Coming off of an Injury - Mindset on Dealing with Pain
Getting injured sucks. It just sucks. Whether it’s a workout related injury, an accident that resulted in a broken bone, or an illness, it’s difficult to be anything but negative in these situations.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of continuing to harp on how bad it is, how much you wish it didn’t happen, and how much of your previous progress is deteriorating. Totally understandable. After about a week or so the time for sulking is no more, and it’s time to look to the future and how you can come back even stronger and better than before.
There are different types of injuries/setbacks when it comes to the ability to workout and each of them has a different effect and varying recovery time. Whichever it is, it’s probably not the end of the world and it probably could’ve been a lot worse. You will heal, you will recover, you will be able to feel back to normal, so just keep that in mind and try and stay positive.
Let’s go over the different “types” of setbacks.
BROKEN BONE: RESULT OF ACCIDENT
You didn’t ask for this to happen nor did you do anything to cause it. Whether it be from a car accident, a sport, or just by walking on the sidewalk, any kind of trauma resulting in a broken bone or something similar is just unlucky.
After you’ve been to the doctor, gotten all fixed up, and taken the necessary complete time off from physical activity, it’s time to get back to it! Now, play it VERY CONSERVATIVELY. Don’t do anything that may agitate the injury at all, and if you're unsure, then don’t do it.
If it’s an upper body extremity injury, hope on a stationary bike and get a good sweat going. If it’s a lower body injury, seated upper body resistance training is a great option. The key here is to keep rest times on the shorter end, use relatively light weight exercises, and just get used to moving again and staying as mobile in your joints as possible.
If the injury is on one arm, then it’d be wise to work the non-injured arm when possible. It’s MUCH easier to come back from injury if you’ve still been working muscles and sending messages from your brain to your body. Don’t worry too much about creating a muscle imbalance, you already have imbalances anyway and the benefits of keeping your nerve pathways sharp greatly outweigh the minimal downside in this instance.
WORKOUT RELATED INJURY
Okay. Time for some tough love. If you have a workout-related injury, it’s because you’ve been doing at least one thing incorrectly for a prolonged period of time. Most gym-related injuries (low back, shoulder, knees, etc.) are the result of improperly loading your body over the course of months.
These kinds of injuries are very rarely from a single instance, even though you may not feel any pain until the injury actually occurs. Now that’s not to say that all lower back, shoulder, and knee injuries are because you did something wrong, we’re dealing with gym-specific injuries that are typically from lifting weights.
From a mental perspective, this one is a little tougher to swallow because you can’t really blame bad luck. It’s easy to look at others performing exercises incorrectly and wonder why they seem fine and you had to get hurt. All that can be said is that everyone is different. Different experience, different body structure, different joint alignment. The truth is that not all exercises are meant for every person. Just because the squat, deadlift, and bench press are the most common exercises, doesn’t mean everyone should be trying to lift as heavy as possible in them or maybe even doing them at all.
The thing you should at some point realize and accept, is that you really can come back stronger from these types of injuries. Unless it’s traumatic beyond repair, be thankful it didn’t happen another 10 years down the road where recovery would be even longer due to older age. Don’t worry about why other people seem fine now, they might be in trouble later if they continue to lift weights incorrectly.
After seeing the doctor and hopefully seeing a physical therapist, you really need to sit down and understand what led to your injury and how you can move forward. A high level of consciousness and active effort is required on your end when you want to go back to working out. Speaking to a professional or doing the research yourself are really the two options when it comes down to figuring out what exercises would help you going forward. And remember, even with a perfect workout prescription, if you aren't actively thinking about what you’re doing while you do it, you could be setting yourself up for injury again.
The good news is that after a few months of REALLY being mindful about your exercises, they will become your new standard. Your body will just do what it’s supposed to do and it will require much less thoughtful effort. Remember, you are trying to retrain the way your body performs these exercises, and that can take some time. But once you learn them, it will become intuitive and much more natural.
Again, another unlucky circumstance. Unless you went licking the metro floor or sharing a drink with someone you knew had the flu, then it’s probably not your fault.
DON’T GO TO THE GYM. If you have the flu, chicken pox, the common cold, whatever. When you start to feel it coming/at the peak of your illness, don’t try and “sweat it out.” It doesn’t work like that. Your body is under stress and working out is a type of stress (albeit good stress) on the body.
Don’t worry about eating as healthy as usual, just drink your liquids, have some chicken noodle soup, sleep, and relax. You can workout when you’re recovered. Basically stay as horizontal as you can throughout the day. Don't do anything to prolong an illness. Accept it for what it is and you will get better faster, and when you do come back to working out, take it easy that first week. Nothing too heavy, too strenuous. Just get used to moving again and mapping out your body.
Regardless of the set-back, remember that it will be okay!! As hard as it is to see this in the moment, injuries are usually an opportunity to step back and reevaluate all of your training. You can find where there were holes or errors in your workouts and build upon them when you return. From there, you can enjoy training injury-free for hopefully the rest of your days :)