@drunkenrunner (a.k.a. author and marathon man, Caleb Daniloff) is on “medically imposed rest” and I’ve gotten a Twitterfeed full of it. On September 23rd he was juicing up his running mix and today he’s dreaming about unslurpped goo packets and masochistic shin splints. Injury happens… it tends not to sit too well with the mind.
Medical wisdom is terrific in the Boston-area, but return-to play timelines still seem a bit like tarot card reading. This may be all well and good if you were not committed to exercise. Perfectly fine if you had a laundry list of things you found as fulfilling as your physical activity. Not too bad if couch potato fits your ideal self-image. These tend not to be the case however. It is much more fulfilling to be an athlete than an injured athlete…. and you want to know exactly when you get to reclaim your active status.
For a variety of reasons, discontentment and frustration during time away from play is a healthy thing – passion is valuable and an active life is good for you. Also for a variety of reasons, being a good and seemingly sedentary patient is a healthy thing as well – patient recovery allows the doctor’s office to be a place to contemplate new tires after 40,000 miles, rather than a place of regular oil changes throughout the year. Sports injury is the purgatory of the active.
When asked by friends and family about your activeness so often the answer is, “I am not doing anything.” And that answer is a complete lie. Resting, icing, and doing basic exercises with a sports medicine professional is very much “doing.” It is actually some of the best doing that an exerciser can commit to. Until this is recognized and in some small, creative way embraced, helplessness can certainly run amok - doctors hold the power and you are left holding very little.
A big key to tolerant recovery is to accept injury as part of the passionate, exercise equation and find a better answer to “What are you doing?” Go ahead and tell family and friends what you are “doing” – “I ice 3 times a day and make sure to watch one West Wing rerun,” “I put in an upper body workout and take 30 minutes to practice yoga breathing,” or “I journal about the ridiculousness of injury and plan my pithy responses to people’s insensitive comments about it.” And before and after telling others, remember to remind yourself of your “doing.” Thoughtful rest trumps energetic exercise now and again, remember to wrap your mind around that.
Running is easy… healing is hard.
Dr. Adam Naylor leads Telos Sport Psychology Consulting and is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Boston University’s School of Education. He has a decade and a half of experiences working with professional through amateur athletes – of note: US Open competitors, NCAA champions, Olympians, Stanley Cup winners, and UFC martial artists. Beyond sports, over the past five years he has served as a corporate performance and wellness consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ahnaylor.