Sidelined: The heartbreak of injury
I am a running bore. Ask me how my long run went and I’ll chew your ear off with stats. I’ll tell you details as specific as what song was playing when the endorphins kicked in. I’ll tell you about my route, my pace and the colour of the sky.
And I’ll tell you I loved it. And you will believe me, because when I tell you about my run, I wont be able to wipe the smile off my face.
For me, running isn’t just a great way to keep in shape, it’s a way to beat stress, think clearly and spend time by myself away from the responsibilities of work and parenting.
Then I developed Plantar Fasciitis, a common running injury. My physiotherapist was sympathetic, but pragmatic. No running for at least five weeks. My plan to run Sydney’s Blackmore’s Marathon this year was over before my training had even begun.
To say I was devastated is a massive understatement. I cried tears of frustration and pain. To people that don’t share my love of running, this set back probably sounds like a class ‘A’ #firstworldproblem. Nevertheless, I felt the blow very keenly.
I asked sports psychologist Dr Joann Lukins why an injury can cause so much distress. She says that when people are passionate about an activity or sport it can become a big part of their identity.
“When the activity is taken away – a genuine grief response can be experienced, not dissimilar to when people experience other losses in their life,” she says.
Dr Lukins tells me that feelings of loss, anger and confusion are common after an injury has occurred. This can result in withdrawal from significant others and mood swings.
She also notes that if you were experiencing psychological benefits from the activity then those benefits will also stop.
So what can injured runners do to cope during their recovery?
“Acknowledge the grief. Don’t try to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter or you shouldn’t be upset or frustrated or grieving. The best way for us to move forward is to first acknowledge the situation that we are in,” says Dr Lukins.
Dr Lukin’s also says that it’s vital for an injured athlete to get as much information as they can and to follow the advice from their healthcare provider.
“If the physio says stretch, stretch. If the doctor says rest, rest. Be compliant and do whatever you can to maximise your return,” she says.
Dr Lukin’s also notes that as exercise can be an important coping strategy for many people then it’s really important to find other coping strategies that may be beneficial. This could be as simple as returning to an old hobby that you have neglected.
She also notes that it’s important to seek out good social support. “If you are really struggling, chat to your doctor or physio and consider speaking to a counselor,” Dr Lukin’s notes.
Of course, an injury doesn’t mean that you have to cease all exercise. During my enforced rest period I have been concentrating on swimming, cycling (all be it on a stationary bike at the gym) and yoga. Nothing compares to the buzz of a good run, but there are other ways to get the endorphins pumping.
If, like me, you are struggling to come to terms with an injury, Dr Lukin’s also offers the following tips:
- Do your best to comply with the rehab program
- Try and remain positive about the injury and life in general
- Ask questions about the injury and rehab process
- Get involved with activities outside of running/athletics
- Get support from your friends, family and healthcare provider
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