They say the hardest part about being an athlete aren’t the endless hours of practice or the pressures of competition, its the fact that at some an injury will happen. It could be small, it could be big, but injuries are a part of training. The hardest part about injuries? Not the surgery or rehab, but the road to recovery after you’ve injured yourself or more specifically, the mental part of recovery.
Ask any doctor, they say that the biggest thing that hinders recovery isn’t the muscle/tendon/bone doing what its supposed to but rather, the person attached to it. Mentally dealing with an injury can be exhausting. You know that it takes time, but every athlete falls into a few bad habits or choices while recovering. Some athletes can get downright depressed while recovering. Here are a few tips on how to get through the mental recovery game, while your body works on the physical.
Bad Habit: Feeling Like You Lost Your Identity
Good Habit: Actually Find Your Identity
When you become great at something athletic and your body has begun to change based off of the regimen you use to train, an injury can feel like more than just a loss of your physical freedom. Many career athletes feel a loss of self when they are sidelined. They’ve put so much stock into their ability to perform whatever athletic feats they have been able to, that no longer being able to do that cuts their confidence and may leave them wondering “who am I anymore?!” If this is you, this is the absolute best time to find out what other things you enjoy or are good at. Maybe you take up writing, or knitting, or become a Netflix connoisseur. There are no limits to what you’re capable of! If you find your identity is tied up in how quickly you can pedal/how much weight you can lift in the air/how accurately you can kick a ball…then you absolutely need to address it now before there are no more athletics and the depression hits you hard.
Bad Habit: Believing You’ll Be 100% Again
Good Habit: Accepting Certain Realities
Something happens when you have an injury, your body has to accommodate it because it will never be exactly the same. Your body is a feat of engineering miraculousness! Just because it keeps you alive without any effort on your part, doesn’t mean that it will just snap back into perfection after a broken fibula. Of course, these limitations differ based on the extent of the injury and the age when it happened, but even then…a torn hamstring means you’ll always be warming up extra to ensure its ok. A surgically enhanced knee will always leave the opposite side of the body a bit tight. And you’ll change your game up a bit when you realize you just can’t jump the way you use to. When an injury happens, immediately accept that you’ll be making some accommodations at some point and be ok with the fact that you’re athlete enough to make that happen. DO NOT expect to be 100% and then be upset when you’re not. 99% is just as great.
Bad Habit: Pushing Yourself Too Hard, Too Early
Good Habit: Listening to Your Doctor, Idiot
So you go to rehab and your doctor gives you exercises to do at home and in the gym. And for a little bit you stick to the regimen like a solider because you want to get better – and because it hurts too much to do anything more. But then you think if 3 days of rehab will get you better in 4 months, 6 days will get you back to awesome status in 2. So you push, a bit harder each time. Heavier weights, more ROM, longer stretching. And before you know it, you’ve developed something else not even related to your injury and your doctor is giving you a look of complete annoyance. Why? Because you pay him too much money to ignore his instructions! After my knee surgery, my doctor gave it to me straight, “Sarah – Do not ruin my work. I did a near perfect job, the only way you won’t be back to yourself is if you mess it up. Don’t mess up my perfect work.” The next time you want to rush time and push yourself too hard way too early, just remember that the injured space of body isn’t yours until the doctor gives the all clear. Don’t ruin what the body is fixing for you!