Returning to training after serious injury can be a daunting prospect. When we say serious, we’re talking surgery, torn ligaments, nerve damage, hospital stays. Movements which you used to take for granted are now seemingly impossible to achieve. There are many benefits to continuing your training after an injury challenge and the following 3 points might help you feel in control and safe about your return to training.
Number 1 Patience
Your type of injury will determine the time you will require to recover fully. Obviously back surgery is a fairly major issue and full recovery could extend over 12 months. Same with reconstructive surgery. Torn ligaments may only require a few months to fully recover. Every athlete is different. One thing you will notice after serious injury is this… You will not be able to do the same exercises and movements pre-injury for quite a while. If you have an elbow injury, RX pushups will not happen this week- or next. If you have had knee surgery, your 1RM Squat is a long way down the track. Damage to shoulder ligaments? No butterfly or kipping pullups for you just yet, my friend!
This actually highlights the beauty of CrossFit – every movement is SCALEABLE. Squats can be lunges or making time to focus on your upper body strengths, running is now rowing/airbike, pullups for now are dumbell presses or having an opportunity to work on that squat range and strength. You can still working the muscles of the affected area, but not stressing them while the injury is recovering, or alternately work another area and turn it into a strength.
Basically, you need to accept that recovery takes time. Stay positive and don’t expect results to be immediate – or easy. Spend time talking with your coach about where you are at, your frustrations and where you are headed.
Number 2 Listen to and be guided by the experts
These are the people who are trained (or should be!) to know what’s going on with your body. If you are recovering from a serious injury, your coach will know what movements are going to affect the injured area. A good coach will work with your healthcare practioner to help program a scaled version of the workout. Each and every day. A great coach will realise and encourage every little milestone you achieve in your rehabilitation and celebrate the success of each returning movement with you.
If you have a physio or doctor who understands the basis of CrossFit you will have someone who understands how movements can be scaled to suit your recovery.
Calvin Schluter, from EveryBodies Physio, at Brighton in QLD, has this advice for those returning to crossfit whilst recovering from serious injury…
“Exercising and staying active is very important for aiding recovery from any type of injury. For certain injuries like low back pain, prolonged rest and avoidance of activity can lead to higher levels of pain, greater disability, poorer recovery and longer absense from work. Returning to any type of exercise after an injury will always require beginning at a lower level, and CrossFit is great because it is modifiable. Any CrossFit workout can be scaled to suit the level of activity related to your stage of rehabilitation. Before starting, it is important to chat to your coach and physio to find out what levels of exercise are safe for you.”
For those who are recovering from serious injuries – chances are you’ll have a rehabilitation program set by your doctor or physiotherapist. STICK TO THE PLAN. Exercise within the limits provided to you by a healthcare professional. Do the exercises they give you. Yes, they’re frustrating. Yes, they’re boring. But they are the movements that will help you see improvements, week after week. Do them for 2 days and then sit on your butt because they were a little painful or you couldn’t be bothered and you will soon discover that your recovery will be infinitely longer and more difficult. Work with your coach to incorporate these exercises into a workout. When you’re surrounded by friends, even the most mundane exercises become fun!
Number 3 Keep Moving
Reconstructive surgery, torn ligaments and other serious injuries can honestly be hard to push through at times during recovery. Your body is still in repair and your brain will send all sorts of signals, weird tingly feelings and sometimes pain. But those of you who keep moving in some way, will recover much more quickly.
Exercises should be low key to begin with until you have been cleared by your health care practioner to start adding weight or become more mobile. Strengthening the injured area is vital over time and will aid in prevention of injury in the future. You need to ensure that listening to your body becomes a priority while working out. Pushing through pain to go faster, become stronger, more mobile is something associated with pretty much every sport, including CrossFit, but if you are returning from serious injury – do not ignore severe pain! If you experience severe pain to the recovering area during a workout – stop. Decide whether that pain is good or bad, whether the movement you are performing is within the limits of your set recovery plan, and if in doubt over anything you are doing, speak to your coach and wait for physio/doctor approval before attempting that movement again.
Again, a CrossFit WOD will always provide an option to scale and a good coach will understand how to achieve this. You will still be working hard, just not affecting an area under repair or rehabilitation.
Head coach and programmer at Crossfit 4504, Lisa Hetherington, agrees with the benefits of scaling for injury..
“At CrossFit 4504 we have many athletes who start with us with pre existing injuries or issues. We work around these with the use of scaling, or in some cases giving them a completely individual program for that day. The benefit is they are still able to come to class, be art of their community and spend time within the positive environment we foster here. This has a huge impact on recovery mentally as well as physically. We also have a close relationship with a team of allied health professionals and consult about our clients regularly, to ensure they’re making the best possible progress”
Don’t let injury hold you back. Learn to see through the frustration to see it as an opportunity to get stronger in other areas and a chance to reset and refocus on technique.
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