Getting Over Injury: The Road to Recovery.
On the 16th of March 2015 I was riding my bike down a steep-ish road into a pretty little town called Portelas in Portugal. I was traveling at about 25mph, gently turning over the pedals on an easy recovery ride. At the time my triathlon season had been building nicely, I was hitting PB’s in the water, my running was going well and my ‘numbers’ on the bike were climbing. I felt well on point for my ‘A’ race in July – the Frankfurt Ironman in which I aimed to qualify for the Ironman World Championships. This, I had decided, was going to be ‘the year’ to go to Kona!
That was the day that I learnt that plans can literally change in a heartbeat. As I descended a car overtook me, however before even making it all the way past me, began to quickly swing back in. Worse still the car started slowing and veering right off the road towards a lay-by (we are on the right side of the road in Portugal). With one hand I was pushing the car off me as it continued into me, the back right wheel looming dangerously close. With my other hand I tried to steer as I was being forced off the road onto the pot-holey, gravely lay-by. It was at this point that my front wheel hit a large pot hole sending me ‘over the falls’ and landing hard on my left shoulder whilst cracking my helmet for good measure. And that was it, after ‘brief’ trip to the hospital I was sporting a fetching sling, some pretty epic bruises, a few cuts and grazes, oh and a broken collar bone. At that time I genuinely thought that’s it, season over….
Six weeks after the accident I wrote a short blog on recovery. By then I was running, riding and starting to swim again. By leaving no stone unturned I had managed to make a near full recovery in rapid time. I appreciate that I was lucky, it ended up being a clean break and surgery was not needed, however it also confirmed my belief that we can influence our recovery massively!
In this blog I’d like to rehash some of that original post, as well cover some new stuff. We all go through periods of injury and it’s how we react to these setbacks that determines the length of time we are out. We can influence our healing rates – yes even broken bones!
Top Tips For Recovery:
- Rest Up Initially. If it’s a break or a muscle tear then yes this may be obvious but remember, your body has sustained trauma and needs to recover: stress, tiredness and fatigue will all hinder recovery.
- Keep the injury in the correct position. I know this sounds basic, but if it’s a break or dislocation then keeping your injury in correct position and eliminating movement early on all helps the healing process.
- If you have broken a bone then your body needs calories to mend bone(s). Make sure you are getting a good balanced diet with a healthy dose of protein. Obviously a little common sense needs to be applied here if you can’t exercise. The main point to take away is not to freak out that you are suddenly going to start gaining weight. You need to make sure your body is getting everything it needs to repair itself. There are even some anecdotal studies sighting that creatine and protein supplementation will help speed bone repair – a bit like they help with building muscle.
- Cut back on alcohol and smoking. OK this is a nutrition blog and I shouldn’t need to tell you this – however both of these WILL negatively impact on the healing process whether its bone or muscle! Feeling sorry for yourself and going out on big one WILL negatively impact. Added to that it’s not uncommon for people to re-injure themselves when they are drunk. That being said, one glass of wine or a beer is not going to hurt and may lift spirits. Again – apply common sense.
- Get in the nutrients. During my injury I started my days with a smoothie containing kale, spinach, half a small avocado, almonds, coconut milk, a teaspoon of greens powder and a few frozen berries. My thinking on this was to pack in the leafy greens early each day. I was getting protein, fat, some carbs and plenty of nutrient dense foods that were high in calcium and collagen – key to bone repair.
- Supplements. I also supplemented with vitamin C, a multi vitamin pill and omega 3. The multi vitamin was a hedge and probably not entirely necessary however *vitamin C has been shown to help with injury recovery (I did not try this, however new anecdotal research has shown that super dosing on vitamin C can help heal long term injuries, the research is in its early stages at the moment though – so it’s more n=1 experiment). And a good quality omega 3 supplement is a must have for anyone doing large volumes of exercise.
- Grilling your medical professional on when you can start rehab and what to do. If you want to come back quickly from injuries you need to start rehab as soon as you can. In my case I started easy exercises after just two weeks and gradually progressed. Often doctors will be too cautious, if you think this is happening seek alternative advice. Sports specific physio’s, oesteo’s etc. Do your research and ask around, “who can best help me make a speedy recovery”. Then when they give you exercises to do, do them! I can safely say it’s the first time I have been a “teacher’s pet”. Every time I went back to the physio I had made good progress. Finally I probably saved myself another 4 or 5 sessions because I recovered quicker so it can save you money too!
- Do your own research on your injury and rehab. Don’t just take people’s word for it – research and make sure you are asking the right people the right questions. I spent hours looking at nutrition studies and exercise tips on YouTube, all in order to speed my recovery. It’s amazing what you can find out there.
- Use this time to recover/rest from whatever you were doing. I was training for my Ironman and thus had to go from being fairly fatigued in heavy training to no training. Flip this to a positive. Maybe you needed a break, you didn’t want to over train or peak too early. You can come back stronger after some well needed rest!
- Use your extra time productively. I was chatting to a friend who had a similar lay off and he made good use of his newly found free time by putting in a extra hours at work (got promoted), went on more dates and generally was more social. We, as athletes, have to miss the odd social occasion or are very time-pressed. Use the time that you would be training to do your rehab and improve yourself and dare i say it enjoy yourself.
- Following on from this point. If…you are in a position to still go for your A race then re-set your goals. Can you still hit your targets? Possibly not. So are you going to have to make more sacrifices and change the plan. After my quicker than expected recovery I had to condense my training into a smaller window. As a result I missed a mate’s stag do weekend and numerous nights out as I had to factor in more training and the extra recovery needed. Ultimately it’s your choice on how to approach these things – but its worth remembering that you may need to make more sacrifices in order to get to where you want to get.
- Finally – stay lucky! Keep that positive approach – flip everything around to be a positive. Positive people will recover faster. I convinced myself that before my injury I was going to peak too early and that the 6 weeks recovering from a broken collar bone forced me to pull back, re-focus and peak at the absolutely critical time. It doesn’t really matter whether this was rubbish or not, point is I convinced myself that this was the case. The human mind and body are very powerful things when working towards a focused objective, you will surprise yourself what you can achieve. So, if you are reading this right now and feeling a bit sorry for yourself as you’re injured and your summer plans have potentially been rail-roaded, then take control and do something right now to set yourself back on track!
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