Injury is a natural, almost inevitable, part of being an athlete. When you train and play hard, everything from a subtly incorrect posture to general wear and tear can lead to a serious accident.
Post-injury, however, it can be hard to make the shift from recovery and rebuilding back to competition, no matter how eager you are to become active again after you get hurt. There are both physical and psychological barriers to making a comeback.
How do you work your way back to the playing field? Tap into your competitive spirit with these three tips from the pros.
1. Be Compliant
As an athlete, you’re used to pushing your body and being attached to the notion that you know your limits. This might have been true before an injury, but after injury, you have to re-familiarize yourself with what your body can do.
This process entails the decision to remain compliant with treatment and recommendations for rehab, even after you start to feel better. Being compliant with treatment doesn’t mean you must not seek alternatives or second opinions, but it does mean choosing a plan and sticking to it.
For example, some serious CrossFit competitors have tried treating injuries with stem cell injections, which is not the typical course of care for a torn meniscus or herniated disc. Ask about your options, but whatever you choose to do, don’t expect results overnight.
2. Take Your Time
In addition to committing to your treatment and rehabilitation plan, it’s essential not to rush the healing process. It can require months for a soccer player to come back from ACL surgery; many do not return to competition for at least seven or eight months.
This can feel like a lifetime for serious athletes, but you should not overestimate the value of a long recovery.
Taking your time is also beneficial in a psychological sense. It’s natural to fear that staying out of competition increases the mental barriers to reentry. There’s no question that it can for some athletes, but spending an extended period rebuilding your body can also help you feel more confident when it’s time to compete again.
Remember, your body is a machine, and the same way that competitive fishermen need to trust their boats and cyclists their bikes, you need to trust the machine that is your body.
3. Mind Your Stress
Third, as you work toward the goal of competing again, it’s vital to stay aware of your stress levels and manage them accordingly. Many athletes become demoralized and depressed when they can’t train and compete at their customary levels, because without familiar workouts, they may experience a loss of identity and reduced self-esteem.
It’s worthwhile for coaches to continue to work with injured athletes and modify sports skills so that top performers can continue to participate in practices to some degree, even when they’re injured.
It’s OK to feel down about being injured; it’s a natural result of losing one of your primary activities and emotional outlets. But don’t let those feelings control your life.
Instead, focus on the small victories that move you steadily back in the direction of complete fitness. The small goals will sustain you and demonstrate that you’re on the road to recovery, which can give you the confidence you will need when it becomes time to enter your first post-injury event.