The pain game: Coping with injuries

Injuries suck. Suck big time. They can be devastating to people who have an active lifestyle and/or are training for an event or sport.

One such injury happened to me just over 10 weeks ago. My training for the upcoming Oceania and Asian Powerlifting Championships was going amazingly well. I was hitting PBs and had never felt stronger, then boom, I tore a hamstring tendon. It didn’t feel too bad when I did it (during a deadlift), but I knew there was something wrong as it was impossible to sit down (the injury was in the attachment of the hamstring in to the glute – literally a massive pain in the butt!). An ultrasound showed the full effect. It would be at a minimum 9 weeks recovery and a maximum of 12 weeks, if all went well.

I was devastated. I wanted to give up on it all and laze around all day eating pizza and drinking beer (and I don’t even like beer!). But a few days later, I got a hold of myself. I decided there were three¬†options:

  1. Continue moping around and feeling sorry for myself – clearly not helpful.
  2. Ignore the injury and continue training – also a very bad idea.
  3. Take the time to let the injury heal itself and use that time to focus on the things I could control and work on.

Clearly I chose the third option. I decided to make the best out of a bad situation. I put my focus on to improving my bench press and to use the time to work on my weaknesses. I also decided that I wouldn’t pull out of the Championships and instead compete in the ‘bench only’ competition.

I spent weeks and weeks rehabbing my injury. I spent time working on my technique and mobility and bench pressing like my life depended on it. I had gone nowhere with my bench press last year, well actually a little backwards, so I was determined to get it back to my best and feel even better doing it! I hit my equal competition best at the Championships of 62.5kg at 50.75kg bodyweight and also walked away with a bronze medal for my efforts. My bench was feeling stronger than ever!

Now over 10 weeks post injury, I am feeling almost 100%. I am back lifting near my best for squats and deadlifts and continuing to improve my bench press. I will be competing in the Arnold Sports Classic in Columbus, Ohio, USA in 6 weeks time and hoping to be back lifting my best and maybe even a little bit better!

Coming out the other side of an injury, I feel like I am a better lifter because of it. An injury often seems unfair to anyone who gets one. Although feeling this way is normal, it’s important to move beyond the negative and find the positives to focus on, to cope with the setback. People get injuries. That’s life. How you deal with them is the important thing.

Below is a list of the key things that I found which helped me in the recovery process.

1. Learn about your injury
Find out more about your injury – the causes of it, recovery time, treatment options etc. Talk to your healthcare professional about what to expect and make sure you talk to someone whose advice you trust. I trusted my physio, so when he said minimum 9 weeks recovery, as much as I didn’t like it, I knew it would be 9 weeks. I also spoke to others who had previously had the same injury as me and learnt from their mistakes in the recovery process.

2. Accept it, but stay positive
Too often I see people trying to come back to training/sport too soon, only to have their injury flare up and once again delay their full return to their best form. Not accepting you have an injury can lead to it becoming a chronic problem. By accepting you have an injury you can take control of your recovery process, rather than just dwelling on it or making it worse.

3. Have a plan of attack, but be flexible
I worked with my coach to develop a plan. Knowing it was going to be at least 9 weeks until I could lift heavy, we developed a plan that would see me rehab my injury as well as gradually build my lifts back up again. Seeing a plan and seeing how it would progress made me feel better. Having a plan made me feel confident that I would improve and get better (because when you are injured, sometimes you think you will never get better!). I did have to be flexible though, I had to feel out each session and be sure not to push it too hard if I knew I didn’t have it in me. I had to really focus on listening to my body. Something, which I should have been doing all along! Having a plan also made me not rush and try and speed up the recovery process by doing too much too soon, which I could see myself easily doing.

4. Do everything you can, but nothing you shouldn’t
With my injury I wasn’t allowed to squat or deadlift heavy, well if I tried I was going to risk an even more serious injury and a longer recovery time. But there was still plenty of things I could do. I continued to work on my lower body strength doing other exercises, focusing on maintaining my muscle mass as well as continuing all my upper body work.

Depending on the type of injury you have, you may be able to modify your training or do alternate types of exercises to maintain your conditioning and strength. Work with a coach or trainer to work out what you can do. If you can’t run, try cycling or swimming. If you can’t use your arms, what lower body work can you do? Some injuries though can prevent you from doing a lot of things. Maybe you will be immobile for weeks. What then? Focus on your mental game. Work out plans to come back better than ever. Work on your attitude, your focus, your nutrition, read articles, watch training videos. Do what you can.

Injuries suck, but they happen. With the right attitude, knowledge and patience, injuries will be overcome.

Now, off to the gym to lift some heavy things!

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