Want to return from a sports injury even better than you were before it happened? It may sound impossible, but it’s not. Many athletes have mentally (and in some ways physically) improved their long-term performance after suffering an injury.
Once you have accepted the injury (see 5 Stages of Injury Recovery), there are three steps you need to take: treatment, rehabilitation and enhancements.
Acute injuries need quick treatment, but if the injury is not severe and immediate medical attention is not required, use the standard first aid treatment of RICE. This is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Follow that up by consulting a professional therapist and starting rehabilitation as soon as possible.
Recovering from an injury is a different journey for an athlete than for a more sedentary person. For an athlete, it’s not just about relieving pain, it’s about returning to full fitness. For example, a muscle tear must get completely repaired and regain its pre-injury capability, not just become functional again. In addition, the central nervous system must be retrained to engage the injured part the same way it did before.
Inadequate rehabilitation can leave scar tissue, both physically and mentally. A good therapist is vital if your body is to regain its full capability. In some cases, injured athletes must work harder during rehab than during normal training, not only to heal their injuries in the most efficient and functional way possible, but also to keep their conditioning levels as high as possible to make it easier to achieve full fitness.
When you approach it with a positive attitude, rehab can actually be used to enhance your training.
Design a Rehab Program. First, assess your limitations and discuss with your doctor or therapist what you need to avoid doing physically in the short term. They will help you design a progressive rehab program.
Note and Review. On your own, create a rehab diary. If you are coming back from a recurring injury, review your notes to recall what worked in the past and what needs to be cut. Consider both your strengths and weaknesses. Does your current training plan have a good balance? If not, discuss how to achieve this with a coach or trainer.
Educate Yourself. Gain more knowledge about your sport. Read, watch old videos and consult with experts. Talk about your performance with your coach and teammates. What should you be doing to make improvements? Become a more intelligent athlete with a greater wealth of knowledge.
Get creative. Since the injury may be preventing you from performing your regular workout program, use the time to get after aspects you might have been neglecting. Say you’re a runner who focuses on leg training, but you have a calf injury. Take the opportunity to build your core and upper-body strength—both extremely important but easy to overlook for runners. If your injury is to your dominant side, it may be possible to work the opposing side. Strength imbalances have a significant impact on performance. Use rehab time to cure them.