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Coping With Sport Injuries

By Fanny Von Viper

In any team sport, not being able to train, play, compete or practice can be just as painful to an athlete as the injury itself. Recognition and proper management can mean the difference in obtaining a healthy and strong, mind and body, and the impact on whether someone returns to sport after injury.

I remember when I first injured my knee. Prior I was asked by our Club President and Coaching Committee to attend training with our Bouting team, with the possibility of eventually moving up. This was a dream of mine, something I had worked hard towards, the reason I started Roller Derby. I was right where I wanted to be, all my hard work and commitment was finally paying off. I knew that in time, it wouldn’t be long before I would be skating alongside the teammates I looked up to.

It was the offseason, and I couldn’t wait for derby to start back, as I knew the New Year was looking in my favour. I definitely was not prepared for what happened next. Skating home on New Year’s Day, I lost balance on my board and tried to recover. That moment when I heard a loud popping sound and the inability to hold my body weight, forcing me to the ground, I held my knee in disbelief. In that moment I knew what had happened, but I didn’t want to believe it. Trying to convince myself that I only twinged my knee, and would soon be able to get back up and continue on my way. But I was wrong, and I once again found myself collapsing back to the ground. It was then I broke down in tears. Not over the pain, but the knowledge that I had done some serious damage and would be forced to take time off to recover. This was later confirmed by my doctor and specialist, who advised me that I snapped my ACL from the bone, split my meniscus, shattered the cartilage and bruised the bones in my knee, resulting in surgery.

With any injury, you are told of timeframes, given pain management, exercises and rehab. There are specialists, doctors, physios, aides and resources in dealing with the management and recovery. People will give you advice and tell you stories of their own journey and experiences. You become an expert on your injury and the best ways to ensure a speedy and successful recovery. Being goal driven and use to a sport where heavy hits and injury is worn like a badge of honour. Talking about emotional and mental hurdles is almost taboo and something no one can really prepare you for. No one tells you that you will question your return to the sport you once loved. The fear of never fully recovering, re-injuring yourself or not being able to do things that once seemed so easy. How difficult would be, sitting on the sideline as a spectator, to a sport that you was once so heavily involved in. There were times where I felt so alone and helpless.

It wasn’t until I was approached by a teammate who had just returned from a similar injury, asking how I was coping.  She told me to be prepared for the mental roadblocks and if I ever needed someone to talk to, that she was there. It was then, I recognised that I wasn’t alone in this emotional backlash and in order for me to recover effectively, that I needed to accept this was just another hurdle to overcome.

When dealing with an injury and focusing on the recovery, it is easy to forget that working on your mental wellbeing is just as important. If it wasn’t for my teammate, I’m not sure of my future within the sport, or even if I would return. Just as she did for me, I want to shed light on recognising these hurdles and give some points that I found useful for effective management, which allowed me to return to Roller Derby stronger than before.

1. Improve your understanding of your injury

Research!! Learn all there is to know about your injury, the surgery, the recovery and the time periods. Your doctors, specialists and physios without a doubt are trained and experts in this field, but not on your own body and personal recovery. I forever frustrated my team of experts as I took their advice but challenged their timeframes. I knew my body better than them and worked with both their and my knowledge to ensure that I was always ahead of their set goals and timeframes. When they told me I wouldn’t be back on skates until early 2014, I told them November 2013. I knew how long it would take for a graft to fully heal, the rehab and the drive to make sure I hit the mark every time. I wouldn’t accept them putting me in the bracket of “average”. They didn’t know my drive or my commitment. I wasn’t prepared to put myself in a situation where causing more damage or possibly re-injuring myself was an option, but I knew my limits and I had an understanding of my injury. I knew what was involved. I knew what I was in for.

2. Be kind to yourself

It is easy to be too hard on yourself, especially when your body is at a different stage as your mind. Be kind to yourself, things take time and you will be sure to face setbacks. There will be times when your mind needs a break, it is important to allow this. It doesn’t mean you are weak or that you will stay in this state of mind. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We put limits on ourselves, expectations and are our own critics. When goals aren’t met or we can’t quite do something, we punish ourselves. It’s ok to take time to allow these feelings and this will allow us to then have the strength to regroup, refocus and start again.

3. You are not alone

Someone sure as hell is going through, has been through or will go through the same thing.  Although you may think that you are alone in this, you are not. The worst thing you can do is think that you are alone, that no one understands or try to manage your struggles on your own. Seek support, whether it’s through teammates, friends, family or a professional. Those who have also been in the same spot are great sounding boards and always have their own stories and ways of managing their own hurdles.

4. Manage fear of re-injury

When you injure yourself, there is a fear around the possibly of re-injury. You know what it is like to have gone through what you have, and there is no way you want to do this all over again. Injury doesn’t just affect your return to sport, but everyday activity. You can be cautious in your approach and have the ability to have some form of control over the level of activity and involvement. There was no way in predicting or preventing your first injury, so if it is going to happen again, it will.

I played the safe card. I was very cautious with everything I did, out of fear of re-injury. Four months after my knee surgery, I was walking out of a building and slipped on a small, barely visible, puddle of water. With my knee still recovering and unstable, I fell. As a result, I re-tore my new ACL and required a second surgery. This taught me that some things are just out of our control and unpredictable. I am still cautious of re-injury, but I am now able to manage my fear around it.

5. Put yourself in control, have a plan to manage setbacks

Setbacks will happen. There will be days where you may be mentally or physically exhausted. Days when the rehab and exercises you did last week, you may not be able to do the following week. There will be days of sickness, other injuries or just time where life gets in the way. It’s important to know that it’s ok, and to have a backup plan. Put yourself in control and just do Plan B. Set goals and envisage success.

6. Stay positive

This by far, is one of the important points, which is why I have left it to last. “In time, this too shall pass.” A positive mind can achieve anything. So stay positive and you will get through this, stronger than ever! 

Consider your psychological wellbeing in the recovery process during and after injury. Stay positive and focused on the end result, and in turn, you will have a better chance of returning to the sport you love. It may not seem like it at the time, but injury has the opportunity to allow us to refocus on our goals. It mentally prepares us for future hurdles and setbacks. Gives us the drive to achieve things we didn’t think were possible. And, it allows us to grow and be proud of our achievements and what we have overcome.

Remember, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”

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