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If you’re an active person with an overuse injury, you know about the ocean of websites and Youtube videos promising to heal you in no time flat. Endless strengthening exercises, foam rolling, massage, and stretching, in a hundred different combinations. Too often the most important part of your body in the healing process goes ignored: the head.
Followers of Velophoria.com, my previous blog, know that I’m a long-time cyclist who’s had problems with his knees for about ten years. It’s been a cruel, on-again-off-again affair; a year or so of riding like a champ, then a couple years riding like a chimp. Rinse and repeat.
One of the most insidious aspects of chronic injury is that your best means of relieving stress suddenly becomes a stressor in itself. If you get pent up from work or personal problems, you can’t just get on the bike and ride it off.
To top it off, if you’re like most people, you do that anyway (because, hey, how much damage could one ride do? That PT doesn’t know everything!). You thereby delay your recovery, creating yet more stress, leading to more cheating. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this.
So, what are some ways to get on top of this ever-tricky head game?
Tip # 1: Go directly to the most respected medical or physical therapy expert in your town, and do exactly what they say.
Do not pass Go. Do not diagnose yourself. Most especially, do not prescribe your own recovery regimen via the web or other athletes. With the hundred variables at play in the body, it’s dead easy to come up with the wrong answers and spend weeks aggravating the problem.
The psychological skill comes in here when, even after you go to the expert, and follow their advice for many weeks (and you must, before you decide if it’s working) you still may make little or no progress. No expert understands every single problem that comes their way. So what do you do then?
Find another expert. Quickly. Don’t fall back on the Web, and most of all, don’t start juggling variables after reading that someone’s “identical” problem (no such thing) was fixed in one day by a change in saddle height or a special physiotherapy taping technique. Myself, I’ve had many rides when I’d stop three or four times and whip out the multi-tool to adjust my seat. My poor riding buddies!
Tip #2: Find something else to get excited about, as soon as possible.
You’ll need something to look forward to in place of your next ride or run. Without it you’ll be miserable, and that much more likely to cheat on your slow recovery plan.
Make it as disconnected from your sport as possible. If you are a cyclist, don’t make a project out of finally repacking your worn-out hubs. When they’re done, what’s the first thing you’re going to want to do?
Instead, fall back on something really different that you genuinely like. It doesn’t have to be shiny and new, nor does it have to have a big ramp-up. I took up drawing again after years away, which, as a bonus, quickly got me back outdoors in a low-impact way.
Tip #3: Drop your expectations. All of them.
This is actually the most important by far, but I put it third because no one wants to hear, “It’s going to take way longer than you think.” But believe me; I’ve been through the wars on this, and the more completely you let go of your old sources of satisfaction—mileage goals, altitude records, etc.—the quicker you’ll recover, and the less disgusted and burnt out you’ll be when you do. (See #2…)
Cheating on your activity level—whether intensity, duration, or frequency—is the very best way to sabotage yourself. You’ll never be able to tell how much effect the rest of your program is having, because you’ll be undermining it by sneaky, undetectable degrees.
I know I sound preachy here, but I’ve learned each of these points the hardest way possible: by spending years fudging on them, and delaying a true recovery. Maybe this will be my year; I've spent the last four months assiduously following these rules. And hey, just today, I rode an hour with only minor aches and twinges!
Well, that's all for me—I’m off to sing a while.
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