No matter what sport you play and no matter what level you compete at, there will come a time when an injury occurs. This injury will affect you both physically and psychologically. A few years ago I had a bad collision with a car while performing an interval on my bike. I managed to fracture a couple of ribs and badly sprain my shoulder, but it could have been a lot worse. The helmet did it’s job and broke in seven places.
While I was recovering, I wrote this article to share the strategies that I used to recover quickly. They were the same techniques I use with all my clients who need to recover faster and in a more positive way from injuries. I did use all these strategies myself and they worked. That’s not to say I didn’t get frustrated and angry sometimes but at least I had ways to better deal with it.
I have put this article together to show you how to recover quickly and effectively, both at a physical and psychological level. I hope you find it beneficial and it helps you deal with your injuries so that you too might speed up your recovery process. There is also a “Recovery Imagery MP3 Session” available for download at the bottom of the article.
The physical part of your injury
From a physical perspective there will be different medical personnel involved in your treatment. Your doctor, consultant, physiotherapist or physical therapist, that will help you manage the pain as well as control your treatment and may bring you through rehab exercises. Central to your recovery is also your coach or trainer.
Here are 3 strategies to deal with the physical side of your injury:
Although you may have a team of medical professionals around you it is important that you take responsibility for your own recovery. Remember that you know your body better than anyone else. Tell your medical team what you feel is working for you and what isn’t. Your medical team can be working with hundreds of athletes at any one time so it is important that you take responsibility for your own health and get what you need to heal quickly.
Pain comes hand in hand with any injury. It is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong so it is important that you manage it from the onset. Later in the article I will talk about ways of managing this pain, but it is equally important that you understand that you must set realistic expectations from the very beginning of your injury. Having unrealistic expectations about how the body recovers has left many athletes feeling sad, frustrated and very angry, which can slow down recovery even more.
Get the balance
It is important that you balance your hopes of the fastest recovery possible with realistic goals. This is achieved by listening to the advice that your medical team are giving you, while giving your input in how you feel you are progressing, but also making sure that you are giving your body the time and resources that it needs to recover quickly.
The psychological part of injury
How you deal with your injury mentally will have a huge impact on how fast and effectively your body will heal. Here are some powerful techniques to help you to work through any injury.
Add these 8 techniques to your recovery strategy to get back to competing quickly and confidently:
Build your team
Anyone that has ever heard me speak will tell you how much I advocate building teams around teams and individuals, no matter what level they compete at. Having a strong support network when you are injured is hugely important. Some of us are naturally blessed to have this support structure, while some others will have to work on developing the best one possible. It is worth putting some time and thought into developing your rehabilitation support team.
This team is not just made up of your medical support, but family members or friends who can be there for you when things get tough. The support team should also include your coach, trainer and mental fitness coach. It is completely up to you who you choose as part of your team but the following are the top 5 characteristics I recommend:
- Understands the importance of your sport in your life: This is number one on the list. If they don’t understand how important the sport is to your life, they are off the team!
- Current or former athletes: Athletes tend to understand athletes and can empathise with them no matter what sport they play
- Ability to kick some ass: There will come a time where you need a kick up the butt so always have someone who you know can deliver it
- Have personal history and is trust worthy: Always have people who know you and you know you can trust them
- Has a sense of humour: You want to have people on your team that can make you laugh (Although I had to hang up on a friend of mine because he was making me laugh and my freshly fractured ribs didn’t appreciate his sense of humour)
Set daily goals
In the same way that you have goals when you are training and competing, you should have goals set for your rehabilitation. Instead of focussing on what you are missing from not competing, focus on what you have to do to heal faster. Put as much energy into the process of recovery as you do into improving your performance. Set out a daily routine for any medication you might have to take and perform the rehab exercises you have been prescribed.
Physiotherapists become frustrated by the amount of athletes who don’t follow the prescribed exercises they are given. I was invited to speak at a meeting of physio’s to help design a plan that would motivate athletes to become more engaged in their rehab routine. Some of those techniques are on this page but the one thing I wanted them to realise is that athletes are competitive by nature and that needs to be built somewhere into the routine.
You are competitive by nature so this is a chance for you to get the competitive juices flowing. Set yourself some realistic targets and go for it.
Use your injury as a time to work on weaknesses
Some injuries allow us to work on other areas of our performance. I have seen many athletes improve flexibility because they perform a daily stretching routine they wouldn’t normally do. I have seen others who had a leg injury and worked on strengthening their upper body while the leg was in the rehabilitation process. The added strength improved their overall performance when they were fully rehabilitated.
Stay involved in your club and team activities
It is important to feel that you are still part of the club or team. It also keeps you up to date with what is happening within the sport and allows your club mates the opportunity to encourage you along.
Having an injury can give you a lot of time that you would normally be spending on your training or competing. Contact some friends that you may not have seen in a while and take some time out to relax with them. This will allow you to become a little more distracted from your injury.
Try a new activity
If your injury is going to last for quite a while you could take up a new activity or hobby until such a time that you can get back into your sport.
Learn something new about your sport
The down time can also be used to research your sport. Find out more about how biomechanics affect it or what’s new in the tech world. Look at things you might implement when you get back to recovery that will make you even better. Probably the best component to research at this time is mental fitness. It is one of the areas that athletes tend to neglect so this is your opportunity to learn more about how to improve your confidence, concentration, motivation, mental imagery and goal setting skills. Research shows that athletes who use mental skills during recovery handle the process much faster and return to their sport sooner.
This for me is by far one of the MOST important parts of any rehabilitation process. Imagery and self-hypnosis techniques have been used for years to speed up recovery as well as improve performance. Not only can it be used to control pain through the relaxation response, but can be used to maintain skill levels. It is also really useful if you have had a traumatic injury through an accident where confidence level is affected.
The use of Imagery – The research
Because the nervous system cannot tell the difference between vivid imagination and reality, imagery/self-hypnosis is a very powerful tool to use. Through imagery a sensory rich environment can be created, where new behaviors can be encoded into the persons unconscious. Research shows that the more clearly you are able to experience mental images and the more accurately you can control your imagined movements, the more likely you are to translate the images into superior performance(1).
Research shows that if you imagine yourself performing any sports skill, this causes electromyographical (EMG) activity in the musculature, resembling that which would occur during the physical execution of the skill (2). For example, if you were to imagine yourself flexing your left arm from the elbow joint, it would be possible to monitor activity in the biceps muscles even though no physical movement occurs (3).
When I have used imagery with athletes you can see minute movements in the leg muscles as they imagine competing. Imagery has the effect of priming muscles for subsequent physical action, and this clearly has potential benefits for the performance of many sports skills. It is also evident that the neural impulses passed from the brain to the muscular system during imagery may be retained in memory, almost as if the movement had actually occurred(1).
The implication of this is that physical skills may be improved even during periods of injury when physical practice is not possible. Moreover, there is growing evidence to suggest that a combination of imagery and relaxation can accelerate the rehabilitation process following injury or surgery(4). 1. Advances in Sport Psychology (2nd ed), Champaign IL: Human Kinetics, 2002:405-439 2. Motor Control and Learning, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999 3. J Sport Exerc Psych 2002; 24:151-167 4. Rehabilitation Psych 46:28-43
How to use imagery for Injury recovery
Here are two techniques that I find useful:
- Using colour – Imagine the injury in a particular colour (red seems to work best for most people) and healing in a different colour (most people seem to pick blue). Imagine that the red colour starts to change to become more of a pink colour. It may even decrease in size. Now imagine it becoming more of a white, then a lighter shade of blue before eventually changing to the blue colour of the healing, which helps to sooth and relax you.
- Creative Imagery – Imagine that the injured part is a foreign invader in your body and you have deployed white blood cells as your Special Forces to destroy them.
Using an MP3 version A lot of athletes find it easier to listen to a recording of an imagery session designed specifically to improve healing and maintain skill levels. I used one that I recorded for all sports and I found it worked really well to help me recover from my crash. I have also had great feedback from clients too, who have used it including a cyclist who recovered quickly enough to compete at the Olympics.
The audio program combines progressive relaxation techniques and advanced guided imagery designed to:
- Induce a deep state of relaxation
- Help the body recover
- Maintain skill level during lay off
- Come back to sport with confidence
You can purchase the MP3 here for €15.99 by clicking on the “BUY NOW” button below. The MP3 will be emailed to you so you can download it onto any device including your phone.
I have deliberately kept the track under 12 minutes long so you can put it into a busy schedule. You should listen to it every day for one month. The best time to listen is while you are in bed getting ready to sleep, however it can be beneficial any time you have some time to yourself where you won’t be disturbed. (I personally used it a couple of times per day for the first couple of weeks).
If you fall asleep while listening, the session will still be hugely effective as your unconscious mind will be very susceptible to the powerful positive suggestions. After one month, you may listen whenever you feel that you need a mental boost or just want to relax and recover.