Less than a month after my comeback post, I hit another hurdle in the form of yet another injury! This time it was not at all exercise related, just me being my wobbly self and slipping backwards in the shower. A trip to A&E later confirmed nothing broken just some bruised ribs, on my left (strongest) side, and with an approximately 4 week recovery time. I was absolutely gutted.
Over the last two and a half years I have had my fair share of injuries and setbacks: a severely sprained ankle, a badly strained hip flexor, and the most recent set of bruised ribs. Each recovery process was different, and each taught me something new. With this in mind, I wanted to share with you some tips as to how to get through an injury or an unforeseen obstacle to your training. Because I know too well how frustrating it can be to have your progress and motivation hindered by something like an injury, illness, or unexpected life event.
Follow the doctor’s orders
First and foremost, when dealing with an injury: listen to your doctor/physiotherapist. If they say it’s going to take X number of weeks/months to fully recover but after a few days you don’t feel any pain, that does NOT mean all is well again and you can go back to business as usual. I learnt this the hard way when I badly strained my right hip flexor muscles over Christmas last year. I spent days in so much pain I could hardly walk or move, but then launched myself back into a high-impact Zumba class two weeks later because I felt ‘fixed’ (spoiler alert: I was not). Turns out, jumping, kicking and twisting apparently makes recovering hip injuries flare up much worse - who knew?! I then had to spend over two months recovering after that; avoiding exercise completely and just focussing on my physio stretches (my physiotherapist was not impressed with my reasoning that I had felt so much better so I’d assumed I was fine!).
I’m pleased to say I learnt from that experience and when I hurt my ribs recently one of my first questions was “when can I exercise again”, and then actually listened to the answer. By taking the doctor’s recommendation seriously the recovery was much smoother and quicker as a result.
Now you might think that it’s obvious that injury requires rest, but when you are in a fitness routine it can be really difficult to take a necessary break. You don’t want to lose all the progress you’ve worked so hard for, nor the motivation and discipline which can take a long time to build up. The irony is that it can be the hardest thing to stop once you’ve started, but it’s even harder to start once you’ve stopped. Which brings me onto my next point…
Focus on what you CAN do
I really struggled through the recovery of my hip flexor injury, more so mentally than physically. My mood and wellbeing shot right down, and my motivation to do anything at all went completely out the window. Turns out, I either work out six times a week or spend my entire free time on the sofa – there’s no in between.
Exercise is a big part of my daily routine, and a key coping mechanism for stress. Once I stopped I found myself at a loss as to what to do, and turned to my other, less productive or effective way of coping: curling up on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. After about six weeks of doing that though eventually enough was enough and I had to get myself up and out of my self-pity slump. As mentioned, the recovery for the hip injury ended up taking almost three months, so I couldn’t just go back to my old routine (so I’d already learnt the hard way!), but I was at a stage where I could get walking more again (I could barely do 10 minutes before without being in pain) and get to the gym to do physio and work on upper body strengthening.
Even though I had to be extremely careful and barely broke a sweat, just getting moving again made a huge difference to my attitude. ‘Personal bests’ became more about seeing how much I could do without pain, but it gave me a new focus and something to work on again. Seeing the difference that made to my mental health and injury recovery by looking at what I could do safely (once confirmed by the doctor), rather than what I couldn’t do, was a key lesson I learnt. Sadly, I had the opportunity to apply it sooner than I had hoped when I then fell and bruised my ribs!
Look at the cause of the injury
One thing may of us are guilty of when an injury occurs, is assuming it is just an isolated occurrence due to those particular set of circumstances at the time. However, more often than not, we need to look beyond the fall/incident to see the underlying cause that led to it. For example, when I sprained my ankle nearly two years ago, it wasn’t the first time. It had happened several times before over my lifetime, with one particularly severe instance a few years before. A lack of adequate care and recovery time had meant that it had become an area of weakness (not helped by the fact it was on my right side with already reduced mobility). Simply twisting slightly oddly in a Zumba class resulted in a bad sprain lasting for weeks. To aid the recovery process, I looked at stretches I could do to help it (which they did) and realised that I should have been looking at these as well as exercises to strengthen and increase mobility in the ankle to avoid it happening in the first place. Recovery is so much more than simply resting, it’s looking at the underlying weaknesses that may have led to the injury, that have since been exacerbated, and working on those to avoid future problems. I find my ankle is now far less prone to twists now that I have factored in exercises specifically to deal with its mobility and strength (still a long way to go though).
I took this on board when I hurt my hip flexors. I realised that my hip weakness/tightness and lack of glute activation from spending a large proportion of the day sitting down (I work in an office) meant that those muscles were susceptible to injury (particularly without an effective warm-up before working out, which was the likely cause of the strain in this case). I made hip flexor stretches and glute activation exercises key in my warm-up to combat this. My range of movement and ability to engage the correct muscles when working out has really improved, and in doing these exercises I can hopefully prevent subsequent injuries in this area.
Whether its injury recovery, illness or just general life that keeps you out of the gym and away from your fitness goals, it's important to listen to your body and remember that the situation is only temporary. I have been gutted by the way my 2019 has started out, after having big plans on working on my strength (particularly on my side affected by my cerebral palsy), but all I can do now is focus on going forward and using the experiences to train safely and in accordance with what my body needs. After all, the year is far from over yet!