Injury: It’s Body and Mind

Hey everyone, Jess here. I thought I would post about something that every athlete dreads: injury. We hate injury because it stops us from training, from competing, from reaching our goals. But we also hate injury for another, less obvious reason: the mental toll it takes.

Three months ago, I woke up with a pain in my low back. I had spent about an hour the previous afternoon practicing some snatch technique work and OH squat, but did not feel at any time uncomfortable. Confused, I took the day off and focused on mobility for the next two days. My low back felt stiff, but not too painful after my two days of rest so I figured that a easier body-weight WOD on the third day would help get me mobile again, and loosen things up.

I showed up at my 6am class (Hilary was happy to see me after two days of no-show) and we proceeded to do the WOD of the Day after a great stretch and warm-up. It involved sprawls, box jumps and wall-balls. Through my first round, I began feeling uncomfortable and scaled down all the movements. During my second round, Coach came over and asked what was happening. I was visibly falling apart. He told me to stop the workout, to quit. This was the moment that athletes fear most: the realization that they have to stop doing what they love. Stop, quit. These were not words in my vocabulary.

The next 3 months were tough. My back constantly ached and it was painful for me to sit, or stay stationary for any length of time. Lifting was completely out of the question. Any extension or flexion of the low spine was painful. I started seeing a Chiropractor and Massage Therapist weekly and made a new plan with my Coach: cut my gym time in half and only work on core/conditioning/body-weight work. Being unable to perform, and being unable to continue with my training program effected me in a way that I had never expected: I became depressed. I was in a funk, I became negative and lazy (two things that are completely out of my character). My physical injury was taking a toll on me emotionally. I realized that for a serious athlete, getting injured physically is less painful than the mental anguish it inflicts.

My work started to suffer and so did my relationships. Why was my inability to Crossfit having such a profound negative effect in all other aspects of my life?! An enlightening partial answer came during an Active-Release appointment when I was speaking with my practitioner about how I was feeling. She is a professional athlete herself and proceeded to tell me a story about how she fractured her wrist last summer and how negatively it had effected her as well. She couldn’t do what she loved- and it was more than just ‘being bummed out’. She said to me “Many athletes don’t realize why they constantly find themselves involved in intense sports, or intense training plans. It’s because many of us need the sport. We need it to self medicate. Maybe we have anxiety, maybe it’s stress, we may have depression, whatever our ailment, we choose our sport because it helps us gain stability and control. When we loose that foundation in our lives, we start feeling lost…” This was a break through for me.

As she continued to treat me, pulling and massaging on various parts of my body, I contemplated her words and perhaps their applicability to my own situation. By this time I was 2 months into my ‘active-recovery program’. Physically, my back had started to feel a bit better, but mentally I was reaching breaking point. Nothing was making me happy anymore. I felt defeated. My ‘other’ friends didn’t get it and called me ‘obsessed’, not understanding the validity of my distress. Near the end of my session, when we went back through the list of things I should not do at the gym, I asked the practitioner what she suggested I do to boost myself emotionally. She suggested that I should ensure that I keep going to the gym at my regular 5-6 days a week… but perhaps just to stretch for half the days. I protested that I didn’t want to waste my time if I could just stretch at home, but decided to try it.

At first I felt stupid. “Hey Jess! You’re back!” …followed by a solemn “Nah, just stretching”. But after a week, I started to get back into my groove. I became motivated to work on my core exercises and mobility. I slowly started working on body-weight stuff (Ask Hilary how many times she saw me planking, working on my strict pull-ups or timing 200 double-unders in the back room by myself). I can’t explain the change, but it helped me out of my funk. The lack of intensity in my workouts still gets me down once in a while, but I continue to work at building my strength back up both mentally and physically. It’s been three months now and I’m about 85% functional, but I still haven’t OH squatted or snatched yet, and haven’t power-lifted heavy for a very long time. I keep reminding myself that my strength is a work in progress. Slow and steady wins the race.

How have you coped with injury or illness that has affected your training or strength? Post a comment below, I would love to hear from you 🙂

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