Being sidelined by injury can be an incredibly frustrating time for athletes. Not being able to train and race, sometimes with a mysterious onset and an even more ambiguous recovery time, can leave you in a world of doubt. For some of us, we'll take some time out, get back to feeling good, only to then be struck by the injury again, thus beginning a seemingly relentless cycle.
But with over 70% of trail running injuries being due to overuse rather than due to an acute event, it's possible to break out of this injury-rehab cycle. At Strength for Endurance, we’ve seen athletes who’ve been struggling for years finally move on from a recurring injury by implementing these 5 key steps…
Get a reliable diagnosis
It's tempting to try and solve our problems (often with the help of “Dr. Google”), but to get to the root of our injury it’s essential that we have a clear and reliable diagnosis.
Depending on the complexity of the issue and the resources you have access to, it might be necessary to get a second opinion when it comes to finding a diagnosis. Too many people take the problems they have on face value; they're told what the issue is, rest up and try a few exercises, but they never truly understand what their diagnosis means. Without this understanding, you're unlikely to change the actions that got you to that point in the first place and actually increase the likelihood of it happening again.
You don’t need to know the anatomy to ‘degree level’, but if you're with the right practitioner, you should be learning more about yourself and finding out as much as possible about what you're working with. The ability to visualise how your body is working (or not working) is incredibly valuable.
We also need to make sure we’re looking at the bigger picture. For example, a calf strain might be due to weak hamstrings, and as a result you have been overloading your calves for too long, so strengthening your hamstrings should be a big focus. Don’t be afraid to use this opportunity to evaluate your whole body, you never know what you might find.
Build a support network
As well as the health practitioner you’re working with, you should also have a support network around you. Your support network, each in their own way, should be there to keep you on the straight and narrow. You’ll need them to help you to stay accountable, be there for the setbacks and wins, and be individuals you can trust. Often they'll be the ones who will give you the logical answer rather than the one you want to hear!
It’s really important to have friends around you who don't have anything to do with training. It can be hard to see your training group carry on with the sport you love, so having people who can take you away from thinking about it and allow you to avoid obsessing can be helpful.
Establish an action plan
Once you have a diagnosis and you know what you’re working with, it’s time to get proactive. Now, as much as this will involve creating a timeline of goals and milestones, it’s not a great idea to fixate on an exact time where you will be injury free.
Anyone who has navigated injury before will know that it’s far from a linear pathway. Setbacks happen and your body may heal quicker or slower than predicted, so it’s important to stay flexible to avoid disappointment.
Your focus should be on learning where you went wrong and strengthening your body.
Obviously working within injury limitations, a basic movement screen and bodyweight strength testing will identify key weaknesses. Now whilst you might not be able to run, ride or swim like you want to, you can build a stronger chassis. This is the benefit of strength and conditioning, it provides a safe and controlled environment to work on your weaknesses.
In terms of your strength/rehab program, it needs to be individualised and scheduled into your lifestyle in order to get long lasting results.
Be prepared to make changes
If you’re finding yourself in the injury rehab cycle, it’s safe to say that your current approach isn’t working. Now's the time to be open to making changes to old habits.
Your first port of call will be to look at your training schedule across a week. Have you got the right balance of training, strength and conditioning, rest and recovery? Are you fueling enough for the demands? Are you prioritising time spent improving your weaknesses through your S&C? These are just a few questions you may need to ask yourself, discuss with your coach and then explore alternatives.
We look closer at identifying the factors that may be holding you back in our Injury Crisis Toolkit:
Hold yourself accountable
A fundamental component of a successful rehab program is accountability.
You might be given exercises to do and come back in a few weeks’ time, but during this time there's no real tracking of your progress or the opportunity to communicate.
Unfortunately, the current model with many health professionals is one hour a week, and that means a lot of time between appointments. On a journey that has many highs and lows, this simply isn’t enough support and it’s no wonder you lose focus and motivation.
If you want to get better at something, you've got to attack the problem several times a week, at least. So whoever you're working with, the ideal situation is one where you're able to have these multiple touch points across the week.