Reminders for when you're down and out with a strain, tear, pull or other annoyance keeping you from the sport you love.
by Christopher Johnson, PT
As a physical therapist, every day I have the privilege to work with injured triathletes seeking therapy. In most cases, these athletes are under a considerable amount of distress, secondary to their inability to train and race.
During times of injury, however, it's important to put things into perspective to foster a safe and timely return to training—all while preventing the injury from impacting other facets of your life. To this end, below you'll find some of the reminders and suggestions that I often share with my injured athletes. May they help you see your situation differently and calm your worries when you are able to return to training.
1. Pain does not indicate damage
Pain is the main reason injured athletes seek medical consultation. The pain experience is undoubtedly complex and based on a perceived rather than an actual threat. One of the major misconceptions about pain is that the amount of pain you are experiencing is a reliable indicator of damage. This is one of the first notions that I address with injured triathletes.
A simple example that I use to illustrate this point is that of a paper cut, which can be very painful. The relative threat of a paper cut is low, aside from breaking the skin barrier. Research has shown that helping athletes "reconceptualize" their pain experience through discussion is beneficial in actually helping them overcome injury. So it’s time to drop the antiquated adage, "no pain, no gain," and adopt the slogan "know pain for gain."
2. The body wants to heal
I never cease to be amazed by the affinity of the human body to rebound from injury. Almost every day we hear stories about horrific accidents only to witness the person make a remarkable comeback. I can personally attest to this, given my laundry list of injuries from being a competitive multisport athlete riddled with injuries during the early part of my athletic career.
After five major surgeries and a slew of major injuries, I’m living proof of the body’s affinity to heal. Trust me, you will rebound from injury in due time with the proper care and sound decision making.
3. Most triathlon-related injuries are non-traumatic
While your plantar fasciitis might seem traumatic indeed, sports injuries are not defined as traumatic injuries by medical professionals. While traumatic accidents do occur among triathletes, they account for a relatively small percentage of injuries that occur in the sport. Most triathlon-related injuries are non-traumatic in nature and almost always respond to conservative management. So bear in mind that if nothing catastrophic has occurred, most triathletes will respond to rehabilitation.
4. Pills and injections are not a quick fix
As athletes, when we get injured, we naturally look for a quick fix to allow us to return to training without pain. While non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and cortisone injections have their place in orthopedic medicine, they rarely if ever provide as viable long term solution to sport-related injuries. In most cases, pills and injections give the false notion that simply because the pain is gone, we are safe to train. Opting for treatments like these can undoubtedly worsen your situation while prolonging your recovery time. In the event that pills or injections are offered as a fix, consider getting a second opinion from a medical professional who specializes in managing injured endurance athletes.
5. Always be proactive
If there is one thing that I’ve learned as a competitive triathlete and physical therapist it’s that the "wait and see" approach rarely works. Unfortunately, this is a relatively common practice among injured athletes, who routinely take a couple days of rest before "trying" to resume their usual training.
Adequate rest is an integral part of the recovery process, but should never be considered as the sole means to address an injury. Rather, take the time to connect with a medical or rehabilitation professional who specializes in athletic injuries and takes the time to understand your unique situation while developing an individualized program to foster a safe and timely return to training.
Chris Johnson is the owner and founder of Zeren PT, a physical therapy and performance based facility, located in Seattle, WA.