Coping with Injury
— By Daisha M. Savage, Program Manager, NFC
(written Aug. 2016)
About four months ago I sustained a bilateral knee injury—That’s just a fancy word for saying I have the same injury on both knees. I was playing flag football when I hyperextended both knees. The result was a completely torn ACL in each knee. (You may be familiar with this injury from Redskins’ NFL player RG3.) One ACL injury is enough to put your life on hold, as it requires surgery to repair PLUS 8-10 MONTHS of recovery. Two at the same time can be life altering, if you let it ;). I guess you could say I hit the jackpot.
The average regularly active person who is diagnosed with an ACL tear would experience an initial decline in their activity and will be limited in exercise for the duration of the recovery. I, on the other hand, am required to be active for a living. Teaching group exercise classes, training, and just the ability to walk around is crucial. I went from being active 6 – 7 days per week to no activity at all. Needless to say, this experience has been nothing short of dizzying.
So that begs the question, how does one cope with injury that results in a dramatic interruption of your life? I think I’ve got it down to a few simple steps that worked for me:
- Listen to your doctors. – ACL injuries are extremely common. Most people have heard about it, experienced it themselves, or know someone who has, so naturally many people offered advice. While I appreciated the moral support, I understand that times have changed and recovery processes have evolved as doctors and scientists learn more and more about the physiological functions of the human body. Listen to your body and follow the guidelines outlined by your doctor.
- Learn about your condition. – I am a “science-y” person. I love learning and understanding. I found that having a good idea of what was happening to me helped me to accept it and adhere to my recovery program. “WHY” goes a long way in my book. Understanding is key.
- Accept Help. – Like many people, I always want to do everything myself so as not to inconvenience anyone. I never quite realized how integrated this was into my psyche until I was injured. There were so many minor situations where people asked me if I needed help. Trying to carry a handful of items while in a brace and on crutches forced me to put my pride aside. Take it from me- accept help where you can get it. Also, you never know who you may meet or how you might inspire them along the course of your own journey. I can’t tell you how many interesting conversations I held with people who were going through more than met the eye when I allowed them to lend me a hand. I learned that those who offer help understand what its like to need it most.
- Do What You Can When You Can – Inactivity was like a bomb falling on my life. I started Physical Therapy about 1.5 weeks after the surgery and everything I did then became my “exercise routine.” It was the closest to normalcy that I could get. When I graduated to walking without crutches, I stopped taking the elevator. Once I got rid of the brace, I used my Fit Bit to set goals and walk as much as possible. When I got on the leg press in therapy, I leg pressed my little heart out, and then when I was finally cleared to ride a bike I did a bike tour of Washington, D.C. just to celebrate. I also rode the spin bike often. Take it one step at a time and then do as much as you can when you can.
- Find New Outlets – Whatever your reasons for exercising, think of alternative methods to incorporate into your regular routine that makes you a better person. One reason that I exercise is for clarity. I recently made guided meditation part of my routine and it has improved my concentration as well as helped me think more clearly in difficult situations. Finding new outlets was beneficial to me because I no longer felt that removing one thing led to this domino effect in my life. Instead, I replaced exercise with a bunch of new outlets I never would have explored before. Health isn’t just physical; it’s mental and spiritual.
- Look at how far you’ve come instead of how far you’ve got to go – This one is key, although easier said than done. Try to focus on how far you’ve progressed and your next immediate goal as opposed to thinking about the finish line, which can leave you down in the dumps. Jog several small races instead of trying to sprint an entire marathon.
These are just a few tips that got me by. Dealing with an injury is difficult and different for everything. The best thing you can do is stay positive and celebrate all your mini victories along the way!