For any collegiate athlete, injuries can be devastating. They can mean the loss of a season, playing time, championships and more. The tendency to catastrophize an issue, to picture any small tweak or issue growing into one of these larger-scale problems, is a tendency which exists among athletes facing any severity of injury.
For me, the worry began when I stepped in a mole hill during a cross country workout. I felt something in my hip, a little bit of a pull, but I kept going. My will to finish the workout was bigger than my will to admit anything was wrong. And how could something be wrong when it was the best workout I’d had all season? That just didn’t add up. So, I didn’t tell my coaches, and I didn’t even tell myself that anything was out of the ordinary.
And I was right: Nothing was out of the ordinary, at least not then. Subsequently, I had two days of practice where my hip felt perfectly fine, followed by a meet where I set a huge personal record. Everything was fine. Nothing was wrong.
Until it was.
After my race, I took a few limping steps on my cool down, my hip feeling weak enough to the point where it almost gave out. I shook my head, shook off the feeling that this was anything to be concerned about. I walked off the fear and anxiety, and I began my cool down again, this time with less pain. But even if the pain was less, it was still there.
Flash forward to the next day on my 12 mile long run, where I knew from the get-go that something was seriously wrong. Yet I pushed through it for seven and a half miles, not wanting to stop, not wanting to admit that there was a problem.
Why? For a non-athlete, this makes no sense. My body hurt. It physically demanded that I stop. Yet I didn’t. I kept pushing my body to its limit, all the while pushing away the idea that this was, dare I say it, an injury.
We athletes have such a stigma when it comes to the word “injury.” We might as well refer to it as the I-word. I feared saying it out loud and stopping my run would bring it into existence. I feared that stopping my run would be a sign that this god-forsaken “injury” was stronger than I was, that it was bad enough to the point where I couldn’t make it through a long run.
What I didn’t realize was that stopping wouldn’t make my injury any more real than it already was. The damage was already done. All stopping would do is recognize that.
Recognizing an injury and having one are two very different things. You can have an injury without recognizing it. You can continually deny that it’s there and continue pushing yourself harder than you should. Only when you allow yourself to recognize it, though, can healing begin.
As athletes, we think recognition is a sign of weakness, when really it’s a sign of strength. Strength encompassed by the three R’s. And no, I don’t mean reduce, reuse and recycle, although that does make for a strong planet. That, however, is a separate issue. The three R’s of strength are recognition, rehabilitation and recovery.
You can’t rehabilitate an injury without recognizing it, and you can’t recover without rehabilitation. The more stress you put on your body, the longer it takes for you to come to that point of recognition, the weaker your body becomes.
You’re doing nothing for yourself, or your team, quite frankly, by pushing yourself until you break, literally. You’re doing everything for yourself and your team, conversely, when you stop and really analyze what’s wrong.
Luckily for me, although it was still a little later than the ideal time frame, I stopped pushing myself and sought treatment for my hip injury. I was quickly diagnosed with a grade one muscle strain. Although it’s not the best diagnosis, it certainly isn’t the worst.
The night of the injury, I struggled with the fact that I knew I pushed myself harder than I should have. I replayed that run over and over again in my head, wondering if I’d be in better shape if I had stopped sooner. Now though, I’m just grateful that I stopped when I did rather than continuing to push myself.
Instead of thinking about all the ways I could have avoided being in the position I’m in now, I’m thinking about all the things I did right. I’m thinking about how much worse this could have been, and how I’m lucky it isn’t at that level.
Upon the initial injury, I couldn’t walk. Well, I could, but it was really more of an excruciatingly painful hobble than anything else. When I went to bed the night of the injury, I lay there in pain. My hip throbbed whether I moved it or not. I could feel my blood pulsing, my heart beating in my chest as I took in shaky breaths, trying to exhale the pain.
I woke up the next morning and saw little to no improvement, but the improvement I’ve seen since then has been much quicker than I ever could have imagined initially. I’m walking with a slight limp, but the pain is nothing compared to what it was.
I’m astounded at how quickly my body is bouncing back, but it reminds me: A positive attitude is everything when it comes to recovery, no matter what the injury.
Studies have shown that when it comes to healing, having a positive attitude can drastically change the recovery process for the better. According to Psych Central, positive thinking can help cure illnesses as severe as cancer. A muscle strain, by comparison, is nothing. A muscle strain will heal somewhat quickly on its own, but with a positive mindset, it will heal even more quickly.
When it comes to injuries, no matter what the severity, athletes need to listen to their bodies and recognize when enough is enough. When pushing feels more like pain than progress, when soreness feels sharp and prevents a simple stride from being, well, simple, recognize that a line has been crossed, and you need to turn back before you’re too far past it to even see it behind you.
It all seems logical, simple, even. But when you’re an athlete trapped in the mindset that you need to be constantly pushing yourself to improve, logic goes out the window. To ensure that your season doesn’t go out along with it, take a step back. Evaluate your pain. Take note of the severity of your injury, and seek treatment.
Denying yourself help isn’t strength, and admitting that you have a problem isn’t weakness. It’s actually the other way around.