I have the privilege of seeing athletes every day of my life. By using the word, ‘athlete’, I mean anyone who exercises on a regular basis – weight, age, and fitness levels do not figure in my definition of the word athlete. I also get to meet with would be athletes. These are people who have decided to make a lifestyle change. They might come into buy a pair of running shoes, or for a runner’s leg assessment or for a bike setup. They simply want to start well.
Both groups normally come in with powerful goals: some want to run a Park Run; some want to run Comrades. Some of the people that I see have injuries. An injury is always a test – everything was going well and then something broke down. Some grit their teeth out of frustration as they describe what started hurting. I understand this frustration, as I had shin splints for one solid year. They started just after I turned 17 and lasted for almost a full year. Unfortunately, I spent the year getting the wrong advice until I was eventually put into the right pair of shoes for me, and they healed after a few weeks.
Some points of advice if you have an injury.
- The injury is not your enemy, it’s a teacher.
An injury is always related to one or a combination of the following:
– wrong equipment. This includes shoes or an incorrect bike setup, or incorrectly sized bike.
– muscle tightness. If you have tight hamstrings and weak quads you could be tilting your hips backwards, and thus be heading toward an injury.
– muscle weakness. If your vastus lateralis is strong and your vastus medialis weak, you might get knee pain. Place your hand on the outside of your leg and your thumb will be on your vastus lateralis. Look down at the top of your knee and you will notice a muscle on the inside part that looks a bit like a tear drop: that’s your vastus medialis. Get the outside one pulling harder than the inside one, and you will misalign your knee cap.
– training errors. Ramp up your mileage too quickly and throw too much speed work into the mix, and your body will break down.
As much as an injury frustrates, it can also educate.
- You need to find someone who you can trust and then follow their advice.
I have met people who have gone to a host of people with the same injury and picked up all sorts of advice. They then try and mix a combination of this advice and get nowhere. Find someone who has a reputation for helping athletes and stick with that person. This is going to take time.
- Follow Prof. Tim Noakes’ advice.
Tim wrote his ten commandments of how to get over an injury. His 8th rule goes as follows: “Never accept as final the advice of a non-runner.” We have had runners and cyclists in who have simply been told to stop training. Try tell an athlete to stop training. It never works.
- Think like Einstein with regard to point 2.
Give your therapist a chance. Some injuries do not disappear overnight. However, if after a month of conscientious effort, you experience no improvement, you need to look further afield.
- Be patient.
Ankles, hips, low backs, or shoulder joints did not lock up overnight. These things take time to develop, and they take time to heal. In my experience, the longer you have trained with an injury, the longer it will take to get out of it. Wise athletes respond quickly to aches and pains.
- Remember that you can always cross train while you heal.
Check with your therapist if you can add swimming, cycling or running to your sport.
- Avoid shortcuts.
Be careful about patches, painkillers, anti-inflammatories and cortisone. There is a place for them, however they need to be treated with caution. Remember that none of them actually solve the problem. People thinking of taking a cortisone shot should do their research first. (This article might be a starting point).
Hope this helps.