Mentally coping when injury sidelines your workouts Mentally coping when injury sidelines your workouts

Newsflash: injuries are a major buzzkill. Not only are they painful, but if your sprain or broken bone is keeping you from the gym and your regular endorphin hit, you can easily feel out of sorts. “Some people suffer a grief response to injury,” explains Professor Remco Polman, a Victoria University sports psychologist. “If you exercise a lot, it can be depressing.” But all is not lost – making a mental health plan to follow along with your physical rehabilitation can make all the difference to how you handle your recovery.

Try something new

With the exception of spinal issues, most injuries don’t require you to bypass exercise altogether – you just need to modify your program to work different parts of the body. “There are relatively few injuries that require total rest,” explains Marcus Dripps, president of the Australian Physiotherapy Association. “Most require relative rest of the affected body part or tissue, but you can often achieve that while still doing a whole lot of other things.”

So if you’ve done your shoulder or elbow, why not try a high intensity leg session or Spin class? Or if it’s your knee that’s causing you grief, give your upper body and abs some workout action. “If you need to scale back the intensity of your training in order to stop aggravating an injury, simply doing a powerwalk each day will still have you moving and burning fat,” says Fernwood Angel Genevieve Brock.

If you’re prescribed complete rest or to reduce the frequency of your sessions, Professor Polman suggests using the time to do something you’ve always wanted to do. “Often, we recommend engaging in other activities to keep your mind off it,” he says. “Do something with the family instead, or learn a new skill that you have not had the time to do.” If it’s a sense of achievement that you feel is lacking, then set yourself a challenge to make something or complete an activity that has always eluded you – think craft, cooking or poetry!

Use your workout time

Maintaining motivation to do rehabilitation exercises can be challenging, which is why Dripps suggests scheduling rehab sessions when you would ordinarily do your workouts. “We always try to get patients to quarantine the time they would normally be working to rehab stuff instead,” he says. Not only does it mean that you make time for rehab (which, let’s be honest, can be a challenge for even the most diligent of us!) but it means that you’ve kept the hole in your schedule for when you recover. “You don’t want to have the time you normally exercise taken up with something else,” Dripps says “If people get out of the habit of exercise when they are injured, it can be hard to recommence.”

Adulthood can be a particular threat to post-injury exercise maintenance. “Often people in their late 30s and early 40s drop out of exercise when they retire from team sport after an injury,” Dripps says. “But it’s important to find something to substitute for that. The type of activity you do will change throughout your life and making sure that it fits into a busy schedule is half the battle.”

Check in with your physio

One trip to the physio is rarely enough to keep the recovery wheels in motion. “Rehab exercises are going to need to be upgraded more frequently than your normal exercise program,” Dripps says. “There’s a good chance that after three days of rehab, you’ll need it upgraded if it’s feeling too easy or adjusted if you’re finding it too challenging.”

If frequent trips to the physio are out of your budget, Dripps suggests asking lots of questions at your appointments. “Have a conversation about what should I change first – the number of repetitions, the weight, the position?” Dripps says. “The answers will vary depending on the nature of your injury.”

See out your rehab

Exercise junkies can be tempted to get back on the fitness bandwagon too early, which Dripps strongly cautions against. “There are some conditions where if you push back too early, you make the condition worse and sentence yourself to more time of training with pain,” he says. Chronic tendon issues particularly require patience. “They can take months or years to get better,” Dripps says. “Have the injury properly managed – often if you get help early on, you can prevent a more chronic condition.”

Injuries can be a result of over-doing things, so take the opportunity to think about where exercise fits in your life. “This is an opportunity to have a physical and mental break from your training and examine in closer detail some of the things you might have been doing that led to an injury,” Brock says.

Talk it out

It’s amazing how much you can gain from talking to people who have been through your experience before. “Talking to people who have had similar injuries can be helpful,” Professor Polman says. Not only will you be able to get tips and advice about how they got through it, but it will serve to remind you that you’re not alone.

If your injury is holding you back from socialising with your gym buddies in group fitness classes, or keeping you off the netball court or dance floor, Professor Polman says you need to make an effort to keep social ties alive. “Maybe organise to do a different activity with those friends,” he says. “Or go along and help out in other ways so you remain involved.”

Take a positive position

Even the most perky people can feel depressed at the thought of an injury, but Professor Polman says the way you frame it can make all the difference. “Consider how you evaluate the situation,” he says. “If you see it as a threat it could make things seem worse, but if you see it as a challenge, you will probably come out of it better.”

Keep your friends and family in the loop about how you’re travelling, too. “Often there are no physical symptoms to be seen and other people can have difficulty imagining what it is like,” Professor Polman says. “Communicating will help them be able to support you.”

Patience will also help your headspace. “We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone, so utilise this time to start counting your blessings in your life,” Brock says. “Perhaps even start a gratitude journal and be especially grateful for your health. Injuries will heal and you have plenty of time to continue on your fitness journey.”

A personal trainer’s plan B

Just because you can’t make your usual class doesn’t mean your fitness should suffer. Here’s PT Genevieve Brock’s suggested swaps when you’re recovering from injury:

“Perhaps skip the full-body classes like Pump, Body Attack or Functional Fit until you have the full capacity to do all movements. Try a Spin class if you have an upper body injury, or you may be able to get away with a boxing class while supporting a lower body injury. Pilates classes can be a great way to continue exercising and can be easily modified around your injury.”