The Healing Hack: How to recover much faster from any injury
“Healing is the restoration of what already exists.”
Chances are if you are checking out this article, you’re looking for some sort of “Magic Pill” to bounce back from injury. “Magic Pill” meaning:
A special supplement.
A revolutionary stretching technique.
A superfood like Manogsteens (oooh!).
A therapeutic puppy.
I’d give you a puppy if I had one.
But to really give you what you came here for, I’m going to have to press pause on any physical solutions you’re pondering. Instead I’ll be your physician, operating on the level of narrative.
You see many of us have these stories that we like to tell when we get hurt, undergo surgery or sustain an ongoing injury.
A sympathetic person asks, “What happened?” we say:
“Oh I fell and screwed up my wrist. It just hasn’t been the same since.”
“I was moving my furniture and I slipped a disk in my back. I can’t seem to workout the way I used to.”
Or maybe there wasn’t an obvious trauma but a pain that developed overtime like:
“I just have bad knees.”
We often tell these stories to connect with others—to find support. We repeat them to explain why we are stuck where we are. Or perhaps our tale has progressed to a point where it’s become a proud testimony of overcoming.
Whatever the situation may be, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these stories. They happened. They’ve become a part of us and there needs to be space to hold the pain with a splint.
But I’d like to ask: When you tell your story, do you ever think about how you tell it? Which words do you chose? How does it make you feel to say them?
Does saying “I have a bad back” make you feel strong? Does it make you feel tense? Vulnerable?
The way you think and speak about your body affects how well or how poorly it heals even if you have the best remedies to treat it. Researchers have confirmed that you can “think yourself sick”, and the placebo effect has proven the power of positive belief. This is because reality always responds to the nature of our thoughts. It’s the Law of Attraction. Like thoughts attract like responses.
Because we are often not totally aware of what comes out of our mouths, and because we are so quick to accept “the facts” of our maladies (“How long will I be out Doc?”), we tend to carry these injury stories that can slow down our recovery more than we realize.
Here, I’ll share a story:
So a few months ago, I was running through Brooklyn to coach a CrossFit class when I tripped over my feet and slid across the pavement. With no one around to help me, I laid on the ground in disbelief. I assessed the damage: One bloody elbow sprinkled with gravel (no glass), a grazed love handle and an aching shoulder. I showed up to class and covered myself with bandages.
That was the shortened version of the dramatized tale I liked to tell my athletes and to anyone who had bothered to ask why I wasn’t working out the way that I used to. I told them I had a strained supraspinatus. Super-tight pec muscles. Maybe a partially-torn rotator cuff.
“Basically raising my left arm by my ear felt like someone was gradually digging into my shoulder with a wooden sword,” I said.
Since I somewhat understood my condition and since I refused to see a doctor—because no health insurance—I did my own physical therapy by searching suggestions on YouTube and reading books like Becoming a Supple Leopard. I settled to go to the masseuse a couple of times. And while the shoulder seemed to get better in some areas, it would get even more painful in others. Soon it began to radiate down my bicep, firming its grip on my frustrated fate.
“Adele, you going to workout with us on Saturday?” my friends would ask.
“Nah, I got this shoulder thing.”
But one day, I was fed up with living with “Shoulder-Thing”. She was like a bad roommate I couldn’t stop complaining about and couldn’t kick out: She’s worth half the rent money. “Shoulder-Thing” became a false sense of security. I obviously didn’t need her. Knowing the facts of my situation (and sharing them) gave me comfort. It meant I was smart. And I know how to use them to tell a good story. But were they holding me back? I thought.
That afternoon, I had a CrossFit video shoot and I knew I had to get rid of “Shoulder-Thing” or else I wouldn’t be able to perform. I iced. I used a home massager and tried all the anti-inflammatory supplements I had in the pantry. After a few hours of trying, it still hurt too much to raise my arm. Did I need surgery? As I spiraled into despair, I pictured the doctor's office. Then me in a sling. Me with a scar. Me with a deflated arm…
Then I remembered what one of my teachers said to me a while ago:
“Healing is the restoration of what already exists.”
The body is always moving towards homeostasis, he said. The body repairs itself because it naturally wants to return to what it really is: Healthy. You don’t have to do any work for a scab to heal a booboo.
But doctors are there to aid the body along like giving a moving sled an extra push down a snowy hill. Doctors can also clear any obstacles for its smooth passage. My ego, which was stuck in the same, muddied, narrative track, had to get out the way.
I had to affirm the truth. Not the facts.
I immediately went to my computer and downloaded an MP3 entitled “Recover Quickly from Injury.” Someone once told me that I could retrain my thoughts, actions and feelings through listening to self-affirmation audios. I wasn’t sure that it would work, but I listened to it on repeat.
As I walked to the gym, I talked to myself out loud not caring if I looked crazy. “My left shoulder is perfect whole and complete! ” I visualized performing muscle ups to the rhythm of my affirmations. Pain free. Over and over again. I let the words be my breath.
I showed up at the video shoot and did all of the movements as if I had never fallen in the first place. I was 98% pain free…much better than I was just hours before. I went from not being able to put any weight over my head to snatching an 85-lb barbell.
In that moment, it was amazing to truly understand how much affirmations can change the nature of pain. I believe it helped to take the tension out of my body and let the muscles function properly. The fear had melted from my limbs.
I felt like I finally understood how harmful it is to “live in the story” and drag it around like a heavy bag of rotten potatoes.
It’s tiring and it stinks.
And while I had certainly put in the physical work to aid my recovery, the last part of my healing was to let go and see things differently: To see myself as healed.
So here’s the healing hack: Be conscious about the way you talk about your injuries. See yourself as healed.
Because that is the truth of who you are. You might want to get out of Nature’s way.