/ fitness

Recovering from injury for the active person

I am, quite happily, addicted to exercise, be it running, cycling, hiking, swimming, yoga, climbing or kayaking. I don't mind which one, but I'd like to be doing it often. I build my life around points of exercise, not for the point of competition, but because I enjoy the way it makes me feel: my brain is connected to my body, and my body is capable of powerfully transporting my brain along this beautiful planet.

Unsurpisingly, I have had to take time out from my active life due to injury:

  • fractured ribs x3
  • spinal herniation x2
  • wrist ganglion removal
  • broken wrist
  • overuse of lower leg muscles due to over-enthusiastic running

As I've aged, I've grown better at handling my recovery, as like any addict without the sauce, I have been known to get grumpy. This year, according to Strava's graph, I was the fittest I'd been since I started using Strava a few years ago. Unfortunately, probably through a mix of suboptimal technique, poor cleat maintenance, and poor medical advice, I herniated my spine again.

Something about this injury was different: instead of being grumpy for a couple of months, I was able to manage it better. I found old things that I'd enjoyed, but had not kept up with, to occupy my mind and my imagination. Writing this blog, for example: instead of investing energy into sulking, I thought about what I wanted to write about, and ended up writing posts that let me revisit events I'd enjoyed using my fitness for (e.g.: hiking and cycling around the Bay Area). I started enjoying photography again, and relished when my back was strong enough to carry my quadcopter for aerial photography away from my garden.

I also focussed on what I could do, and comitted to it: a routine of stretches every morning to speed my recovery, to which I added core strength calisthentics too as I improved. I focussed on taking 10,000 steps a day, to keep a base level of fitness present (I picked 10k because it's realistic to achieve in a day, but still a challenge that requires me to walk for about half of my lunch break and get off the bus early).

The time without exercise, and the injury itself, also gave me time to think about how I could help prevent this from happening again. More core strength, more spinal flexibility, and better shoulder strength for long hours cycling. I could, of course, go and do weights, but the thought of standing in a room lifting heavy machines bores me, so in addition to the new calisthentics, I've added swimming, and I'm looking forward to building up to swimming 2km at lunch (I'm starting at a sensible 1km, and will grow the distance by 10% each week). Not only does swimming work a lot of muscles (all of them..?) without any impact or significant risk, it also builds VO2max, and makes one look better in a Speedo thong...

TL;DR? Can't do the thing you want to do? Find a few things that you haven't done for a while, and remember that once the initial trauma of the injury has been resolved, the best medicine to help you through recovery is something that distracts your mind while your body heals.