You’re injured. So…now what?

After an injury, many people find themselves wondering what lies ahead. Read below for some helpful tips in order to help you mentally recover.

Regardless of your fitness level or how you became injured, mentally overcoming your injury can lead to a shorter healing time and a stronger well-being. Take a positive spin — think of your injury as a way to reset your body, rather than a setback to your everyday life. Here are seven tips to aid you in mentally overcoming your physical injury:

#1. Take responsibility
Once pain is present, it is now up to you to accept it and get better; you are responsible for your own healing process. Even if you sprained your ankle by slipping on ice outside a store or suffered whiplash from being rear-ended by another driver, continued blame of the external environment in which the injury occurred will only delay healing. Take control of what you can, which means taking care of yourself. This is quite a difficult feat for most of us, and practicing acceptance is key. Mindful meditation can be helpful to refocus your current condition. This site was a great first step for me:

#2. Breathe
 Deep breathing (aka diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing) not only eases muscle tension (that you may not even realize you are holding onto), but it also dampens your sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system, which after an injury, is in a heightened state. This can cause your pain that is moderate (4/10) to feel severe (8/10). Taking time to practice deep breathing daily as you heal, even just five minutes a day, can provide you with a better mindset about your injury and help to decrease your pain.

#3. Slow down and listen
 Ignoring your pain or pushing through a movement that causes pain can lengthen healing time. This is especially true if you are going right back to your normal routine. Every time you experience the pain to the injured site (which can present as a sharp sensation), you are activating the same inflammatory agents that initiated the healing process right after the injury happened. While the inflammatory response is very effective and efficient in healing the damaged tissues short-term, it is not good for the inflammatory agents to stick around long-term. The more you slow down and focus on controlled, pain-free range of motion, the less responsive the inflammatory agents will be, therefore, allowing the body to become less reactive. This allows for the body to complete the entire tissue healing process. Simply put “No Pain No Gain” is not a good motto to live by, especially while recovering from injury.

#4. Learn about yourself
 How much time did you invest in knowing your body before your injury? Although you may never get to the root of the cause of your injury, take this time to learn about factors that may have set you up to be vulnerable to injury. Did you trip, fall, and break your arm? Did you tear your rotator cuff while doing bench presses? Improper body mechanics, muscle imbalances, and poor balance can all make you susceptible to injury. For example, if you did trip and fall, how great was your balance beforehand? Can you comfortably stand on one leg without becoming unstable? If not, you may require focused balance exercises to help improve stability as you maneuver through your environment. The same thing holds true with a shoulder injury. How good was your posture before this? Can you comfortably squeeze your shoulder blades together without jutting your head forward? If not, you may require focused exercises to strengthen the deep postural stabilizing muscles. Knowing what your body was lacking before the injury — better yet before an injury occurs — can prevent injury and decrease healing time!

#5. Keep moving
We are creatures of habit. Now that you are injured, you are forced to rethink your normal routine. Use this injury as an opportunity to explore different workouts and muscles that you may have been neglecting. Were you consistently running on a treadmill before you sprained your ankle? Explore how a low impact exercise such as Pilates can not only improve the health of your ankle, but can also make you more efficient at running, once you are able to get back to it. If your shoulder is injured from lifting weights, think about picking up a Theraband and working out the posture stabilizing muscles that you have not thought much about or spent enough time on in the gym. Doing low impact, low pain intensity exercises can give you a strong foundation so that after the pain is gone, and you are ready to ease back into your regular routine, you can do it quicker, having already conditioned your muscles.

#6. Be realistic
You may need to make long-term lifestyle changes that will help to prevent re-occurrence of your injury. The positive takeaway from the injury is that you have (hopefully) learned about your body, how it heals, and what makes it feel better or worse; and through this process, learned that you want to keep your body feeling good. This may mean changing footwear, workouts routines, daily activities (or lack of), and becoming mindful of when something is hurting.

#7. Get someone on your team
Visit a physical therapist. Physical therapists (physiotherapists or PTs) have the tools you need to help eliminate your pain as well as the ability to analyze your movement to uncover underlying weakness and dysfunction that may have been setting your body up to “fail.” Individualized treatment can include massage, joint mobilization, exercises, body mechanics training, balance training, and ergonomic advice. Most valuable of all, the physical therapist will help to reiterate the importance of making your body’s health and wellness a life-long commitment, because after all, your body is the only one you’ve got!