• Michelle Howell

The injury learning curve

I was hoping that the next time I sat down to write, I'd be back running, but after two weeks I'm still couch-bound in quarantine. With a mixed bag of possible answers to the pain sidelining me right now the solution we've come to is to just rest.

Needless to say, it's not the prognosis I wanted to hear.

After putting up a q + a this past week on Instagram the one thing that surprised me was the repetitive question of "what was the worst injury you've had?" and "how do you deal with injuries?". On paper, my worst "injury" by far was getting my leg run over by a lawnmower, closely followed by fracturing both my radius and ulna in two places turning my left arm from the elbow down into an S shape after falling from a bunk bed ladder. In honesty, though I don't remember much pain from these, the pain and frustration that sticks out to me is from those smaller nagging injuries, the ones that just don't seem to go away or the ones where there is no cut and dry answer to what's going on (unlike my S-shaped left arm where clearly somethings broken).

These types of injuries are the kind I find myself dealing with the most these days- nagging, tendonitis like issues that aren't clear and don't want to leave. At some point in time, every athlete has to deal with in and it can be an emotional roller coaster of a time because what many people fail to talk about when they talk about injuries is the emotional toll. So while I'm no expert these are the things I've learned over the years

Overcoming Denial

The last few days have been filled with zoom calls here including one dedicated to my brother-in-law's college graduation. In place of a ceremony, the school had recordings of professors offering words of encouragement and congratulations to graduate. One offered the following parable as his nugget of inspiration:

Three mice fell to the bottom of a vat of cream, but they didn't die.

Instead, they clawed and scurried and churned the cream into butter.

You are the mice.

While this may be a good parable when it comes to academic work- push through and you'll reap the rewards, it's the opposite advice when dealing with an injury. Pushing through, continuing to carry out regular activities, and denying that somethings wrong is how you end up with a lingering or potentially worse issue than what you started with.

" 'tis but a flesh wound" is not the mentality you want. That's the mentality I had when I was younger because I thought like many that taking time off was not the solution and that it made me look "weak". I convinced myself in 2017 that my stress fracture was just shin splints and continued to run through the symptoms for nearly a month before deciding that not being able to walk without a limp was probably a sign it wasn't just shin splints.

Part of overcoming the denial phase of injury is two-part:

  1. Getting to know your body- is this soar vs pain?

  2. Creating a plan of action that makes sense for the injury- time off or modify- and be flexible in changing that plan if it doesn't work

Keeping a training log helps in being able to not only track what may have contributed to an injury (a very hard week of training perhaps?), but getting to know your body's reaction to training better by describing how you felt pre and post-workout and anything you felt. For example, after years of training, I know that if I start speed work without a long lead up of small bits of exposure to it I end up with shin splints in my right leg every time.

Dealing with an injury

Once you realize and accept that you're injured getting treatment is the obvious next step, but it's the step in which that emotional roller coaster starts its descent. It's frustrating to be sidelined, it's when you find yourself questioning things, having to trust others to help you make the right decisions, and a time when negative thoughts start looming. Some of which include the following:

  • Why me?

  • This is not fair.

  • I hate my life without my sport.

  • Who am I without my sport?

It's a lot to take in and process apart from the physical side of things. You hear a lot of people talk about finding your why- your purpose in doing the things you do. Injuries and being away from your sport can really call that "why" into question as these kinds of negative thoughts begin to spiral.

Restating your why or maybe even finding it during this time is, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of dealing with an injury. Once you have your "why" It helps you re-focus your mindset toward your goals and makes dealing with the set back of an injury easier.

Building back to normal

This might be the hardest part of dealing with an injury because as we all know the injury timeline isn't linear, it's all over the place like an EKG with ups and downs and flat lines. It's a test of patience (there's no clear end date), resiliency (you were supposed to be on the up and up, but your not progressing the way you were expected to, how are you handling that?), and commitment (are you doing all your rehab exercises when you should be?).

This is where your support system comes in. Working with the right people and trusting them to help you better- sports specialists, physical therapists, trainers. Communicating with your coach and teammates, because being away from your sport is hard and just because your out from training, doesn't mean you need to seclude yourself from being in the know. This line of communication helps keep you sane and chances are other people around you have gone through similar situations. Talk and vent to them about what you're going through.

Hopefully, this helps you in your own journey to dealing with injuries and hopefully, this won't be the topic I have to keep writing about for much longer.

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