August 11, 2014

Injured? Hooray!

By Crabby McSlacker

So yeah, this is me trying to do the whole positive reframe thing.  Can I stop whining for a few minutes and attempt to consider that having a back injury is not something to kvetch about? Perhaps it is even a wonderful growth opportunity in disguise?

But no worries, fellow crankypants skeptics. I'll excuse you for a moment if you want to step outside and barf. (Just remember for the sake of your coworkers or loved ones to mop up afterwards, and be sure to brush your teeth).

The weird thing is...  this is not just some a total bullshit attempt to cheer myself up.  I can actually see both sides: When you want to be active and are sidelined, injuries suck! And yet injuries can also lead to really freakin' good stuff.

The trick, I'm thinking, is deciding whether to cope with injuries in Typical Dumbass Ways, or try to be more Clever and Sneaky about it. Having tried plenty of the former techniques, I thought it might be time to experiment with something different for a change.

Boring Background Info, Feel Free to Ignore!

So I've had recurring sports injuries for years--knee problems and plantar fasciitis predominantly, but I'd do something to my back every 5 years or so as well.  I've done orthotics and physical therapy and other stuff, and usually recover well enough to be pretty active--eventually I even started running again, hooray!  But earlier this year I started to have hamstring and calf problems when running or doing playground workouts and so started doing a lot more elliptical... which somehow brought my long dormant knee problems back.

Having thus eliminated most of my favorite cardio options, I finally got fed up enough to get some physical therapy scheduled. But two days before my first appointment, I hurt my back with a combo of yard chores and a massive Costco/Trader Joes run.

This means that none of my original goals for PT are even being dealt with until the back is under control. And almost everything I'm used to doing is off limits.  My lower back muscles seize up when I even think about moving any body part, whether it be a limb or an eyelid.  I'm discovering that these muscles are kinda arrogant assholes; they believe they are in charge of running my whole body. And, whoops, apparently I've been enabling this delusional behavior for years.

So most of what I'm doing now is relearning very basic movement patterns and trying to find the elusive "off" switch for my lower back muscles and the "on" switches for my glutes and transverse abs.  As it turns out, for all my fun body awareness/meditation experimentation, I TOTALLY SUCK AT THIS. Seriously, I am hilariously unable to consciously activate or deactivate these muscles.  I will often stop on the middle of a sidewalk on a busy street, with my hand on my back (the only way to tell yet if I am clenching), helplessly waiting for some sort of divine intervention to initiate the unclenching process.

Anyway, that's why I've been a little whiny. (See #4 below).

But enough of that, let's get to the lists! I'll be brief on the first one; those of us prone to using Dumbass Approaches have already mastered many of these techniques.

Dumbass Injury Rehabilitation Protocol Options:

1.  Pretend You Are Not Injured and Keep Doing The Same Stuff as Before Until You've Turned a Minor Injury into a Debilitating Chronic Problem That Will Curse You the Rest of Your Life!

2.  Measure Your Self-Worth by How Much or How Hard You Exercise or How Much You Weigh.

3.  Catastrophize the Situation and Start Believing Nothing You Do Matters Anyway So WTF, Why Bother Doing Anything Healthy At All?

4.  Identify With Your Injury and Bore Everyone to Tears With How Annoying it Is.

5.  Feel Resentful That Others Can Go Charging Around Doing Stuff You Used to Do.

6.  Get Pissy About Exploring Other Options Because Goddamn It, You Shouldn't Have To.

And yes, I've done all of those. Weirdly enough, none of them proved very helpful.

Alternative Injury Rehabilitation Protocols:

1.  Work on Biomechanical Basics And Heal the F--ck Up.

There's a great inspirational article over at Experience Life about dealing with injuries and going back to basics with physical therapy.  It was written by someone much more hardcore than I am.  But I could relate:

The whole thing was embarrassing... It was also frustrating. I felt like I was losing ground, not gaining it. Explosive power, endurance, muscle mass — all dissipated by the day. According to Goldberg, I was having a common response. “If I’m working with any athlete who’s suffering through this, I try to keep them focused on the present,” says Goldberg. “There’s a tendency for athletes to dwell on what was, or might have been.”
However, the cool thing is that at the same time your precious strength and stamina and power are all going down the toilet, you are instead working on re-building your body on a better foundation than before.  You can get all that other stuff back later. (I'm hoping).

So yeah, maybe if you were walking down the street and some clumsy piano movers dropped a baby grand on you, your injury had nothing to do with the way your body works.  But many of us have balance, postural, and stability issues. We use the wrong muscles for things, create stress on our joints, need to stretch some things and strengthen other things.  Being forced to start over with simple movements and retrain the various switches could be a GOOD thing.

And, another advantage of being benched for an injury is that all the other body parts you've been abusing have a chance to heal too.  For example, my knees no longer hurt going upstairs anymore since I haven't been able to do anything fun with them for weeks!

2.  Cross Train

You know you should anyway.  But at least for me, it takes an injury to get myself motivated to overcome the many minor hurdles one has to negotiate when doing something new.

For example: I kinda hate swimming. I've always been lousy at it, and I abhor getting into cold water. While this last year I've been coaxing myself into hotel pools on vacation as a way to mix things up, and feeling very smug for being all open-minded after all these decades, I had convinced myself there was no local practical option for swimming in crowded Provincetown during the summer.

But, um, turns out there is.

There is a perfectly fine pool nearby that one does not even have to be a hotel guest to use.  But I had never even asked! And there were not that many people there first thing in the morning. No one minded me doing some laps.  Well, except for me; I minded.  I am still waiting for a pool to be designed with special water that will start off really warm and adjust accordingly as I start exercising and want it cooler.  Is that too much to ask???

3.  Focus on Other Priorities

I've been borrowing a bunch of audio books from the library for my long drives to physical therapy, and getting some excellent brainwashing in!  I'm all psyched again about the usefulness of brain training, self-hypnosis, mindfulness, meditation, the weird workings of quantum physics, and other bizarro self-help stuff that changes my perspective and lets me create my own happy reality. Warning: you guys may be hearing more about this later.

There are plenty of other Virtuous Endeavors besides exercise--nurturing your relationships, mental health, community service, creative pursuits, career or retirement planning, etc.  And making progress on these can be great substitutes for the self-esteem boosts we are accustomed to getting from being "on track" with our physical work outs.  Plus, we become way less insufferable humans if we have a little more balance in our interests.

4. Be Grateful

Yeah, it sounds obvious but it's often hard to do, right?  I had to be patient with myself for a while until I could sincerely get my perspective back.  But there are all kinds of gratitude opportunities when you are hurt:

  • You can be grateful that whatever it is is not way more serious. (And feel some compassion for people who live with awful conditions on a continual basis).
  • You can be grateful to the people who help you.
  • You can be grateful for having a free pass to stop measuring yourself by your physical abilities and do other important things in life.
  • You can be grateful for the opportunity to learn more about how your body works and how to optimize it better.
  • You can be grateful for the motivation to discover new forms of exercise you wouldn't have had the patience for otherwise.

And hey, if you are me, you can be grateful for awesome blog readers who don't get all judgey about what you do, how you do it, or how much you whine about it, and who always have great advice about how to handle the tough stuff!

Anyone else dealing with injuries or got any tips?


  1. I took the time to be grateful that I'm not the only one who has ignored an injury until it became a "debilitating chronic problem" . . . Oh, wait. You didn't do that. That was just me. Damn!

    This is a great reminder that we all need to take care of ourselves. Thanks for cluing me in to the idea that rebuilding the foundation after an injury is so crucial.

    Take care of yourself and come back stronger! Be patient with your body; it knows what it needs.

  2. Good for you for finding the opportunity in what you've been handed.

    I want to get back to doing squats and bike riding, but I have to wait a while yet. It has shown me that walking is pretty good exercise.

  3. I have been sidelined by some strange ankle problem for weeks now, so I can relate to this whole post! No greenway walks, and I even have had to hobble around the grocery store. I have no idea where it came from and no idea why it is finally easing off, but I will be glad to get rid of it. In the meantime, though, I have gotten far more reading done than I used to (and loving it) and I have been working with free weights on upper body stuff, which I basically never do. I hope your back problem eases off soon!

  4. I'm glad you found the pool as I was going to have to submit my unsolicited and probably unwelcome advice and suggest it. I'm in the pool a lot these days because of knee and Achilles pain.
    One wonderful thing you do have to look forward to is that day when the back is a little better and you notice. I think about working toward that feeling of freedom.

  5. Thanks you guys!

    This is a great reminder that I am SO not alone in working around injuries, surgeries, etc! I think by middle age it's kinda the status quo, and little stretches of injury free activity are like gifts from the gods!

  6. Thanks for this...I apparently just went through all the dumbassedness listed above. You'd think being on 100% no exercise for prescribed time frame would shift me into eating healthier, but alas it has not. I will work on Alternative Injury and Sanity remedies instead.

  7. I generally will get uber cranky when I'm injured (which I'm trying to ward off at the moment as I type this) so I completely understand. I just try to do what I can, and, as you said "heal the fuck up". Seeing my chiro tonight and already got a game plan with some exercise sheets she sent me last night.

    Wishing you quick healing!

  8. (Fingers tightly crossed, knocking on all the wood I can reach) So far, I have not had anything I really classify as an injury. At least, there was the time the car hit me, which kept me off my bike for a week or so and slowed me down for a month or so, but it was Christmas so I hardly noticed, and once there was an arthritis flare up that messed up a ride I'd trained for, but it really only hurt for a week or two. So anyway, while I am not at all good at your list number 2 (and probably all too good at list number 1) I am hoping that is just because I have not been forced to come to grips with either one much.

    Some of this is probably good old denial. I mean, how do I know whether that ache is a potential chronic injury lurking, or an ache that is so minor I should absolutely ignore it, or just an inevitable factor in aging, or something that will do better if I just work through it, or...? And we active types are surrounded by t-shirts and ads beatifying suffering (not the martyr type, just the day to day effort type) which makes it pretty hard to say, yeah, I should really stop now. So I generally assume that the right answer is to work through it, and that almost always turns out ok. I also have the enormous advantage of having a trainer who is also a PT, so sometimes stuff gets taken care of before I even know it's there.

    You are so good at giving us these occasional reminders - I just wish this one had not been inspired by your having to endure a back problem. Those things that affect every other muscle in your body are the worst! I hope you heal fast!

  9. I am a veteran of DA Injury Profiles 1 and 2, especially as a recovered anorexic. :) (That is why I am a HUGE fan of your blog, due to your approach to non-perfection.) Anyway, I have had good luck in cross-training with a hated exercise using the usual tricks:
    1. Put the appropriate clothes on first thing.
    2. Tell myself I only have to do it for 10 minutes.
    3. Tell myself it is like brushing teeth - has to be done, doesn't have to be fun.
    4. Reminding myself how much better I always feel after exercise.
    5. Mantra of, "Any exercise is better than none."


  10. The thoughts that came to my mind were:
    1) I thought you were going to whine and have a pity party? (you didn't)
    2) You swim in a pool? How about walking in a pool? When I started my 'journey' four years ago, I could only go in a pool and walk and stretch and do some resistance work. Laps are for cardio. Walking and resistance work in a pool to build strength would be a great idea when injuries slow one down.
    3) I hope you don't mind my two cents worth and also agree with Mary that "ANY exercise is better than none."
    4) I learned the art of breathing and meditation when in my late teens. I recently rediscovered it when doing yoga. I recently use the breathing techniques to fall asleep after getting up at 2amdammit-a-thirty. It does take a bit of time.
    5) We all luvs ya, don't be so hard on yourself! You are being too crabby. hehehehehehehe smooooooochies!!!!!

    1. I forgot to add that I DO understand back pain issues. I put my head into a windshield before seat belts were mandatory, over 30 years ago. So ya, I understand how bad it can get. :(

  11. OK. I completely understand those lower back muscles that rule the body! Still dealing with those and it is HARD. They so do not want to give up control of my body!

    My life feels like it's 40% rehab all the time, now. (or just getting older? Nah! ) When I let it slip at all, I pay for it!

    Good luck in healing.

  12. Back pain is NO JOKE so I am sorry that got added into the mix. Man!

    I've (mostly) remained uninjured enough that I've always been able to still do MANY of the things I like, when I can't do them ALL. But I think about how that will go as time draws on (I mean, my luck may change, we all aren't getting any younger, all that jazz). Not to say that I have the right mindset and plans B-D, but I suppose recognizing the possibility is the first step there...

    Here's to a speedy recovery.

  13. Remember when back trouble was called 'lumbago'? Ok - maybe I'm the only one ancient enough to recall that because it was a tired old expression even when I was growing up! Point is - yeah... it can be a not so wonderful by-product of middle age. Damn it. BUT - it also can magically get better! Why? I think for the very reason/s you stated, Crabby...

    Eventually, we get hip and quit beating our heads against the same brick wall and actually do the stuff to heal up and improve the foundation. THEN, we DO go back to fun, challenging activities and actually have more fun, do better, etc! So - you have a lot to look forward to once through this patch. Here's to the future :)

    1. I remember the term lumbago but I can't say I ever knew what it meant! (I guess its similarity to "lumbar" should have been a clue.)

  14. My husband has been dealing with back issues for several years, and this year, it's decided to reach out to the legs - fun! Yes, the lower back is the master of your body...or at least it tries (quite successfully) to be, along the lines of "if momma/your back ain't happy, nobody/no body(ha!) is happy" which makes ignoring it pretty much impossible.

    He's been getting help with a stretching doctor, but it's slow going. Two steps of progress, get excited for less pain, BAM - take one step back. Lather, rinse, repeat. I feel bad for both of you.

  15. I hate being injured and not participating. I could not think of one good thing to be grateful about having to have a hysterectomy and getting to watch everyone else surf last summer. I get less than zero enjoyment from watching their good rides....but then I guess I would have never found your blog or mminae, and a summer later I am stronger and better than I was before, yea squats and planks! The year in between is way shorter looking backwards. All those baby steps do add up, and when you are well looking back I hope you are still giving us a good dose of cranky, cause you crack me up.

  16. Be grateful you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again, albeit a bit slower and with a different plan! That's what i have to do when i'm not getting on as i would like in my own exercise journey.

  17. I"m so sorry that you have been struggling with injuries for so long!!
    I hate being injured - there is no other word except they SUCK!!!

  18. Oh Crabby - I hope you heal the fcuk up soon! Back pain is no fun. I have no doubt that you'll prevail.

  19. This was a great post. Crabby, you are so great at flipping the script! I hope your injury works itself out and that you are able to start some yoga adventures. Hint, hint! LOL!

    I was away this weekend and managed to injure myself three times. Small dent in my skull due to a dog hitting me in the head with a chair, broke a vein in my hand hauling myself onto a floating raft on the lake and the best one that needs medical attention in the morning…stepped on a fish bone on the beach and I think there may still be a piece inside my foot. Only I could do these things! LOL!

    And for the time being, my strategy is "4. Identify With Your Injury and Bore Everyone to Tears With How Annoying it Is."

    Hope your back pain improves soon!

  20. Yay for heated pools! My experience, decades ago, with the heated pool at the YWCA for the two years I was a member (I didn't get there often, because it was a long way from home and I was not in good health at the time) was pure delight. Especially in the winter, when you walked into the pool room and saw the steam rising from the water. I never wished the warmer cooler as I swam, either, and inhaling the steam did wonders for my sinuses.
    Like Kimberly, I stick with strategy 4.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  21. I don't have an injury, but I still relate to a lot of what you said. I often notice when doing lower body workouts I feel it in my lower back, and I've wondered about it. Or doing moves that are supposedly for glutes and feeling it in my quads. Trying to work on a particular thing that I find challenging and feeling that it is getting worse rather than improving. Grr!

    Also...Went to Zumba once or twice a week for 2 years. Loved it, but was having a lot of foot pain. The studio I was going to closed, so no more Zumba...and the foot pain is gone! Just recently I noticed that someone new has taken over the studio space, and it looks like they are offering Zumba and I was rambling away to Husband and he says "Didn't you say Zumba hurts your feet?" Guess I'm a slow learner sometimes. :)

  22. I'm really sorry you are going through all this, Crabby!!

    Seems to me that yoga would be beneficial to you when you can work into it. Maybe Pilates but I prefer yoga.

    1. Seconding that. Yoga is beneficial for just about everything when it's done right.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

    2. (And I know I've been harping on yoga for years….)
      Mary Anne in Kentucky

    3. Yes! Yoga is really amazing - not easy, but helps just about everything.

  23. It's easy to fall into the negative thinking. It takes a special crab to find the positives.

  24. I usually take your "old" route and just get cranky and bitchy about it. Luckily, I haven't been injured in a while. Maybe it's because I finally started incorporating cross-training all.the.time and not just when I'm injured?? A funny thing happened - I started to actually love swimming and cycling. Very weird, I know! I have to say - that pool looks great and I too want the kind that is warm to start and cools as you go!!

  25. OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So sorry Jan!!!!! When it rains, it pours!!!! I guess all we can do it do what we can do & try to get better... it sucks & I know I would be a bitch! :) I hope you heal quickly & don't do anything too soon to reinjure... I hope you have a good sports med doc that understands...


    I recommend running away to california to convalesce.

  27. We need you well, woman! Currently installing secret web cams in your home to be sure you to not overwork the injured area. Surveillance is the key to health.

  28. All you guys are SO AWESOME and supportive, and I can't tell y'all how much I appreciate your comments! I continue to be hilariously bad at my PT routine, but am gonna TRY to get my butt to the pool this morning and get in the horrible miserable excruciating frigid water and do some more laps. (I have discovered that I can barely do the crawl anymore without drowning, so there's nowhere to go but up!)

  29. Nothing like becoming undone to get you paying attention!! xx

  30. I have to admit - the dumbass approach looks very attractive to me :)
    I hope you feel better soon!


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