Resuming Activity With Injury
Perhaps one of the most dreaded challenges for an athlete or an active person is dealing with an injury, not just the physical aspect but also the mental state of mind it unleashes. The frustration of being laid back from routine and activity sometimes exceeds the physical aspect and it becomes difficult to hold on to caution. The desire to get back into action is compelling, but accompanying it is also the fear of recurrence of injury.
Post injury scenarios throw up some common behavioral patterns that are easy to spot for a rehab specialist and present similar treatment challenges. Advice is sought and given, protocol explained in detail and the injured client gives affirmation for adherence to do’s and don’ts that form an integral part of recovery. But reality shows that this doesn’t really happen. At least not to the desired extent. The injured party is in a hurry to resume activity (due to real or perceived performance pressures) while the rehab process requires adequate time and compliance to recuperate completely.
Given that this behaviour is not unique to a specific sport, region or demographic and given it’s wide prevalence, what can be done to get the best out of this situation?
Reiteration of some simple points seems to be a real need, worth revisiting:
USE PAIN AS A FRIEND, NOT FOE
Pain is body’s way of indicating existence of stress in the body (tissue or bones). The degree of pain is in direct relation to the degree of this stress. Respecting it is the foundation to recovery and performance. Recovery usually covers two aspects – passive and active. Both play an important role when performed in the correct sequence. Time spent on each phase depends upon the severity of injury. Pushing through these phases or turning them upside down only lengthen recovery and fuel further frustration. Pain will be your guide through each phase in indicating the body’s state and rate of recovery. Be patient. Push through movement as and how the pain begins to settle. It might help to remember, even if it feels like being laid off some activity is killing – it won’t actually kill you, even statistically speaking.
IT’S NOT ALL DOOM. ALTER EXERCISE AND MOVEMENT PATTERNS
Being injured does not usually mean total inactivity. It is generally possible to continue with altered exercises and movements, continuing to work on other parts of the body while resting out the injured part. Seek guidance of an exercise specialist/trainer who can help design an altered plan that is safe and executable within the restraints of changed dynamics.
Poor form and function is often the cause of common injuries. Form and function become even more important in reclaiming any movement and functionality while at the same time isolating the injury. Simply reducing intensity of exercise does not work if this vital understanding is missing. Bad form and function will have a negative impact on the body, irrespective of intensity adopted, increase healing time, and/or even aggravate the injury at it’s worst. The body is a sum total of all it’s parts. Remember, what is being done at one end will resonate in rest of the body as well. Pay attention and learn proper form and loading/unloading patterns as an ongoing practice till it becomes habit. Modify frequency and loading as required to continue being active to the extent injury allows.
While on this point, I would like to add a little note:
Focus on flexibility as a routine. Myopic fixation with building muscular and cardiovascular strength is way too common. Choice of exercises often reflect pursuit of only these goals, demonstrating ignorance of the importance of working on flexibility alongside. When joints loose their full range of motion, (aka loss of flexibility) incidence of injuries shoots up. And this is increasingly being witnessed in younger audiences too.
DON’T LOSE FOCUS ON NUTRITION AND HYDRATION
Nutrition and hydration play an important role not just in activity, but in our daily lives as well. Therefore, recovery could be aided by paying attention to these. Nature offers many solutions for pain and disease management. Seeking natural solutions alongside whatever is prescribed could be a good practice.
SEEK APPROPRIATE MEDICAL ADVICE
This one might come as a surprise. The number of people who seek advice from friends or general advice givers is rather baffling. Most injuries spin out of hand because of inadequate/incorrect diagnosis, self treatment or following advice of someone who “seems” to have had suffered a similar plight. The suggestion is certainly not to tilt towards hypochondria, but consulting the right practitioner at the right time could make a big difference. Sports injuries, especially, could be of several types, requiring different intervention. Be cautious rather than flippant and you could save yourself some valuable time and effort in bouncing back. It’s not just about immediate recovery. Longevity of pain free and strong movement should be the goal and all steps (immediate and future) should be towards that direction.
FOLLOW THE ADVICE!
Once the treatment protocol has been laid out, follow it judiciously – be it diagnostics, resting, stretching, icing, rolling, physiotherapy, medication, rehab exercises and follow ups. In case a treatment doesn’t appear to suit or seems to aggravate discomfort/pain share with your practitioner and seek appropriate changes. Don’t abandon mid way. It is also very common to give up or slacken on the prescribed treatment once the pain begins to subside and attempt to hurriedly “try” previous movement patterns and intensity levels. A sheepish admission of this when pain/injury recurs may only make your doctor/rehab specialist shake her/his head, but it would likely, put you back a couple of steps and keep you trapped in recovery mode a lot longer. Sounds familiar?