If you have had a recent injury you know the devastating feeling of missing your season or having to sit on the sidelines. Many people never fully recover from a bad injury because they do not treat it seriously enough and they end up having problems years down the road. The positive part about being an athlete is that you need your body to perform at a higher level than most people walking down the street so you will go to greater lengths to be sure it heals. Whether you have a serious surgery or a minor setback these tips will help you to be stronger than ever before. The tips below are what I have taken away from my personal experience after a back surgery and 7 months of recovery and training with the hopes of playing polo and returning to my normal active life.
Assemble your team
Accepting that you will need help and guidance is the first step to getting back to your sport. Your first step should be to consult with your surgeon or doctor and make appointments with the rest of the people who will aid you during your recovery. After seeing your surgeon or doctor, consult with your physical therapist and be sure you are following all their instructions for specific workouts. You may also want to see a personal trainer for a few sessions to be sure that you are executing your workouts safely and with proper form. Alternative medicine can also be incredibly helpful as you are healing. Acupuncture and sports massage can help loosen up the muscles you are working so that your body is able to correctly heal. If you also work with a coach for your specific sport you will also want to keep them informed of your specific limitations so they can help you create a training course for you which will be different than your workouts.
I worked with my physical therapist and a trainer to create my progressive workouts to strengthen my core but we also created polo specific drills that incorporated balance and hand eye coordination into my routine. Depending on your sport your team should be catering your recovery to you and your sport specifically. When you are a bit stronger talk with your sport specific coach about what type of drills you can slowly start to incorporate as you return. I started by first slowly riding and just carrying a mallet around before I started a full rotational swing. Take baby steps to get back in the “swing” of things.
Make a plan, then be flexible
Once you have your team in place it is time to start setting goals. Set goals for yourself but also understand that recovery is not a straight line, there will be many ups and downs. Even if your doctor said you can resume training in 3 months, that is just a guideline, and you cannot predict how your particular body will respond. Create a calendar with all of your doctor, PT, workout and other appointments written down, along with goals and benchmarks you hope to hit along the way. This will help to keep you focused and accountable. I found that while I was unable to ride, what I was missing the most was reaching for a goal or bettering myself and by setting small attainable goals I kept my mind busy and focused while my body healed.
Check in with your doctor and physical therapist on a regular basis to see if you are on track or if you should be increasing the intensity of your workouts or if your body needs time to heal. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn, more than once, was that more is not more when it comes to workouts. Our bodies need to heal and rest and pushing yourself to the point of breaking again will set you even further back in your recovery. The best advice I received about my recovery plan was when I felt ready to increase my workout intensity and was feeling good, I was told to wait two more weeks at that level before progressing. Faster and more is not always better for healing bodies, this is hard to accept but crucial for healing so slow down and when your body feels great and good to go, give it just a little longer rest.
Improve off the field
While you are unable to play your sport take the time as an opportunity to work on learning as much as you can without doing. Read a book about technique or strategy. Watch old video of yourself and make notes about how you can improve. Read up on new rules and watch professionals play. Just because you are unable to play doesn’t mean you have to stop learning. For many people their sport is also a huge part of their social setting and loosing that connection can be isolating and depressing. Try to still stay involved with your friends from your sport even though it can be frustrating to be on the sidelines. I still went to watch polo and host tailgates with my friends which helped me stay focused on my goals of getting back to what I love.
Your body after your injury is different than your body before and you might have to treat it as such. Once you are playing your sport again, don’t neglect all the training you did to get here. It is still imperative that you continue your strength training and occasional physical therapy check ins. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, take things slowly and listen to your body. For every high impact workout (or game) you do, you should try to incorporate a restorative action for your body. Restorative actions include: sports massage, foam rolling, yoga, stretching, Epsom salt bath or meditation session.
Try a new, lower impact workout like yoga or swimming in order to reduce stress on your body in the future. I found yoga to be incredibly restorative and necessary to help the muscles in my back and hips open up so my spine could heal properly. It also helped to reduce my stress and anxiety related to the injury. You never know what you find you might enjoy on your road back to your favorite sport.
While many people have injuries and surgeries, not everyone approaches their healing like an athlete but by doing this you will ensure that you come back even stronger than before and you will be able to stay active for years to come. My personal road to healing has been filled with many ups and downs but by trusting in the people around me with much more knowledge than myself I was able to return to a normal active life that I have never been more grateful for.