To cut a veeeery long story short, 12 weeks ago I become the proud owner of a knee bursitis.
My physio let me know I was doing good things by icing the heck out of it and NOT, under any circumstances, to do any exercises that cause it pain. No squats, lunges, push press, olympic lifts - nothing that flexes or extends the knee. It’ll make a full recovery she says, but only if I treat it with kindness. If I don’t, it’ll get worse and take MUCH longer to heal fully.
Now, by nature, I’m quite a cautious, sensible person. I’ve worked hard on disconnecting my ego from my performance in the gym. Heck, I’ve worked hard on disconnecting my ego full stop. Plus, I’ve learned how to love my body: flaws, imperfections, injuries, strengths, weaknesses - the full shbang.
These 3 things were my saving grace. Because of them, my physio’s advice wasn’t too tricky for me to follow. Leave your leg alone, Trace, and it’ll be ok in time. Treat it with love. Forget about lifting heavy or making good times on a WOD. Ok. I can do that.
Here’s what I learned.
Despite injury, you can still workout. There’s nothing groundbreaking about this information, but the amount of people who disappear from the gym because they’ve picked up an injury is quite something. Yes, it will be frustrating to watch your gym buddies doing front squats when you’re sat on the assault bike (riding 1 legged!). Sure, you’re going to have to scale the reps, the movements, the intensity. You’re going to have a limited repertoire of exercises at your disposal for a while.
But so what?
Isn’t that better than doing something you know you can’t do safely, flaring up your pain and setting back your recovery?
I virtually lived on strict press, ring rows, 1 legged assault bike, 1 legged deadlift, pull ups, push ups, hollow holds for WEEKS.
Was it boring? Did I miss doing the exercises I love? Hell yeah! But I’m not a child. I know I can’t always have what I want when I want it. I understand that delays in my gratification now lead to bigger and better rewards in the future.
And you know what? Waiting out an injury like this brings more value than you might expect. There are opportunities are to be found here.
For instance, about a week ago, I got my first kipping pull up. And I thought, woah - where did that come from?! But it’s pretty obvious - simply that, when you can’t do all the things, you’ll do more of the things you likely neglect when ALL the things are on the menu. And in doing so, you’ll reap the benefits of doing those other things.
I’m sure the flip side of that will be that my squat and clean maxes will have dropped. But hey. I can make my peace with that.
Let me ask you a question. What’s worse:
the pain of the injury, and living with that for a longer time than necessary, or the pain of having to put a few movements on the back burner till you’re on the mend?
Which one are you prepared to live with?
As my pain decreased, I started adding movements in slowly, testing them out at the lightest possible weight, keeping the ROM below anything that caused pain. Use your pain as your guide - if it hurts, you’re not ready for it yet.
Your body doesn’t lie to you. One of the ways it speaks to you is through pain. Listen to what it has to say - it won’t steer you wrong.
This is where the self love part comes in. Let me make this super easy to relate to. Say your injured body part is a puppy and the movement you were doing was causing that adorable little ball of fluff pain. It’s whimpering, flinching, cowering - you’re hurting it! Do you stop?
Sure you do. You’re not a monster. Right?
Do you have less love for your own body? The body that carries you through every day, that enables you to communicate, to laugh, to do the things you love, to climb mountains, to eat, to sleep, to hug your loved ones - to do EVERYTHING YOU DO?
If your answer here is yes, then that’s gotta change. I know it’s not easy. To change that deep conditioning that sets you up in opposition to your physical self is quite a feat. But it’s doable - trust me on that. Find somewhere to start and get going. Here’s a good place to begin:
For me, I’ve been working on that self love for a while now. Even so, every now and then I’d still catch myself saying something like “stupid knee!” but I’d catch myself and stop (seems like nothing, right? But how you speak to or about yourself is an excellent place to begin making a dent in that self-critical voice). There’s nothing stupid about this knee. There’s nothing stupid about your shoulder or hip or back. It’s just hurting. Perhaps you don’t know why - I can’t put my finger on how I hurt mine - but regardless, it still does.
Honour that pain. Honour your body’s need to heal. Get loving on your injury.
To do all this, you’re gonna have to let your ego go for a while. It’s not going to be you putting up the stellar scores on WODs or kicking ass on 1RM day. Let me offer you this as a consolation - to tread a smart path through injury is a road less travelled. There’s satisfaction to be had in knowing that you are - through your own doing - building your body back up from being knocked down. There’s pride in setting an example for others who are injured or who struggle with self-kindness. There’s power in taking your pain and using it to allow you to lead the way.
Be the one in the corner doing your rehab. Set the standard of how to come back from injury, stronger and wiser. Let your maturity and resilience shine - sure, you’re down but you’re not out, far from it! Kick ass on the things you CAN do and, when you’re fully functional again (which you WILL be), continue to kick ass on those things AND everything else.
Go where the pain is not and set up camp there. Slowly but surely, where the pain is WILL heal.
Injury is an opportunity.
For PRs you didn’t think you’d hit.
For practicing the lost art of self-love.
For growing as a human.
For settling your ego.
For taking circumstances that feel crap, that look nothing like what you were aiming for, and making a silk purse out of that painful sow’s ear.
There’s rich pickings here in injury-land.
Go get ‘em.