On pain and injury

Pain resulting from a chronic condition or injury is one of the biggest challenges to weight control, and can lead to a downward spiral of unhealthy habits, depression, and ultimately, a great deal of weight gain. Injury can even be the impetus for obesity depending on how debilitating and the length of recovery time.  I figured this is either the best (or worst) time to write this post since I’m on the injured list myself. While lamenting my woes, the reaction from most is the old adage, time heals all wounds. This is quite possibly the most infuriating thing to hear when down for the count. Makes you want to punch something, doesn’t it?  Why, because it only underscores your lack of immediate control over a situation that is not only unpleasant but has no certain end date.  Don’t believe it, let’s try to find some elements we can get control over to feel a little better NOW.

1.  Do No Harm. If you are like me, you are eager to get back to exercise, to a fault. I ran on my injury and it was worse than ever the next day.  Then a few days later, I actually toy with the idea of doing it again!  What a fool.  Make very sure you aren’t doing anything to exacerbate your injury/condition, thereby prolonging the recovery phase. This may mean cutting back on activities you love, not just exercise, but possibly other activities involving your job and/or home activities.  The better you adhere to your physical activity recommendations, the shorter your recovery period will be.

2. Temporary Plan B.  Just because you cannot do your usual exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t exercise at all.  When injured it is extremely important to consult a physical therapist to find out what you can do to be active while not exacerbating the injury.  I did this and a new exercise plan was created. Unfortunately the new plan involves exercises that I do not prefer.  It is important to remind yourself though that this is temporary. Perhaps it is a chance to develop an affinity for something new.  Also keep in mind that by working new muscle groups you may even enhance the calorie burn of your workout.

3. Prescription: Total Rest.  The toughest times are when you are officially grounded from all physical activity. Coping will be key.  If you are used to being pretty active this could really impact your mood, even leading to depression.  To avoid going down that road, keep a list of all activities that make you feel good.  Ask yourself, what am I doing when I feel happiest? contented?  peaceful?  relaxed? joyful?  Make a plan to incorporate these activities regularly into the recovery period to prevent your mood from nose diving.

4. Diet and Weight.  With less physical activity in your life, the likelihood of weight gain will depend on your diet.  You will need to reconfigure your energy needs for a sedentary lifestyle.  The Harris Benedict Equation will show you how many calories you need daily to maintain your weight at your current activity level.  If you were working toward a weight loss goal, you might consider downshifting into weight maintenance until you can be active again.  It will be difficult to lose weight without exercise, especially if you were active before.  Take a break or you may end up feeling discouraged.  If you can get through an injury remaining weight stable, you have done a great job.

5. Permanent change. Even tougher is if your injury is one that means you cannot go back to the previous activity EVER. If I was told I could never run again, that would be quite a blow. It may sound crazy but it really is a form of loss.  Loss of an activity can even come with a grieving period depending on how devoted you were to the activity.  In this case it might be time to reinvent yourself by delving into a completely new activity, one that you can do safely.

6. Reach out to others.  I tweeted that I was on my way for my xray the other day and I got a bunch of supportive responses, including some people sharing their stories.  That made me feel pretty good. Finding supportive people who have experienced similar injuries or physical conditions can have an enormous effect on your mental state.  You may also get tips from others who have been through it and if nothing else, sharing with someone else who understands just lightens the load.

7. Chronic pain.  Pain that doesn’t go away can really wear on you physically and mentally. If you are struggling with chronic pain and feel very stuck, find a specialist in cognitive behavior therapy for chronic pain.  This is an extremely effective non-drug treatment that can help reduce your pain and increase your quality of life.

8.  Meditate.  I don’t necessarily mean you have to sit cross-legged and ohmmm, although that’s one idea.  I mean engage in any activity that allows you to clear your mind and search the soul.  This could be done on a long drive (a personal fav), while lying down, or during virtually any activity.  The point is to give some thought and planning to how you want to spend your recovery time, how it’s going so far, what can make it better, and what goals you have going forward. Sometimes pauses come in life as a chance to think, reassess, take inventory, and do some housekeeping.

9. Making Your Comeback.  I once was bed bound for 2 weeks following a major surgery that was then followed by a recovery period of weeks. I hit my my all time physical low ever, having to be assisted to do small things like use the bathroom and climb stairs. I remember thinking, when I recover I will never take exercise for granted again. I will never say I hate it. I will never bag out of a workout because I’m too tired.  I restarted exercise as soon as it was safe but had to pretty much start over again.  Back to getting easily winded and having sore muscles. As hard as the climb back was, my entrance back made exercise even more sacred in my life. When I feel like bagging out now, I remind myself of the moments where I didn’t have the choice. If nothing else comes from your injury and pain, you will earn a new appreciation for exercise and much stronger motivation going forward. We have a love/hate relationship with exercise, but I promise you, if you lose the ability, you will miss it dearly. Kinda like right now.

10. If All Else Fails…. Punch something.

Injuries heal.  Pain subsides. Until then, let’s try to make the best of now.

Had an injury? Please share any strategies that have worked for you to get through it. 

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  1. My favorite is #10. You’re right that injury is a real loss. I hope you bounce back from your injury quickly and learn to enjoy those other “approved” activities in the meantime.

  2. I have a condition call Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome…and even though I’m supposed to stay off my feet as much as possible, I ran a half-marathon last year and learned a really important lesson.

    Know your boundaries/limits

    Yes I can push myself, but I had to figure out at what point the pain went from being a ‘only hurting just for now’ pain to a ‘I can’t walk the next day’ kind of pain. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’ve learned it well. I’m going to ease into my next half-marathon at a much slower and healthier pace. And avoid the injury I sustained last time when I found out that 15K was manageable for me, but 21.1K was not.

  3. Thank you, Sherry, for this article. Many of our fellow runners and walkers need this. I especially liked this sentence: “As hard as the climb back was, my entrance back made exercise even more sacred in my life.” — Well said! And, congratulations on your site makeover; it’s functional and beautiful!

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