I have a long-term injury, what now?
Injuries are unfortunately an inevitable part of sports. Apart from the physical pain, they also carry with them a great psychological burden, which is many times heavier than the physical one.
Mental stress is the result of a variety of emotions – it might be fear for a place in the team, fear of losing form, fear of re-injury, fear for a contract, or sadness and anger at missing a dream event. Some athletes feel a sense of injustice and unfairness – why did this happen to them and why now?
Moreover, they are deprived of doing what they love to do for a long time. And the recovery process is often accompanied by stereotypical activities where the athlete misses the camaraderie they are used to. Add to this the physical pain and the athlete faces a big challenge – how to manage all this and come back, as the popular saying goes, stronger than before?
Don’t fight, accept the situation
Immediately after an injury, the athlete is shocked, in pain, confused or angry. What happened to me and what does it mean for me and my career? These emotions and thoughts are natural and everyone needs to experience them. Don’t repress them, don’t try to be positive when you don’t feel like it. However, don’t dwell on them. When the strongest emotions come up, accept the situation as it is. Don’t change it, don’t fight it, don’t blame yourself. Injury is temporary, it belongs to sport. You will come back. Acceptance will take time, but it’s the most important phase, without it you won’t move on. There are many athletes who have come back stronger after injuries, both physically and mentally. It’s not about what happened to you, it’s about how you approach it.
It doesn’t have to be lost time
Injury means more free time. Try to find something you’ve wanted to do or get better at for a long time. Find something that makes you feel like you’re moving forward and it’s not lost time. Whether it’s reading new books, improving a foreign language, meditating, spending more time with family and friends, catching up on schoolwork, starting a business, or strengthening other parts of your body that aren’t injured. What you choose is up to you. If you’re productive, your mental wellbeing will increase. The brain still needs something to do and build. That’s when dopamine is secreted, which makes us feel better. Also, treat yourself to activities that give you good energy. You’ll need it. Don’t focus too much on being hurt.
Small steps towards a big goal
The recovery process, especially in the beginning, can seem endless. Try giving yourself small goals – for example, on a weekly basis. What do you want to achieve or improve in that week? Compare what you’ve improved in the last week or two. Your mind needs to see small achievements. Even small progress is a step forward. And it brings you closer to the big goal. Don’t focus too much on the actual return, it can seem very far away and can demotivate you. Focus on the incremental steps on the road to return. Enjoy each improvement.
It is important to be as responsible as possible during the recovery process. Follow what your physical therapists or coaches tell you. In addition, a good lifestyle will help you to get well as soon as possible and, more importantly, with good quality of life. For example, sleep is key – it is the most effective form of recovery. Mental and physical. Get quality sleep – at least 8 hours a day. The best sleep for physical recovery and restoration of bodily functions, bones or muscles is before midnight. Diet is equally important. Your body needs to have quality nutrition to rebuild tissues and heal injuries. As long as you don’t neglect this, you’ll feel stronger when you return and you’ll be less worried about re-injury. You’ll know your body got what it needed.
More haste, less speed
As the return begins to approach and the pain subsides, athletes often become impatient and would love to be going into a full training already. That’s understandable. However, the important thing is to be patient and not rush your return. Hasty return could cause re-injury and the recovery time would be unnecessarily prolonged. It is crucial to listen to the recommendations of trainers or physical therapists. Trust the process.
You’ll get into it
After returning, sometimes things don’t go the way athletes would like them to. Long-term training lapses often show up in speed, accuracy or fitness. It’s natural. You can’t expect yourself to do as well as you did before the injury. Give yourself time to get back into shape. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Again, give yourself short-term goals for training, for the week. What are you going to focus on that week and what do you want to be better than the previous workout/week? After each week, evaluate what you’ve already done better in your training or competition performance than the week before.
Fear of injury recurrence is also common during this period. Try different movements or activities in training that you are afraid of, slowly at first, without higher intensity, to gain confidence. Gradually increase the intensity. Trust the process you have been through and recover properly.
The most important thing about coming back is that you can do what you love again. Enjoy it. Enjoy the fact that you’ve come through a tough time, that you’re with your teammates again, and that you can score goals, score points, win fouls or break your own records again.
Injuries are not a pleasant part of sport, but they are part of it and few athletes avoid them. It is important to know not only how to manage it, but especially how to prevent it. Proper recovery, compensatory exercises, good diet and sleep are key in injury prevention. Whether we follow these is everyone’s responsibility.