Hi Everyone! After a little hiatus last week, I’m back with Fitness Friday!
This week I’m going to write about being injured and the toll it can take both physically and mentally. If you’ve been working out for a continuous period of time, you know what it’s like to leave the gym, or get back from a run, and feel like something just isn’t right. You start to limp, something aches, or something feels pulled. It just hurts and you don’t know why. Every time that I have been injured, the injury has just appeared out of nowhere; there is never a defining “Ouch” moment.
All the books and articles say that pain is a sign from your body to slow down and take a rest, but as a runner, a lifter, a cycler, an ellipticizer, an endorphin-junkie, you know that even though your body is saying “stop”, it can be SO hard to stop.
During the cross-country season of my senior year, I developed tendonitis in my right ankle. I ignored it at first and continued to run (miles per day) until it got the point that I was not only limping when I ran, but when I walked, as well. Did that stop me? No. I ran on it anyways with the thought that it eventually stopped hurting after a few minutes of running. My coach eventually pulled me from the workouts when he saw that I was running like a 3-legged horse, but I continued with cross training.
I did seek treatment, but don’t remember actually doing any physical therapy. I just gave the running a short rest and eventually, the tendonitis seemed to disappear. Until sophomore year of college, that is. Once again, my ankle was throbbing after running and would leave me limping for a couple of hours post-workout, yet I always ignored it. Again, it eventually went away within a few months, mysteriously disappearing without seeking any sort of treatment or physical therapy.
This past year, my Junior year, it has yet again butted its ugly head. It started about a month after school began- just an achy feeling in my ankle, but once again, I ignored the pain. Over the course of a couple of months, my ankle felt like it was torn and hurt to the extent that I wasn’t able to touch my ankle without flinching. Red flag, right? Of course that’s a huge red flag, so with this time around, I told myself that I would finally give my body the break that it’s obviously telling me it needs. I avoided running, and instead used the bike or the elliptical or walking (a GREAT workout, by the way), all of which put a lot less pressure on my poor ankles. That plan lasted maybe two weeks. Eventually I found myself frustrated with myself (does that make sense?) because my body wasn’t fixing itself, despite my “best” efforts. After a couple of weeks, I began testing my body and would try to run a few minutes and then walk for a few minutes. Even five-minute jogs were painful, but I pushed through it and eventually was back to my old running, despite the pain and despite advice from others. The time I ran 20 miles (a few months ago) was during my latest bout of tendonitis. In hindsight, I’m lucky that I didn’t seriously injure myself.
A few weeks after that, I was complaining to Russ that I wanted to go for a walk, and I’m pretty sure I was being a brat. He turned to me and asked what I would do if (heaven forbid), I wasn’t able to workout ever again? At the time, I blew the question off, but I shouldn’t have because it holds so much weight. I put so much pressure on my body to constantly do what I want to do (which is normal), but it’s also so hard to take cues (such as pain) and take a rest when necessary. His question was a small turning point in the way that I was approaching recovery of my ankle. From that point, I made more of a significant effort to go ahead and stop running completely. I made a vow to myself that I would continue to workout, but if it hurt, then I would stop. At first it was hard to do because working out is such a crucial part of my day (and life), but with time, I found that I was, dare I say, enjoying the hiatus. I was finding new ways to break a sweat, and I focused more on weight training. Now that I think about it, I took my first spinning class sophomore year because of my tendonitis, and look what happened- I LOVE spinning. You know what they say, when one door closes, another door opens. If you’re lucky, the door isn’t closed permanently, but just for some time. In the past few weeks, the running door has opened back up for me, but I have made a greater effort to ease into running. Tendonitis is a result of overuse, so I am taking great care to make sure I don’t demand too much of my ankles. I am also more on the lookout for aches, pains, throbs and swelling.
So what is it that makes us ignore the desperate cries from our bodies to TAKE A BREAK and just push through the pain? As I talked about in my last Fitness Friday, “runner’s high” is very real, and consequently, I think a bit addictive, as well. Part of my urge to workout even when I’m injured (or sick) comes from loving the feeling of being all sweaty after a good workout, but perhaps it also comes from a [slight] workout addiction or guilt when a tough workout is skipped. I would say that it’s 90 % of the former and 10 % of the latter. I get antsy when I haven’t been to the gym because it has become part of my every day routine. Not going throws my entire day off and these days, showering without being sweaty feels so…strange.
These days, I’m making more of an effort to pay attention to pain and discomfort, because being able to run, bike, or even walk freely is not something to be taken for granted. It’s important to keep yourself healthy and strong, through a healthy diet and putting your body in motion, but it’s also important to make sure you aren’t taking your body for granted. It’s so hard to stop working out when something is wrong, but take it as a sign that your body is healing itself and needs time for repair. With that being said, being injured doesn’t necessarily mean that all forms of exercise should be given up, but it can be used as a time to explore other forms of exercise. Don’t knock a walking workout until you’ve set the treadmill on a 12 + incline and a 3.8 + speed. Or if the injury is causing pain with any leg movement, focus on weight lifting, or try a yoga or a Pilates class. Don’t be afraid to try new things or considerably tone down your workout. You only get one body; don’t abuse it.
Injury can make a person so disappointed, especially if it means a cancelled race, or less intense workouts, but look at it this way- injuring yourself permanently would be a whole lot more upsetting, especially when it could have been prevented. It’s better to take the time to heal now, than live with the pain (and regret) of permanently hurting yourself for the rest of your life. If necessary, talk to your doctor about the possibility of physical therapy. If any form of exercise is out of the question, find a temporary hobby to release all that pent up energy! A few months off are not the end of the world, and in the grand scheme of things, they may just make you appreciate your body a little more when you can get back to doing what you love.