By Caitlin Sargent:
As a physio I, along with many of my clients, expect I would rarely suffer injuries. As an elite athlete though it is kind of considered part of the deal. While it would be nice to always prevent all injuries, the nature of everyone’s lives is that at some point we are often going to accumulate too much strain and experience some degree of stiffness, pain or injury. It may be a slow gradual onset of tightness and discomfort when sitting in front of the computer or, as in my case, it may be a hamstring tear whilst competing at State Championships in front of a crowd. And yes there is photo evidence.
Acute injury management
Most people are familiar with basic injury management – relative rest (ie don’t do the things that hurt), ice to reduce the inflammation and reduce the pain, compression to minimise swelling and aid in blood flow, elevation again to minimise swelling in the area. What does not often get discussed as part of this process, is the psychological management. “Where did this come from?” “How long will it take to get better?” “Will I ever be the same again?” “Is this going to impact my ability to work?”… The thoughts and questions can be an unhelpful spiral.
Sometimes, being a physio in these instances is helpful – for example, my lower back had been tight that week so I was not entirely surprised when I felt my hamstring tear. However as a physio I also felt irresponsible and embarrassed that I had ignored what I thought was a minor tightness and let it become a far more significant injury. It is important to know, that all kinds of thoughts and emotions are normal when experiencing an injury. However getting caught up in them, is usually not helpful (and can actually make our pain worse). Almost all injuries will make a full recovery and if you follow medical/physio advice, a majority of common injuries will be noticeably better in 2-6 weeks.
Given my profession, I am somewhat biased – however I truly believe that good physiotherapy management and care can significantly speed up the recovery time for injuries. In my own case, after my hamstring tear, I had physio multiple times a week for a number of weeks. Given that the sciatic nerve runs through the hamstring, there was significant nerve irritation and early stage (first 10 days) treatment focused on this. Once the nerve irritation was settled down, we were able to do a fully body assessment and testing which found that T11 (a mid-back joint) made the most improvements to my hamstring length, hamstring strength and lower back range of motion. While it was frustrating to have my running training hampered, it was very comforting to see objective improvements happening in each session – giving me confidence that I would be able to return to training soon. I was able to modify my training to maintain as much fitness as possible, whilst also not impeding my recovery.
I have experienced a variety of injuries during my time as an athlete and I can confidently say it never gets “easy”. There are always frustrations, worries and negative thoughts. However I have found that by putting my energy into what I can do to get better (getting enough sleep, doing my self-releases, avoiding aggravating activities) and focusing on what training I can do (rather than what I can’t do) – I am able to minimise the impact of those negative thoughts. It allows me to see the injury as just another challenge in the life of an athlete – an opportunity for growth that will make me a better athlete, human and physio.