taking 3 minutes to log 50 meters in the slow lane, when I’m used to clocking less than 1 minute in the fast lane, but to me, it was better than nothing.
Pay Attention To Your Nutrition
This is important for a few reasons. When your body’s injured, you want to make sure you’re feeding it the nutrients it needs to do the recovery job properly. If you’re feeding it a bunch of junk, you’re not giving it many tools to work with, are you?
Similarly, if you’re used to training an hour a day 5 or 6 days a week, and suddenly you drop to just a couple of light sessions a week, you’re likely going to have to adjust your food intake.
This was one of the hardest things for me to grasp. I often joke that I exercise to support my eating habits, and it wasn’t long before I realized that if I continued to eat the way I was when I was training 8 or 9 hours a week that I’d need a new wardrobe pretty soon.
Fortunately it only took a couple of days for me to adjust to my smaller calorie intake, because surprise – I wasn’t as hungry!
Don’t Dwell On The Worst Case Scenario, But Be Prepared For It
This is a big one. Focusing on what you can’t do puts your head in a negative space. Worrying that you might never be able to do X, Y, or Z again puts your head in a really negative space.
Worrying does absolutely nothing to help your situation. Being a chronic worrier and having dealt with anxiety my whole life, I know this for a fact 😉 But when we constantly worry about what that worst case scenario might be, we get desperate. And we often don’t make smart choices when we’re desperate (ie. we fail to take our recovery seriously).
But on the flip side, it’s important to be realistic and to understand that an injury can have some implications beyond a few weeks of rest. While constantly worrying about what might happen is of no benefit to you, mentally preparing yourself for some undesirable news can help lessen the blow and put you in a space to think about your next course of action.
Final Thoughts On Dealing With An Injury
There’s no doubt about it that being injured can really put a damper on your life. But during times like this, it’s important to remind yourself what you CAN do and what you’re grateful for.
It’s a great opportunity to learn about your body as you begin to understand the recovery process and how you can work to prevent it from happening again. It’s a good chance to work on your weak areas and try new things. And it really helps to put things in perspective and make you that much more appreciative of your body when everything is working as one cohesive unit.
Have you ever dealt with an injury? How did you handle it?