Even if you do not say it aloud, these words most certainly cross your mind when that little twinge becomes a nag that then becomes a pain in the you know what, literally and/or figuratively: “I am injured, so now what?” An injury, especially for someone who relies on daily exercise to feed their endorphin addiction, is a life altering experience. It takes you out of your routine; it robs you of your outlet for stress relief and sends you spiraling into a state of despair. You become envious of others who are working out and training for races. When you hit rock bottom you are laying on the coach stuffing your face thinking you should just retire now, no one will notice.
The phases of injury very much resemble the stages of grief or the Kübler-Ross Model, which was initially described as the emotional phases that one goes through after the death of a loved one. Now I am not trying to trivialize death and dying, but simply highlighting the similarity of feelings experienced after a loss.
Denial-you do not believe it to be true. You say things to yourself like, “This will go away after my 2 hour trainer ride,” or “It only hurts after I run, not while I am running.” You respond to questions with astonishment, “Limp? What limp?” Then you keep pushing through with the deepest hope that it will all just go away and get better on its own. Then after a few days, a week, or even a month (damn, crazy triathletes) you give in and you finally say to yourself, “I am injured.” Then you tell you running buddies you can’t join them because that thing just didn’t go away. Giving in to what your body is telling you is hard, but it is oh so important, it might sound crazy but we experience pain for a reason, so that we do not cause more harm. Stage one complete.
Anger-you become mad. Thoughts like “Why does the world hate me?” and “I hate the world,” plague your mind all day. You may accidently misdirect your anger at your loved ones, but they know it is because you miss your endorphins not because you don’t love them. This anger also manifests itself as envy, and you become jealous of all your friends who are getting their endorphin fix. Your blood boils every time you see a tweet about a workout and you want to throw your phone to the ground.
Bargaining-you being to think of how you can undo the injury and reflect retrospectively on things you could/should/would have done. “I wish I had foam rolled more during the season,” and “If only I had sacrificed a little bit of aerobic work to strengthen some imbalances,” are thoughts that haunt you. You analyze every workout over the last several weeks and in hindsight you think about how you maybe should not have kept running when you got that little twinge in your back. Then you think about how you would give up ice cream and chocolate just to be pain free and healthy.
Depression-you become sad and irritable, losing interest in things that used to make you happy. This is the stage where you really feel sorry for yourself. You sit on the couch watching episode after episode of Girls and House Hunters eating more ice cream than is even allowable when training 20 hours a week. Your friends try to console you, but you just don’t want to hear it. You just want to be alone to wallow in your sorrows.
Acceptance-you finally come to terms with the fact that you are injured. You willingly cut back on training since you know your body needs rest. You make a recovery plan and start taking action to help your body heal. You think “I am learning so much about my body,” and you gain insight into ways to correct weaknesses and gain new strengths that will make you more durable and resilient. Your confidence comes back and you begin to look forward to training again.
If you are a triathlete, long distance runner, or athlete in any sport, you have probably experienced these emotions and feelings while injured. I would love to hear about your experiences with injury and how you overcame the setback, so please do share!