You can do everything right, but if you’re involved in a sport of any kind, you can still get injured. An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, and you may be doing more good than you know by your meticulous mobility, nutrition and recovery rituals— however, a freak accident or misstep can lead to some forced time off from the mats (rink, field, etc). When you participate in contact sports, you also must expect that something could happen at any time.
The tendency for most is to completely shut it down and wait it out. While this is a good approach at first, there is a great deal of value in getting back to a movement ritual you can handle as soon as you’re able. Between potentially helping you heal faster and keeping you mentally and physically sharp, having a plan maintains a goal oriented approach in your life. That keeps your confidence high and goals met. It seems twisted, but there is great value in the injury process, but only for those willing to be diligent in their recovery.
With that said, here’s a few things to consider when you go down for the count…
Don't do ‘nothing’
There is a time for rest and shutting it down. That time is usually the immediate phase right after you get injured and the immediate days that follow. However, rehabbing an injury that’s more significant than a bruise is going to take more than a few days. After those immediate rest days, it’s best to get moving again— just not directly on the injured area.
The “do nothing” approach is usually where I see things go badly for people: they get depressed, they get angsty and all manner of unpleasant thoughts because they focus so intently on what they can’t do and how different their movement ritual has become.
Whatever you can do, go and do it. This usually should start in the form of getting help.
Get the right diagnosis
You may find this surprising, but you won't always need the MRI or expensive medical consult. Over the years, I found this out the hard way: hearing stories of clients (and even myself) going to emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and the like, only to find the clinicians being inconclusive or unsure. There is great value in ruling out significant breaks or damage in these settings, but there are many times where a more carefully chosen medical consultant would have been far more beneficial to your sanity, time, and wallet.
Instead, find a physical therapist with a background in high impact or strength sports, and get them to diagnose you soon after you suffer an injury on the scale we are discussing (refer to the disclaimer above). If you aren't able to get a confident diagnosis from them, they'll refer you out, and that's when you should pursue the MRI's of the world. Again, please use common sense with this: if you are obviously dealing with a severely broken bone, significant head trauma, or anything like that: you should seek immediate medical attention.
Outside of some really bad injuries, most physical therapists are willing and able to give you confident diagnoses on the basis of what they see and how you're moving. More importantly, they can give you actionable steps that day to help you begin to heal properly. This is why I recommend any injuries in the scope mentioned above be diagnosed and looked at by a physical therapist (if possible) first.
Find your point person.
For those who are on a training program and keep records of it: you already understand the value of that program to your improvement and progression. Coming out of an injury is no different: you put yourself in the best position by assembling the same plan for your rehab.
After you know what you’re dealing with: use that PT from above or find a physical therapist, athletic trainer, massage therapist or qualified trainer to be the person to guide you through the journey. Come up with a plan together and mostly importantly, be sure you are clear on what you need to be doing day to day, and week to week. No ambiguities.
This is an important step because it eliminates the potential negatives at both sides of the personality spectrum: for someone who is a bit gun shy about their rehab and return, you may need the input of the point-person to push you in the right direction when you’re feeling unsure. For the “full speed ahead!” type of folks, you will benefit from handing over the reigns to a knowledgeable neutral party so you don’t do too much too soon.
If you can't afford the regular treatments of a professional, try to find room in your budget and time to do whatever you can afford. You will need the regular contact and an objective (i.e. not you) viewpoint to help guide your progression. I feel comfortable saying the money you do spend will be the best you ever spent because it's an investment in you and your expedited return to something you love.
Push the other non-injured body parts hard
When I tore my MCL in the fall- I hobbled and took an Uber to the gym the next day (forgoing my customary 20 minute walk for obvious reasons). I did the longest, highest volume workout I could come up with on my upper body. I made a plan to bring up my bench press in the weeks that followed, and to work on my arms secondarily for size. Leg workouts and jiu jitsu were obviously out of the question.
Now you may not share my extremism or desire to be that into it, but I suggest you get to the gym as soon as you can safely move there. Moving and being active in other places while you heal is one way to actually speed up the healing process. Moreover, it can really keep your confidence high.
Set goals you can achieve while injured
It’s easy for time to get away from you in the best of times, but in times of injury, that luxury is no longer in your hands: you’ll heal as fast as your body is able. Instead of waiting around for that to happen, set humble goals that you can achieve in roughly 4 week timeframes. Is your knee injured? Work on a pull-up PR. Is your elbow injured? Work on squatting a weight or # of reps you never thought previously achievable for yourself. Are both sets of limbs injured? I bet you can train yourself to do a 5-minute hollow-body hold!
For those in jiu jitsu: practice something as small as hand-fighting, or basic mechanics of back control or whatever position doesn’t cause pain. Going through the reps and improving a smaller aspect of your game is a great way to keep your mind sharp and invest in your future skills post-injury.
I think you see where I am going. The value here is that as you keep achieving goals, you stay confident. Confidence breeds a fertile mind for success, and that will make your day to day much nicer.
There’s always something you can do when you get injured; so don’t let yourself be pulled too far from your goals in the time it takes to get back to 100%. Injuries are a reflective time, and if you’re prone to negativity, the above steps will help you keep a positive outlook on what otherwise can be a frustrating time.
A parting tip: if you’re reading this and are currently 100% healthy, I recommend bookmarking it for that rainy day— when you get injured, we often aren’t thinking with as sound of mind and having a guide on hand is a good idea.