Nobody likes getting injured, but if you’re active and play sports, especially contact sports, chances are at some point you have or will experience some sort of musculoskeletal injury. But be reassured, as Mike Boyle would say “this doesn’t make you a bad person.” Unfortunately, injuries are a part of sport, and however big of an obstacle it is to overcome and get back to the thing you love, it’s all really what you make of the situation that determines your road to recovery and getting back on the field. From a minor sprain to a broken bone, these are all steps you can take to improve your recovery, but also put yourself ahead of the curve when you do return to your activity.
Train Around Your Injury
So, you’re injured. Despite popular belief this doesn’t mean you should take two weeks off and then you’ll be good to go. Rest can be a weapon, but it can also be an anchor. You’re an active person, an athlete and you can’t afford to take that much time off and run the risk of falling behind your teammates or competitors. Not to mention, you’ve worked hard all off-season to get to where you are now, why not try to maintain what you have? So maybe you have a sprained ankle, a broken hand, a separated shoulder or even a torn ACL and all those have their own challenges but each of those also have endless options that you can still do in the gym to keep your fitness level high. This might all seem overwhelming but a pretty simple rule to follow is “if it hurts, don’t do it.” For example, if you have an upper body injury, everything lower body is on the table; this means strength exercises, cardio or even sport specific skills and the opposite goes for lower body injuries. If you have a sprained ankle maybe do some arms only assault bike or battle rope intervals, or if you have a broken thumb do some shuttle sprints or maybe some sled pulls. Your options are endless to achieve and maintain your fitness goals even when you’re injured; you just have to work around what your body is telling you.
Work on Your Sleep Hygiene
Getting ample and quality sleep is probably one of the easiest things you can do to speed up your recovery process. Your body recovers when you sleep, so why not take full advantage of it? Some simple strategies you can use to improve your sleep are:
- Setting a sleep schedule that gives you a minimum of 8 hours a night and sticking to it.
- Minimizing screen time and exposure to blue light before bed. These can be done by setting a “night shift” schedule on your phone, investing in a pair of blue light glasses, and turning off screens an hour before bed; this includes TV’s, tablets, and cell phones.
- Setting up a good sleep environment by minimizing the amount of light in your bedroom. Try to use blackout curtains, closing the door and laying your phone screen down on do not disturb when you go to sleep. Invest in a new mattress and pillow to make sure you’re well supported and comfortable.
- Limit food intake, alcohol, and caffeine close to bedtime. Heavy meals before bed will negatively affect your sleep as it digests, alcohol will disrupt your sleep patterns, and caffeine is a stimulant and does not allow your body or brain to relax and get good quality sleep.
The list goes on, but these are just some easy changes to make your sleep quality that much better.
Good Nutrition and Hydration
You wouldn’t put regular gas in a Ferrari, and you shouldn’t put refined sugar and processed foods in your body, especially when you’re in a state of healing. Eating good, healthy, and unprocessed whole foods will help your body heal. Hydration is also just as important for the healing process. Just like an oil change you get every 5000 km, your body needs water to keep its engine turning. The human body is made up of over 60% water and is vital for the function of all your organs, cells, muscles, and brain. To put it into perspective how much water you actually need per day compared to how much you’re probably getting: a 100 lb person needs ~2 L, a 150 lb person needs ~3 L, and a 200 lb person need ~4 L of water a day without any loss due to exercise. Hitting your hydration goals is crucial for a speedy recovery. Maintaining a constant level of hydration helps all the body systems stay lubricated and helps remove waste from the injury area, while also transporting all the good stuff that your sprained ankle needs to heal.
Set SMART Rehab Goals
Lastly, let’s set some SMART goals to guide your rehab. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. With the help of a trained therapist or other qualified health professional, setting these small goals and adhering to your rehab plan is pinnacle to your success. Back on to the car analogies, not setting these goals and following your plan would be like continuing to drive on a flat tire and instead of fixing the tire, you just fill it up with air until its flat again. Short term this is fine, but long term, who wants to continue to miss precious games and time rehabbing the same injury over and over again when you could have fixed your flat tire the first time? Set some small goals and take the time that you’re not out practicing or playing with the team to do your rehab exercises and get back to doing what you love sooner.
Adapting your workout around your injury, sleep, nutrition, hydration, and setting SMART goals are just a handful of the tools you can use to pave the path for a full and timely recovery. Next time you happen to find yourself of the sidelines be proactive, get creative and take control of your return to play strategies to give yourself the best chance at being back in the game.