It is very rare that any sportsman or woman can go through their career without being struck by the injury curse. It could be a serious long-term injury or a smaller yet regularly recurring problem. It could well be one that puts your whole career in jeopardy. Indeed in the modern era, where sports science plays such a prominent role, understanding how to sufficiently recover from injury in order to fight your way back to full fitness is vital.
This process is both a physical and mental one – it can be excruciating but is one that has to be done properly for all athletes, no matter the standard they play at. Injuries are inevitable; the length of the recovery is what can be controlled through a proper rehabilitation process. You don’t necessarily need your own sports therapist to do this – a lot of it can be done yourself.
Coming back successfully from injury is as much about mental recovery as it is physical. Staying mentally strong when going through a frustrating spell on the side-lines sounds obvious yet it is of paramount importance. A lack of belief that you can come back and get over an injury impairs one’s ability to do just that, curtailing the focus that one needs if they are to regain full fitness - physically and mentally. Certainly, whether it’s through a fitness regime you’ve been given or one you have constructed yourself, having clear targets and aims to focus on are vital. Concentrating on and achieving each individual stage provides motivation and creates a positivity that is key during what is undoubtedly a difficult period in any athletes career.
Having some form of rehabilitation plan based on the extent of the injury is important. Yet, having the correct attitude towards it is especially vital. Once the initial effects of the injury have subsided, one needs a determined attitude towards working hard to get back to peak fitness. Doubts will creep in and at times it will feel easier to give up and accept that the fitness that allowed you to play regularly has long gone. It is then that mental fortitude must come to the fore.
Desire and willpower is not all that you need – patience is equally as significant. Taking the risk of trying to give 100% when you’re not ready is a recipe for disaster. The mind can play tricks on you – listen to your body, not your head. Unnecessarily aggravating a problem can destroy the progress you’ve made, sending you spiralling back to square one. If you want to avoid any exacerbation of the problem and increase your chances of avoiding a similar one in the future, understanding your injury and what caused it is also very wise. Although breaks and fractures could occur at any unfortunate moment, particularly in contact sports, muscular injuries can be more preventable. For example, you can consider whether you have warmed up and down properly. One should aim to comprehend what future steps are necessary to reduce the possibility of sustaining such injuries.
So what about the physical side to this route back to fitness? What actions should be taken to enable yourself to hit the ground running as soon as you start playing again? Firstly, building up strength again is critical, for either a muscle itself or for the surrounding area affected by a break. You don’t have to pay for a physio to build up strength and movability – doing the right weights at the gym or simply the correct stretches and exercises in your free time can do the job. This recovery will be greatly aided by making sure you eat and drink the right things during a period when you are not being as active as normal. Once the time has come again to get your boots on or pick up your racquet, you don’t want to be let down by a diet that has caused you to be severely lacking physically.
The ultimate physical challenge comes when you do start competing again, when a difficult balance needs to be found. Many argue it is best to ease yourself in and this to an extent is true. However, once in the midst of a match the worst thing one can do is to not commit properly to the task at hand. For example, backing out of a tackle through fear of your old injury puts you at greater risk of sustaining another. Not trying to play at the level you would normally strive to meet will leave you not knowing whether you have actually fully recovered. Additionally, when the dust has settled proper recuperation, such as the dreaded warm-down, should be undertaken.
Nonetheless, this balancing act doesn’t end there. One should at the same time attempt to reside on the side of caution when necessary. If that old injury starts to cause discomfort again, stop instantly. The desire to give more than you are physically able to at the time, irrespective of how admirable it is, should not ruin weeks of development. Take the necessary care both on and off the field and know your limits.
The road back from injury can be a long and exasperating one, yet if the necessary steps along it are followed, the fight back to fitness can be won a lot sooner than you may think.