How to cope with an injury
Getting injured is just part of any sport and it’s how you deal with it both mentally as well as physically that can make a huge difference to your recovery. There are 2 sides to an injury, the physical side – it’s identification, it’s treatment and then rehabilitation. And then there is the less understood side, the psychological, which starts all the way from personally identifying there is a problem to finally being confident that you are back to full health once more. It’s the psychological side that I’m going to deal with here.
To start I am not a qualified psychologist and even though I have done a couple of related modules in becoming a sports therapist it hardly makes me an expert! But I do have feelings and I have also been injured (infrequently but in major ways) so I have plenty of personal experience!
The psychology of an injury starts at the very beginning, from when you become aware that something has changed, maybe it’s pain, performance or perhaps something just feels different, you become more aware of an issue and if you are anything like me become focused on this part of your body in a rather obsessive fashion. At that point most people look up their favourite on-line forum(s), or virtual pub as my mate puts it. Forums are filled with comments such as “I have this pain on my leg (photo of finger on hurty bit included), what is it?” or “I’m running a marathon next week and snapped my ACL – can I still run it?!”
I somehow sense that forums are not always the best go to point for scientific expertise and diagnosis! And despite there being some great opinions expressed on-line as well as the purely entertaining and most people would agree this is the wrong place to get the physical side of your injury sorted! So it got me thinking that perhaps forums are more for your mental and psychological health. Suddenly realising you are not the only one, or if you are a bit egotistical that you indeed are the only one! “A problem shared is a problem halved” and all that… They clearly have a role to play so long as there is positive encouragement. Not only that but maybe they help people to accept an injury. Many comments I see, appear to suggest people initially try to ignore the obvious, that 1 week recovery from a broken leg is not enough!!
Once you have established what the problem is, and accepted that you have it, what next? Finding out how long it will take to mend and what you can do to help against a timescale of goals is really important. It’s like training for a race and you need to be dedicated. Do your physio every day, don’t jump the steps of recovery and leap out running again too soon. Thinking positive in these stages now becomes more important, you have already gone through denial and acceptance, now it’s time to stay the course. But realistically we are all human and sometimes it feels too much or that the progress is so slow it’s unnoticeable. Often I go along to my sports therapist and we have a long chat about how I’m feeling whilst she works into my glutes. I come out of those sessions not only feeling physically better but emotionally a lot more positive. The physical side of the body is intrinsically tied to the emotional, the most obvious example of this is stomach pain induced by stress. So I recommend also talking about how you feel with the professionals you work with. Having an objective perspective on your progress is really helpful and encouraging.
Coping with an injury can be quite emotional especially if it’s stopping you from doing something you enjoy or are passionate about. So it’s better to meet this head on, like a long distance run, you will have some highs and lows but don’t give up. Everyone is different, and no two people will have the same recovery time so you may need to be patient. Chat to the professionals you are working with as well as your friends. Stick to the plan and break it down into steps. Set realistic goals and appraise your performance objectively. It won’t be long till you are back out on the trails, and stronger for the time you invested!