Injury is something that any athlete will try to avoid at all costs. We spend so much time committing ourselves to our sport so that we can be faster, fitter, stronger and better than before. We want to be the best we can be, but, sometimes we are so focused and determined that some of us will allow an injury to sneak up on us without taking it fully on board until it’s too late. We deny that it’s there and know deep down that something isn’t quite right, but continue to push our bodies to the limit and before we know it, there’s a full blown injury and we are unable to train or race for long periods of time. This happened to me and I just recently got back to racing after over 2.5 years of injury, and over 2 years away from competing.
Injuries are difficult to deal with for any athlete. Whether you are a recreational athlete or an elite athlete, sport has similar functions in our lives. It can help us to cope with stress and can give us a sense of identity, becoming a part of who we are and what we do. It can also be a major source of self-esteem by providing us with positive reinforcement when we complete tasks, master skills or overcome challenges. But, when an athlete is hit with an injury, they can suddenly feel a sense of loss both physically and mentally. This was true for me when I had to come to terms with a painful and relatively long-term injury, not to mention the many other injuries I have suffered on the long road back to fitness.
Firstly, I began to lose my physical strength and fitness and was left feeling like I had failed and that my body had failed me. Then, losing a major source of self-esteem, I became full of self-doubt and began to question my self-worth. It seems extreme considering it’s a sporting injury and not a major health complication, but, even thinking of this made me feel bad about feeling bad. Looking back, I am surprised at just how much it affected me and my personality as I’m a generally positive and happy go lucky person, but the mental torture of injury crept up so slowly that I barely realised it was happening. I felt alienated and isolated with those around me working hard to achieve their goals while I watched from the side line, wishing I could do the same but knowing that I was in so much pain and discomfort that I couldn’t do any of it. I even felt like people from outside the sport were judging me and wondering why I wouldn’t just quit.
Learning to cope with an injury can be very difficult and some of us are much better at it than others. Some people say that the stages coping with and injury are similar to that of coping with grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. From personal experience, I can say that most of those stages did ring true for me over the past 2.5 years, and, although my injury was physical, the mental pain was just as bad.
For those struggling with injury, there are a few things that you can consider to help ease the mental torture. Firstly, I think it’s important to allow yourself to be sad. It’s ok to feel bad; you’ve lost an important part of what makes you happy. Accept the way it is and don’t keep thinking of what if or if only (I weren’t injured). Stay as positive as you can; I knew how important this was but even as a very positive person, I struggled with this. Being positive can help speed up the healing process and can help stop the misery and depression of an injury from taking hold.
Once you know what the problem is and how to fix it, then it’s time to do your rehab. It can be boring and tedious work, but it will help you to feel more in control and to feel more positive. It will help you stay focused on what you can do instead of dwelling on what you can’t. Set small goals for yourself, just for now forget your old goals and focus on the little steps.
Be as patient as possible, this is one of the most difficult aspects of injury. You need to allow enough time for the body to heal and repair. Rushing back can be one of the worst things you can do and can take you from almost better to fully injured again very quickly. Most injuries won’t have you out of the sport for as long as I was out, so, if you can be patient and focus on your rehab, chances are it will soon be a distant memory and you’ll thank yourself for having the patience to let it heal and repair.
These are just a couple of little points that I wish I had been more open to and aware of throughout my injury. Although I’m back to racing and even managing to win some races, I’m actually still rehabbing and building up after my injuries so I hope I can follow my own advice.