Success is not necessarily defined by winning or by the number of trophies someone has; it can sometimes be characterized by a person’s longevity in a particular sport. Unfortunately, injuries often determine one’s fate in many different sports.
Ideally, most of us would certainly like to avoid injuries altogether. However, anyone who practices physical sports or extreme sports will tell you that injuries are like death and taxes… no matter how careful you are, they are inevitable.
Even when we do everything right, we can get unlucky one day and get hurt through an event we couldn’t predict.
It doesn’t always happen in the gym either. An injury can occur through accidents, while practicing other sports, falling, slipping, or simply while playing with the kids.
Over the years as a trainer or coach, I’ve seen injuries of all kinds and all severities that have affected people to the point where they quit working out entirely.
I have competed and participated in various physical sports all my life and had never suffered an injury until the age of 27. Since then, I have had some fairly minor injuries and some pretty debilitating ones, including:
- Major disc bulge between L4 and L5 three times
- Left shoulder partially separated three times
- Patellar tendonitis simultaneously in both knees
- Adhesive capsulitis (Frozen shoulder) in both shoulders
- Broken tibia at the base of the ankle
- Pulled hamstring
- Tendonitis in both shoulders
- Severe tendonitis in both elbows
- Sprains of all kinds in neck, back, ankles, wrists, and knees
- Major shoulder subluxation (partial dislocation)
Although some of these injuries were excruciating and took a considerable amount of time to heal completely, I had never missed a workout and, with the exception of a broken ankle, had never missed a hockey game due to an injury until January of this year.
I have been a competitive bodybuilder since 1997. Coincidentally, that is the same year I suffered my first major injury.
Although I suffered a few injuries as a rookie, not all the injuries listed occurred in the gym. I strongly believe that one of the reasons I’ve been able to still remain competitive in various sports after all these years is what I call injury management. I’d like to share my approach on the subject.
The first step to injury management is to immediately seek professional help from the right people. Unless you truly know your body, ignoring injuries — even minor aches and pains — can often develop into more severe problems down the road.
Depending on the pain or injury, I have a team of several specialists that I completely trust and consult with when I need to. The ones I refer to the most are physiotherapists (aka physical therapists), chiropractors, massage therapists, and medical doctors.
I have several of each that I trust completely. If one is too busy to see me right away, then I simply call up another.
A physiotherapist knowledgeable in sports injuries is an important resource to have when it comes to preventing and treating many injuries.
Physiotherapists understand anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics. A good physiotherapist can properly assess a problem or injury, help accelerate the healing process, prescribe exercises to strengthen the affected area, and make suggestions of movements and exercises to avoid until the injury is completely healed.
Although chiropractors focus primarily on the health of the spine, they can also provide diagnosis, treatment, and preventative care for disorders related to the pelvis, joints, and nervous system.
A healthy spine is extremely important for proper nerve function throughout the body. This is not only vital for health, but also extremely important to maximize your performance in any sport.
Not to be confused with a masseuse, a massage therapist can help treat problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and nerves. Regular massage can help improve blood circulation in muscles and joints, reduce stress, relax stiff muscles, and help improve recovery time from injuries and physical activity.
I prefer massage therapists knowledgeable in the practice of myofascial release or active release techniques for soft tissue therapy.
Although many think that a good medical doctor current on the latest medical and nutritional research is very hard to find, it is important to at least find a doctor that is willing to work with you to find the right help you need in a timely fashion.
In Canada, you need a doctor to get blood work done, to get prescriptions for MRIs (unless you are paying for it yourself through a private clinic), and to get referrals to other medical specialists. Many insurance companies also require a doctor’s prescription for massage therapy or physiotherapy.
Personal trainer or strength coach
Having access to a good personal trainer or strength coach is always beneficial, especially during times of injury. The design of a training program that will take into consideration your injuries is crucial to keep you off the couch and in the gym.
A good trainer will help you work around your injuries, take into consideration recommendations from your physiotherapist, and help you polish up on your technique to prevent other possible injuries.
The health industry is filled with a variety of specialists like acupuncturists, osteopaths, homeopaths, naturopaths, and many others.
I don’t believe that there is a miracle field that will treat or cure everything. Nonetheless, I do believe that most have their place in the industry and that they can work together. Consulting some of these specialists on a regular basis can be costly. If you have medical coverage, then take advantage of it.
Understand the problem
Another important step to injury management is educating yourself about the injury you have suffered. Read up on anatomy and physiology regarding the affected area. Try to understand everything you can about the injury in question.
This will help you understand how the injury occurred and, more importantly, what movements or exercises you should avoid until you have fully recovered. You will also be in a better position to discuss the injury with other specialists and formulate an opinion for yourself.
By learning from the injury and understanding how it occurred in the first place, you will be in a better position to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. You might even be able to avoid other similar injuries altogether.
The more you learn, the more in tune you will be with your body, and the more you will know about yourself.
Nutrition is important
John Berardi and other nutrition experts have been preaching the importance of proper nutrition for years. Good nutrition is important to supply nutrients, vitamins, and minerals throughout the body to maintain energy levels, to maintain a strong immune system, and to regulate hormone levels.
Good nutrition also helps fight off the damage that may be caused by too much exposure to the sun, smoke, and pollution. And it plays an important role in fighting major diseases.
We also know that good nutrition is crucial to maintain or achieve a healthy body composition. Finally, nutrition plays an important role in improving performance in various physical activities and sports.
Don’t overeat, but do feed healing
It is easy to get depressed when an injury occurs and go off on an eating frenzy. Most of us have done it and most of us know that it is the worst thing that we can do to our body.
Proper nutrition becomes even more important when we are injured, since one of the body’s priorities is to heal.
A well-balanced diet will not only keep you healthy, but also help supply the injury or affected area with much-needed nutrients that will help accelerate the healing process.
For instance, proteins and amino acids are important for muscle and tissue maintenance and repair. The right herbs, phytochemicals, and a proper ratio of oils will help manage inflammation.
Eating the right quality foods is important, but so is eating the right quantity. Berardi has mentioned that sports injuries or minor surgeries can increase basal metabolic rate (BMR) by as much as 15-20%. If the body is missing any nutrients or simply not getting enough food altogether, then the healing process will be delayed or the affected area may not heal properly.
Chances are, if you are already eating well when you get injured, your body will be one step ahead. Not only will your injury heal faster, you will also maintain a healthy body composition and be in a much better position to regain your original form once your body has fully recovered.
One of the worst things you can do when you get hurt is to completely eliminate all physical activity. Resting the affected area and proper sleep are crucial to a good recovery. But this doesn’t mean that you need to become a couch potato.
Unless you are in a body cast or lying in a hospital bed, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t work around an injury.
Modifying your workout routine
If you understand why or how the injury occurred, what aggravates it, and what you need to do to make the affected area better and stronger, you can easily modify your workout routine to work around the injury until it is fully healed.
Depending on the type of injury and its severity, the changes to a workout routine might be as simple as modifying a grip to an exercise or replacing an exercise by another.
If the injury is a little more severe, you might need to modify a workout routine to completely avoid a body part.
In extreme cases, it might mean that you can’t do much in the weight room other than rehab exercises. In these cases, you might be able to focus more on core exercises and perform more cardio.
What is the alternative?
We already know that if we don’t train a particular body part, there is a very strong possibility of losing strength and probably even muscle. By eliminating exercise altogether the whole body becomes negatively affected.
Is there anything more depressing than losing strength, muscle, cardiovascular fitness, and a negative change in body composition all at the same time? The only way to avoid this and minimize the damage is by staying active.
An extra motivating factor is that maintaining a certain level of fitness only requires a fraction of the intensity, frequency, and volume that you were training at before your injury.
The mental component
Staying active is much better for the body and also plays a big psychological factor in recovery.
Not only will you recover more quickly, you can avoid depression and be in a much better position to return to your original form once your injury is fully healed. The cross-training might even open up a whole new world of activities that you might have never considered trying.
How soon can we return to our original activity?
Once an injury is healed, the speed at which we can return to our original activity may depend on several factors.
How severe is the injury?
Obviously, a minor shoulder sprain will affect you far less than a full shoulder dislocation. The more severe the injury, the longer the recovery time and the longer it will take to get back to your original form.
Are you seeking help from the right professionals?
Seeking help from the right professionals will ensure that the injury heals properly, help educate you in the process, and minimize the chances of the same injury occurring again.
Are you doing your rehab exercises?
Depending on the injury, a physiotherapist will give you rehab exercises to help strengthen the affected area and help you recover more quickly. These exercises are often forgotten or ignored by many and will certainly affect the speed of recovery and the probability of the injury occurring again. Besides, why would someone pay for advice and not follow it?
Are you remaining active?
Being proactive and taking control of your body is essential for a speedy recovery. You will help lessen the damage by limiting loss of muscle, strength, and cardiovascular fitness.
Coupled with proper nutrition, you will also be in a much better position to maintain ideal hormone levels, a healthy metabolism, and a favourable body composition.
Are you eating properly?
We must never forget the importance of eating well to stimulate recovery. For more detailed information about nutrition and injuries, John Berardi and Ryan Andrews wrote a great article on the subject. You can find that article here.
How old are you?
Although many of us hate to admit it, age does play a factor in injury recovery. As we get older, hormone levels change, our metabolism can have a tendency of wanting to slow down if we don’t keep stimulating it, and we just don’t heal the way we did when we were younger.
But this gives us even more incentive to stay in shape as we age. After all, consider the alternative.
Injuries really suck. But if you don’t deal with them, you can often aggravate the problems, both physically and psychologically.
The way I see it, there are two ways to deal with an injury. We can sit on our butts and cry about it or we can get off our butts and do something about it. I prefer the latter.
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