Embracing Injuries: A Guide for Athletes
BY RUBY JERGES
Most athletes accept that they will face some injuries throughout their careers. While some may be worse than others, even the smallest injuries can come as a setback, interfering with plans for training and competitions. At moments like these, it is crucial to remain open-minded, organised and communicative to reduce the impact the injury may have on your mental health and your progression in the sport.
MY INJURY JOURNEY AS A LONG JUMP ATHLETE
Unfortunately, just under four months ago, I ruptured my ATFL ligament on my take-off foot. Although I have no exciting story about how it happened, the pain (both physical and mental) that this injury has caused me has been an ongoing challenge.
In this article, I want to discuss what I have learnt from my recent experiences and share with you my journey through rehab, where hopefully I can provide advice and insight into how best to work with your injury and remain motivated throughout recovery, however long that may be.
APPROACH TO SPORTS REHAB & TRAINING DIARIES
Rehab can be a long process and doesn't necessarily end as soon as you no longer feel the pain. In my opinion, aspects of your rehab should still be considered post-injury (even in small and simple ways), as you may be more at risk of further damage being caused as a result of the previous injury.
One invaluable trick I have learned recently is the importance of keeping track of training sessions and how you feel during and after them. This can be a really useful and productive way to acknowledge your progress and keep you motivated. In this way, you can remind yourself how far you have come, how you felt last week, the previous month, and even yesterday. It can also be a fantastic way for you to keep your coach up to date on your progress.
I find it helpful to use an app-based training diary. Initially, I kept notes in a notebook. However, more recently, I started using an app on my phone called Day One to track my progress. By using this, I know that I am unlikely to forget to log down notes as I bring my phone with me everywhere! The app is free and can easily be installed on your phone. You can fill it out during and after every training session to check up on how you felt physically and mentally and reflect on it with coaches or your support team at any point.
THE IMPACT OF SPORTS INJURIES ON AN ATHLETE'S MENTAL HEALTH
One aspect of injury and recovery that is often overlooked is the implications this can have on an athlete's mental health. The injury affects you physically, but what many individuals don't consider is that it can be tough on you mentally, as it takes you away from your usual routines. You often have to train separately and miss competitions and the feeling of setback can be particularly demoralising when you see the fun and progress everyone else around you is experiencing.
It's really important, therefore, to be open with yourself and others about this. Talk to your coach, training partners, physio, parents and your support network and make sure they understand how you are feeling. It is also essential when following a rehab plan that you trust the process and don't get too demotivated if you don't see immediate changes or improvements.
Rehab is a long process and takes resilience. Often, improvements may be visible early on, but then you might reach a point where they plateau – this can be quite disheartening but also very normal. Keeping a diary or logging your progress can help you with this.
GOAL SETTING IN SPORTS REHAB
From my experience, I have learnt that being open-minded and not putting too much pressure on recovery is the best approach. Goal setting is one of the best tactics to achieve this, as we tend to be quite goal-orientated as athletes. However, when setting goals during rehab, do so with your coach and physio and review them at regular intervals. For me, that's at least once every week. This way, you can see progress, and the goals will feel achievable, rather than setting larger goals that may seem a lifetime away.
Don't get me wrong, it is still good to set long-term goals for injury. However, they are often less useful, as you may not recover in the time scale as you had expected, whether that's faster or slower. Throughout the rehab process, many changes happen and things you may not even consider could occur. This can halt or speed up your recovery, so once again, it is important to regularly discuss and amend goals relative to where you are at this time.
Sometimes, you may be aiming to compete at a particular competition, and this can put a time restriction on your rehab. I have learnt the hard way that it is never worth rushing the rehab process because you could return to competition not fully healed, or you may return underprepared technically, which is disheartening if you don't compete to expectation.
By not putting too much pressure on yourself and setting realistic scales, you are more likely to be satisfied with the rewards of your progress, no matter how big or small it may be.
BEING HONEST AS AN ATHLETE
As I have said above, a priority when communicating is maintaining honesty with your support team about your physical and psychological well-being. It may seem obvious, but don’t fake recovery! If it hurts, say it hurts. If you can’t do something, say you can’t. By not communicating how you feel, good or bad, you risk further damage being caused and prolonging your recovery.
I would always say, therefore, to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work for YOU, and appreciate that everyone responds differently to setbacks, so it can often be a case of trial and error when forming plans and goals. Also, accept that your plan for the next two weeks may change, and that’s not a bad thing. Always remember that progress isn’t always straightforward.
MOVING FORWARD AFTER SPORTS INJURIES
Although I haven't reached the end of my rehab journey yet and still have a way to go, I have already begun considering my plans in the near future to ensure I keep my ankle strong and can reduce the risk of hurting it again. One thing in particular that I aim to do is maintain the inclusion of some of my rehab drills from the very start of my recovery training plan.
I have learnt from my injury experience that I have weaker ankles than I realised, and even in my non-affected ankle, it has been beneficial for me to do balance and strength-orientated exercises to work on this. Therefore, moving forward, repetition of these basic but crucial exercises will be a priority in my training, even if it's just doing 5 minutes of them in my warm-up before a gym session.
Additionally, one key point I remind myself of is that just because the injury is gone, this doesn't necessarily mean it won't return. This is highly dependent on the individual and the severity of what they have injured, but certainly, in my case, the damage to my ligament means I need to keep working hard to strengthen the surrounding ligaments.
This isn't a bad thing, however, as although I am disappointed that my injury has affected my season and training, I am actually glad it has flagged up issues with a slight lack of strength in my ankles, as we can now tailor training sessions accordingly to improve these minor weaknesses, to make me even stronger and better prepared for next season!
WHERE I'LL GO NEXT WITH MY ATHLETICS...
I've still got some time to go before I am fully fit again. But, I believe this period has taught me so much about myself physically and mentally and given me important lessons on patience and perseverance.
I have already begun feeling the rewards of the work I have put in over the past few months, which I can hopefully express next season! I have felt great satisfaction knowing that the adjustments to my training to improve my strength, balance, and reactivity will positively impact my future performances.
I hope that my experiences can be of benefit or comfort to anyone having similar troubles with injury. Recovering from an injury is different for everyone, and obviously, I am talking from my experiences and perspective, so don't forget that the journey may not be the same as mine, and that's okay.
As cliched as it may seem, sometimes, you have to go through tough times to come out stronger on the other side!
ABOUT RUBY JERGES
Ruby is primarily a long jumper, but is also known as a sprinter!
She started doing gymnastics for a little while at just five years old, but then realised in secondary school that athletics was what she wanted to pursue.
Ruby loves to inspire young girls in getting involved with athletics, and is keen to start writing for us!