photo: I Can Has Cheezeburger
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!
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???
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?