Training While Injured

It’s happened to all of us, at one point in our lives or another. We’re on a roll, exercising routinely, maybe even training for something, when seemingly out of nowhere, an injury occurs. Perhaps it’s an overuse injury due to your training, or maybe it’s completely unrelated like a car accident, fall, or workplace mishap. Regardless of the cause, how we respond to the injury in the days and weeks that follow will directly determine how we bounce back from it.

I have unfortunately suffered more than my fair share of injuries. I have chronic lumbar spinal disease with a bulging disc & disease at other levels, with symptoms that recur at least once or twice a year despite my best efforts. I also race my bike, which puts me at somewhat higher risk for accidents than the average person. I’ve spent my life in sport, playing ice hockey, cycling, running, and skiing, and I know from experience that all sports present with some level of risk.

As a recent example,  I crashed in a criterium bike race by misjudging my pedal clearance through a turn and slamming my pedal into the ground at almost 30mph. I landed hard, rolling (appropriately) as I fell, but the speed was too great, and I shattered my right clavicle into tiny pieces (in addition to sustaining road rash over all sides of my body, since I rolled). Surgery was delayed for reasons too complex to discuss here, and at around week 4 after the break, I was finally fixed up.

At that point, I had a choice. Of course I was in a fair bit of pain. I could lie in bed and wait for the pain to abate, taking meds and moving as little as possible. Alternately, I could begin the process of getting myself moving again right away (I was unable to start formal PT for about 6 weeks due to the fragility of the bone).  Either way I would be uncomfortable. The former route actually has a few risks associated with it, some “minor” (loss of muscle strength, flexibility, and more prolonged discomfort and fatigue), and some considered major, like pneumonia and DVT. The latter course would see me strong and mobile sooner, though it would take some effort and grit.  Obviously, I was limited in ability to use my right arm, but my legs were fine, as was my left arm, so I could focus on those and my core. I chose to get moving and began by riding a spin bike every single day. I also resumed Pilates daily, modifying where needed to protect the right shoulder (Incidentally, I started this before surgery, while still mostly in bed and severely limited). By the time I was cleared to start PT 6 weeks later, I was stronger than the PT expected and progressed pretty quickly through the program. I was back on my bike in a few months total, and stronger than I had been before the crash pretty quickly (all of that solo training on the spin bike in my perfect training zone really paid off, but that’s another blog topic).

But what about recurrent issues, you might ask? My back is one such issue; I’m sure you have your chronic issue also.  Here’s my strategy. A couple months back, my back went out in its usual way- I drove 2,000 miles over 4 days, and even though I did Pilates daily, it still ultimately went sideways on me (quite literally- I have a lateral lumbar shift when it goes “out”  and cannot straighten up). When this happens, it’s tempting to lie in bed until it’s better. But I have learned that this doesn’t hasten recovery. Neither does just plowing through and ignoring the pain (I’ve had it take weeks to relent with this strategy). A blended approach of careful, intentional movement mixed with rest is critical, paying close attention to your own body’s needs. For me, this means I get down on the floor and stretch gently, often 4-6 times a day. I do Pilates every day, sometimes 2-3 times a day. This is usually a partial program, including the movements that help me and do not hurt.  Prolonged standing is the worst thing for me, so I don’t do it. Movement such as gently riding a spin bike, careful Pilates, and stretching are extremely useful. I rest in a position that relieves the strain, seek chiropractic care, and utilize massage, perhaps acupuncture. Every injury is different, but if there is a methodology that can help your condition, take advantage of it. Other treatments can include heat/ice and any medications that benefit you personally (NSAIDs, etc). Heat helps me a lot, so I use those ThermaCare heat pads that last 8 hours. Find what works for you!  

My point is that even with a significant issue like my herniated/bulging disc, careful mobility can be beneficial in getting you back on your feet faster, as well as maintaining your strength through the acute phase.  And a multifaceted strategy will get you through your injury even more quickly. If you have access to a physical therapist, that person can definitely help you. If not, working one-on-one with an experienced personal trainer or fitness instructors like the BC Fitness staff might help get you through the worst of it and back to feeling more like yourself. With the current situation, this can be done over Zoom if preferred (coming soon- my blog on Fitness via Zoom!). 

You can’t always control what life throws at you, but you CAN control how you respond to these events, and your reaction will almost always have a meaningful impact upon the outcome!

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