I’ve learned a lot about this topic the hard way. And I am still learning more and more each day as I deal with old and new injuries affecting my training, whether they be major, minor or somewhere in between.
I grew up playing Rugby League and other related sports and was prone to whatever injury was the flavour of the month, the run of more serious injuries starting at the age of just 14 when I tore the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) in my left knee, which required a full knee reconstruction 3 days after my 15th birthday. From that point on I can recall completing only 1 or 2 full sporting seasons without injury before I had to call it quits for good at 24 years old.
It’s still upsetting for me as I miss being involved in team sports and competing every week, but it’s something I’ve learnt to deal with and a positive to come from all of this is that now I have a world of information on the “Do’s and Don’ts” of training with injuries.
First and foremost, advice which in no circumstance should be overlooked is to see a PROFESSIONAL!
You need to identify and understand what exactly it is that you are dealing with when it comes to an injury. Don’t listen to your teammate, your coach, your partner, your cousin, your best friends uncle Tony who played 3 games for the local A grade side in 1987.
Countless times I have seen members walking into the gym, frustrated and upset because their injury is holding them back, yet when I ask the question “What has your Doctor/Physio said about it?”, they stare back blankly or reply, “I haven’t seen anyone about it.”
To be honest, I’ve been guilty of this myself, thinking I can tough it out and it will fix itself, but this is exactly why I know it’s the wrong way to handle it. This attitude will most likely significantly prolong your recovery time.
Even the best health professionals (doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors etc) seek outside assistance when they themselves are injured, that’s a statement in itself.
Now you know what you’re dealing with, it’s time to shift your mindset to view this injury as an opportunity, not a setback.
Our mental and emotional health is equally as important as our physical health, so training your brain to alter the way it sees challenges is an invaluable tool.
Being injured is an opportunity to better understand your body through the rehabilitation process. I use myself as an example, I know what I know regarding injuries of the knees, shoulders, ankles, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and a long list of other areas, not because I’ve read about them on the internet, but purely because I’ve injured them all at some point myself and had to go through the recovery process, more than once on many occasions.
So pay attention to what is happening within your body as you recover (you may need to write a blog about it one day).
Apart from the recovery aspect, new opportunities now present themselves in the form of exploring alternate styles of exercise. Depending on the location and severity of your injury, there is nearly always something you can do to keep active (I speak generally here as I understand some injuries require complete restriction of movement). But let’s focus on the large percentage of injuries people will acquire through day to day exercise ie. Weight training, running, sports etc.
These sorts of injuries can be worked around quite easily, changing or scaling movements so that the injured body part is not involved or is under very little stress. At this stage you should be thinking “What CAN I do?” instead of “What can’t I do?”
When it comes to weight training, a large majority of upper body strength movements can be altered so they are performed in a seated position, eliminating any chance of aggravating a lower-body injury, and vice versa with lower body strength movements. In some cases, the injured area still requires training during the rehabilitation process, so completely avoiding it can be costly later on in your recovery (this is something that would be explained in more detail by your health professional, specific to your individual situation).
Another avenue of exercise, one which I can personally vouch for, is that of a less physically demanding nature, being Yoga and/or Pilates. The benefits of this type of exercise are endless, I originally started both of these classes to keep active during a period where I was carrying a lot of injuries and decided to give my body a break from intense exercise. I haven’t looked back since. Regular Yoga and Pilates classes each week have not only helped keep my injuries at bay, but they have improved my performance in the gym beyond words. I cannot recommend either of these classes enough, injured or healthy, athlete or average Joe, you will not regret trying Yoga or Pilates.
If you are willing to think outside the box and try something new when carrying an injury, in my opinion, you will rarely be disappointed with your decision.
I could continue on all day about all the different options you have to choose from to work around your injury, but you probably have work to do, so I’m going to get into a few of my biggest ‘Don’ts’ of training with an injury.
I touched briefly on a period where I made the decision to give my body a break from intense exercise in an earlier paragraph.
This was a choice I made after having done the opposite earlier in life and pushing through pain and warning signs which made an injury worse.
There is a huge difference between working around an injury and aggravating it. Once again, this is injury specific information which can only be provided to you by a professional, but listening to your body is another invaluable tool it pays to have in your metaphorical tool shed.
When it comes to what you shouldn’t do whilst in recovery, this next one is a major ‘sin’ that a large majority of people are guilty of; continuing with their questionable nutritional habits such as 16 beers and 2 kebabs on a Saturday night, followed by McDonalds delivery on Sunday for lunch, rounded out by a pizza for dinner on Sunday evening, all the while never consuming one drop of water.
Although that example is excessive, the point I am making is that if you aren’t feeding your body the right fuel, it cannot do what it is designed to do and repair efficiently.
It isn’t just the weekends that are the issue either. Throughout the week we place our minds and bodies under so much stress, whether it’s through work, family, friends etc. And we neglect the most important recovery tools we have, HYDRATION and SLEEP!
Just like electing not to see someone about your injury in the first place, not getting enough sleep, not drinking enough water and feeding your fast food habit are all sure fire ways to heavily prolong your recovery time.
A lot of my own personal experiences with injuries over the years may or may not have been preventable if I knew what I know now. I’ve been the victim of some bad luck, but in other instances, I feel that I could have done more to help myself in terms of rehabilitation and recovery.
I’ve definitely mistreated my body whilst recovering from an injury, I’ve avoided seeing someone about an injury and tried to push through it, making it worse. I’ve gone through periods of complete inactivity, which affected my physical and mental health. I’ve even gone against the advice of my Physiotherapists at times (extremely rare, sorry Trav). But at the end of the day, these experiences have taught me a lot about the mind & body and how we can adapt and evolve to train around our injuries, plus how to effectively recover from them.
If this didn’t make the hairs on your neck stand up with excitement and you’re desperately looking for one point to take out of the 5 mins it took you to read this, let it be the following:
Change the way you think when you have an injury, seek advice from the appropriate professionals to point you in the right direction with your training and search for the type of exercise you can do instead of focusing on what you cannot. Respect your mind & body and don’t take shortcuts when it comes to your recovery. There is always something you can do to keep active.
Thanks for reading,
Man with many injuries.