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Injury: The Dark Horse Opponent

Written by Patrick Lawerence PT, DPT
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PatrickLawrenceInjuries are not fun: inconvenient, unpredictable, emotionally and physically painful. They are dreaded by athletes and recreationalists of every skill and every competitive level. Their apparent negative effect is on the physical body, but because a physical injury can interrupt the pursuit of athletic goals, they can greatly impact mental well-being. It is easy to give in to frustration and disappointment and a whole heap of negative emotions because of an injury. But only if we let it.

InjuriesYouShouldKnow 550x450Though we cannot change the incident of injury, we do have control of our attitude about the injury. Instead of viewing injury as a stop sign to our goals, we can view it as another opponent to compete against. Recovering from an injury requires physical training and mental discipline, just like the training needed to take on a challenging rival or a beat a 5K personal record. Adopting this viewpoint can protect us from giving into negative emotions and can fuel the motivation to continue committing the time, energy, and resources for recovery. A mantra I often use is: “Patience and persistence.” One should be patient in the healing process and persistent in the recovery.

Additionally, the road of recovery is full of opportunity. When time off is needed for healing, it can be an opportunity to practice a hobby or learn a skill that has been on the back-burner. It can grant us more time to reconnect with people. We can take a step back and view the sport in the “big-picture-of-life,” and rekindle appreciation for things outside of the sport and foster gratitude for the life lessons of the sport itself.

Injury can reveal weaknesses in other areas of our sport and create opportunity to improve them. For example, a baseball pitcher with an elbow injury may learn he has weak core muscles, and can train up the core to throw more powerful and efficiently. A runner with a knee injury can learn she has weak hip muscles, and strengthening them during time off from running can help improve her running form and return to the sport stronger and faster. Often times, addressing these weaknesses will prevent injuries from recurring. Also, taking time off from physical practice can give one the opportunity to work on “mental practice,” such as visualizing techniques and sharpening mental discipline.

Unfortunately, injuries are common, and many people face the challenge of recovering from them. No one is alone in their injury. It is easy to get stuck on thoughts like: “Why did this happen to me?” or “If only I had moved a little to the left, I wouldn’t have gotten hurt.” These are dangerous thoughts. When we repetitively re-live the incident in our mind, we get stuck in the past and do not focus attention on how to get better. We get swallowed up by guilt, disappointment, and apathy. This is injury’s most dangerous skill. Rather, when we shift our view to see injury as an opportunity to become better as a person and as an athlete, the results can be surprising. It will lighten the load during the recovery journey, and can build us up in ways we could not have predicted. Injury is just another opponent to overcome.

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