No matter how minor, an injury always feels like a major set-back. Even the most benign of ailments can bring significant mental turmoil.
Doubt enters our mind in the form of: “I allowed this to happen, and we begin to stress over even the most minor of injuries by ascribing more meaning to them than they deserve. It is so easy to allow feelings of self-doubt creep in that tell us that we are negligent or incompetent by allowing the injury to happen. We begin to tell ourselves, “If I let this happen, it obviously means:
- “I am not a smart athlete.”
- “I am not as body aware as I thought.”
- “I did something wrong without realizing and I am prone to do it again.”
Then fear comes in to play in the form of: I’m not safe.” Even when we resist crippling self-doubt, we can become consumed by fear from the risks of our training. While an injury can snuff out the reckless abandon that many younger (and never yet suffered a significant injury) athletes approach their training with, we can take that lesson too far.
It’s easy to feel: “I did everything right and this still happened,” which can lead to “I am never safe.” Eventually you may think: “I’ll never let myself push near my limits again.”
While fear and doubt are normal reactions to an injury of any scale, they can prevent us from moving toward the lessons that every injury brings. Learn to move through the inevitable emotions that follow an injury as quickly as possible, and re-frame the situation toward what you can learn.
Injuries Bring Awareness, Always
One of the highest-order goals of any fitness journey is stronger self-awareness. This includes body awareness, but also a deeper awareness of how best to care for and nourish yourself in all aspects of life. A fitness journey can be a gateway to a deeper level of introspection. However, regardless of our best efforts to notice, feel, and ultimately learn from everything that arises in our training, we will inevitably miss something. Even the most body-aware coaches and athletes will miss critical lessons leading them further down the path toward injury.
The sooner we accept that injuries happen (despite our most earnest prevention efforts), the sooner we can understand the lessons they can teach. And, an injury always offers a lesson.
Reframe Your Injury
Resist allowing your injury to tell you that you are not as good/aware/strong/mobile/capable as you thought you were. Rather, let it say:
- “I want to make you better.”
- “I want to show your something that you haven’t seen yet.”
- “I want you to work on something that you didn’t yet understand as important.”
While most of the time outside our conscious control, injuries are never random. When playing detective we can often look back to connect previously-seeming disparate dots. The inspiration for this article comes from my most recent injury, an inguinal hernia. While I had no idea that I was slowly developing this injury, I can now look back to understand the factors that created the perfect conditions for it to arise.
My left leg is disproportionately strong and my leg hip far more stable than the right. This is from both natural tendency and my personal history of chosen sports. I suffered a severe right ankle sprain 18 months ago that further exacerbated my left-side favoritism. All of this conspired to create minor yet long-term increased loading in my left hip and abdomen. The hernia’s birth still required an acute incident, but I had created the right environment. The lesson here is not in the specific dots that now appear to perfectly align.
The lesson is in the fact that I knew about each and every one of these imbalances and was actively working to remedy them. The lesson is acceptance that, despite our best efforts, injuries happen. The sooner we can move through the doubt and fear to a place of acceptance, the lessons reveal themselves.
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford
Enduring the physical pain, inconvenience, and other symptoms of an injury will never be fun. Fixing the acute damage will always be uncomfortable and costly. Rebuilding to our previous strength will always be a tedious road. Injuries will always move our journey forward if we allow them to; if we see them not as set-backs, but as the teachers that they are.