An athlete who returns to training fearful about re-injury is an athlete that is more prone to re-injury.
Think about that statement for a minute. Now why would I choose to write about this topic? Because it’s something that I deal with almost daily in my practice. If you are reading this as a patient, perhaps you can relate, and if you are reading this as a practitioner that works with athletes, most certainly you can relate.
But, you see, this is one of the reasons that I LOVE working with athletes… I love their I-cannot-rest-I-need-to-get-back-to-training attitude. Because I’m like that too. I’m one of them. I’m the basketball player who broke her thumb and finished the tournament (ask my parents). I’m the ball-hockey player who tore her ACL and kept training for a marathon (ask my friends). I’m the runner who sprained her ankle, taped it up, and competed anyways (ask my husband). Were these smart decisions? Probably not. Would I choose differently now? Also probably not.
But….. and this is a big but, a huge however, and an extreme nonetheless…. getting back to training before your injury is healed is not the best choice in the long run. Let me say that again in a different way: if you injure a structure in your body and that structure is not healed before you resume training, you will re-injure yourself. And, most likely, it’ll be worse the second time around.
That’s where the fear component comes into play. Remember my original statement? An athlete who returns to training fearful about re-injury is an athlete that is more prone to re-injury. I believe that athletes know their bodies far better than I, their healthcare practitioner, do. Sure, I know the anatomy, I understand the biomechanics, and I can draw upon research studies and my professional experience, but I don’t really know what they’re feeling.
I’m not referring to their fear of the consequences of re-injury (ie. the baseball player who worries about missing the rest of his season, the Crossfitter who worries about completing the next Open workout, the runner who worries about finishing her next marathon)- those are normal, understandable, expected fears. I am talking about the fear, the apprehension, the tentativeness, the uneasiness, the doubt that can creep in under the surface of it all and whisper to the athlete “you’re not ready yet.” That’s where re-injury happens.
To my athletes: if I give you the green light to resume training and fear murmurs “you’re not ready yet,” tell me. And I will agree.