Coming Back From Injury
Updated: May 9, 2019
Getting injured sucks. No matter how big or small the injury, getting hurt sets you back physically and can cause emotional and mental distress as well. I've been there. In March of 2016, I fell off a pull-up bar, landed directly on my lower back, and broke 3 transverse processes. At that point in time, I was devastated. My team was fresh out of the CrossFit Open for the year, we had qualified for Regionals, and we were prepping for the competition. That fall meant the end of my season. Plus, when I fell, I had no idea what kind of repercussions there might be from an injury to my back. I was scared, sad, and angry at myself for letting it happen.
When I was laying in the hospital bed later that day, bawling my eyes out, I started to have a little conversation with myself. First off, it could be a lot worse. I could have broken actual vertebrae, ended up paralyzed, landed on my neck, broken even more bones, etc. Secondly, I'm lucky because I had built my strength and fitness up so much leading into this injury, that it probably protected me from being more seriously injured. I also knew that my fitness level would go on to help me in the recovery process. Last, I told myself that I was totally in control of how I handled this situation moving forward. This was just an opportunity to rebuild, fight my way back to where I was, and come back even stronger than before.
Positivity over negativity is the NUMBER 1 most important part of the recovery process. Think about it. If you sit there wallowing in how sad or mad you are that you got injured in the first place, what good is that doing you? Change your perspective. How can you grow from this experience? If you give yourself the opportunity to see the big picture, an injury just becomes a blip on the radar. It is a snap shot in time, that can be manipulated in whatever way you choose. I chose to have my injury become a learning experience, rather than a roadblock.
After I dried my tears, accepted the situation I was in, and told myself to woman the EF up, I headed back home to a pretty shitty reality. My doctor had told me that I probably wouldn't walk for the next 10 days, and that I had a long road of recovery ahead of me that would be dictated by my own pain threshold. WOULDN'T WALK FOR 10 DAYS?! Bro, do you even know me? I can't sit still for 5 minutes, much less 10 dang days. When I got home, I immediately called our team physical therapist, who made a house call that same day. With his help, and some relief from pain meds I had received in the hospital that day, I walked around my living room several times. Recovery started right away.
This brings me to small wins. The fun thing about injury is that you get to set new personal records EVERY DAMN DAY. That's right, I like to call them post-injury PRs. I started setting PR walking distances, PRs going up the stairs, PRs making it upstairs to the shower (LOL but seriously, girl's gotta shower), PR bending down to touch my toes, etc. Then eventually, when you can workout again, everything feels like you are doing it for the first time again. This is your chance to reshape how you do things, for the BETTER!
When you get injured, it is important to take things slow when you are able to start exercising again, because your injury may have caused a change in your body's mechanics. In other words, as a defense or protection mechanism, your body may recruit the incorrect muscle groups to compensate for the inability of the injured muscles to perform at their full capacity. If we allow these patterns to recur over time, it can lead to permanently altered mechanics, and eventual re-injury. Listen to your body! If you feel yourself compensating for an irritated joint or muscle, back off from that particular movement, or think about breaking it down to it's foundations. I spent a lot of time going back to the basics. I retrained my core and balance before ever picking up a weight again. Then, when I was cleared to start back with regular strength training again, I started back VERY light, and gradually worked my way back up over time. Be patient, and be SMART!
More positives? Starting back at ground zero is super beneficial for several reasons. First, you get to re-teach your body how to move again. That means you can fix your technique on certain lifts or movements that you may have struggled with in the past. It provides you with the best environment to break down the movements to its fundamental pieces, and master them under a renewed sense of focus. There's no stress, because you are PRing every day, remember? Secondly, by correcting dysfunctional movement patterns you may have developed over time, you may find that you have now set yourself up to be better than ever. This is why we often hear about people coming back even stronger after injury! Third, and possibly most importantly, it gives you a greater appreciation for what our bodies are capable of, and how they can adapt and respond to any given situation. Give your body some credit. It gets put through the ringer sometimes, but it always gets back in the game when it needs to.
It took me about 8 weeks to get consistently back on track with CrossFit. I took my time working up to certain weights or movements and scaled when I needed to. No need for pride here! You may have been able to lift tons of weight before your injury, but why rush it? If you lift that heavy weight today, and it causes you to re-injure yourself, you have only managed to set yourself back another length of time, rather than progressing towards your comeback goals. It took me about 3 months to be able to do everything that I was able to do before, and it took about 6 months to be back to 100% on all my strength numbers from before. And guess what? Around that 6 month point, I was hitting true PRs on my lifts again, all because I took my time getting there.
Surprisingly, I didn't feel too fearful of getting back on the pull-up bar again after my fall. Maybe subconsciously I had some fear, but I wasted zero time reacquainting myself with it once I was able. I can attribute this, at least partially, to a lesson my Mom taught me from a near-drowning incident I had when I was three. She told me that she could have let me become fearful of the water because of that experience, or nip it in the butt right away. She enrolled me in swim lessons the following week. In other words, get back on that horse, you guys! Don't let movements get the best of you because they led to an injury. Start back slow, retrain them with caution, and ask for help from others, but never allow fear to dictate what you can and can't do in the gym.
Be persistent! If you want it bad enough, you will get back to where you were before. I was so determined to come back from that injury as a better, stronger athlete than I was before, that I spent the next year dedicating my life to training. As a testament to that hard work and training, I qualified for Regionals the next year (2017), as an individual. Obviously, mine is an extreme case. Not everyone is trying to be a competitive athlete, I know. The point is, if you set the bar high, and seek the help that you need in getting there, the sky is the limit. Soon enough, that that injury will become nothing but a distant memory.
For the record, those are 106 pound kettlebells that I had to deadlift a BUNCH of times. I think it's safe to say that my back made a pretty solid comeback. Injury is virtually inevitable in any sport. Dealing with those injuries can be tough, but should not become the end of your progress towards your fitness goals. Seek out help from qualified professionals that can help you down the road to recovery, be smart and listen to your body as you begin to go back to exercise, and retrain your mindset to think positively about the recovery process. Continue to set short and long term goals, and celebrate your small wins as you get back on track. Soon enough, you will be even more badass than you were before you got hurt!
I'm always happy to help, be your cheerleader, or your support system! Let me know if you are currently dealing with or have suffered from an injury in the past. What strategies did you use to overcome them? Do you feel like you came back stronger, or are you still struggling with your recovery? I hope my story helps you out some, and shows you that you CAN come out on the other end stronger and better than ever!