How to Stay Motivated After a Major Injury

The snow was blowing down the mountain faster than my board could keep up. I carved left and then back to the right, gliding over the packed snow as I made my way down the mountain with my two friends. The weather channel had stated that the winds would pick up to thirty-five miles per hour in the afternoon and we could see even as the morning approached noon that the forecasters were going to be correct. We had decided that this would be our last run from the summit and would snowboard the whole mountain back down to the base lodge to meet up with the rest of the group. I had taken the lead as we came to the end of an advanced trail and turned to connect into an intermediate trail. As I rode the board with control and confidence of an advanced rider who’s been doing this for over 20 years, I saw a raised bank on the left of the trail that stretched about 20 yards. I figured I could ride up onto it and carve back on the trail. I slowed myself down by S-carving as I set my nose of my board towards the bank. As I approached the small mound, I pushed my back leg to the left to allow me to carve along the bank. However, as I pressed the tail side of the board into the bank, I hit a patch of ice and the board continued up and over the bank. The next thing I knew, I was sailing through the trees and I saw the front tip of the board hit the stump of a birch tree, turning my body horizontal. I felt a sudden snap as my left leg wrapped around a tree causing my body to slingshot back onto the side bank of the slope. Being a fitness professional and knowing my anatomy, I immediately knew I broke at least my tibia and probably my fibula. After two hours of painful rides down the mountain in a rescue sled and in an ambulance, I arrived at the ER where after review of the x-rays, it was confirmed that the tibia and fibula were fractured.

X-ray of my leg in ER on 2/18/2020

Respect the Recovery Time

In my thirty-five years of exercising and participating in sports, the most I’ve ever sustained in terms of an injury was a sprained ankle, so having an injury as severe as this was not something I could comprehend. I have seen friends throughout my years with their broken bones in casts or wrapped up for a number of weeks. I would watch as they struggled to move their appendages and thought that if I were them, I’d make every determination to will my arm or leg to move normally. Yet, now that I’m lying here with my leg up on pillows and my toes barely moving when I concentrate, willing them to curl downwards like they so easily did two weeks ago, I understand why my friends were almost in tears as they too, struggled to make their muscles contract. What the doctor didn’t tell me as I lay on the patient bed the night prior to surgery, was that the muscles that once were all attached to my “very thick bones” (his words), would have a very difficult time contracting. Because the tibia would have a rod holding it together, it would take six to eight weeks to remodel and have the strength to withstand the force needed to make the muscles contract normally. My fitness brain began crunching some numbers. That’s one and a half to two months of no exercise on that leg. For every week in atrophy, it takes two weeks to rebuild the muscle. I’m looking at possibly four months to come back from this! Then he added that it would be another two to four weeks of rehab to get the leg weight-bearing again. So, that would push my recovery to six months before I’d be back squatting or lunging with weight, let alone, jumping and landing from different ninja warrior obstacles.

In another life, I probably would be lying on a couch stuffing my face with junk food, binge watching Netflix shows, and letting my body melt into a puddle of atrophied mush until my leg healed. Then, I’d drag my weak body into work and hope that my clients could encourage me to get both of us healthy and strong. However, this is not the life I currently inhabit; thankfully.

X-ray of my leg post surgery on 2/19/2020

Positivity Paves the Way To a Healthy Recovery

I won’t lie and say that this first week into recovery has been glorious and that I’m ready to take on the world. In comparison, I feel my body has revolted against me and any task as simple as putting my broken leg down towards the floor to stand up is a marathon, where the last two miles are up a mountain. The pain and discomfort are excruciating, but with each day that I’m able to do a little more, in addition to the reassurance from the nurses and doctors of how quickly I’m healing, I can keep a positive mindset and push forward. A positive mindset is key when staying motivated through any difficult time. This positive mindset can be as simple as knowing that you’re going to be ok. That this is just a temporary condition and in a couple weeks, you’ll be able to continue doing the thing that got you into this mess. For me, I’m looking forward to take another stab at that trail. Another way to stay positive is to continue participating in other activities that you enjoy that are not effected by the injury. Keeping yourself occupied with enjoyable moments will keep you upbeat through the tough road ahead. A support system can also be an effective resource for staying positive. The amount of hopeful wishes and encouragement I have received from my friends, family, clients, and club members has helped me stay motivated to recover as quickly as possible. Asking for help from this group is another tool to keep you moving forward. If your support system is willing to lend a hand anywhere, don’t hesitate to take them up on it. Trying to do everything yourself can become stressful and take you away from your main priority; recovery.

Heed the Power of Authority: Doctor’s Order

Even though you have the mentality to push forward and recover as quickly as you can, you must obey one higher power; your doctor. If you want to recover quickly, you have to listen to your medical professional so you don’t set yourself back. Once they took my staples and stitches out, I was ready to move onto my rehab exercises (this is just nine days after I got my surgery) and I asked them if I could start flexing my ankle and bending my knee so my muscles wouldn’t atrophy or tighten. The PA and nurse looked at me like I was joking. “No,” was all my PA said. Then I thought about it and it made sense. Since those muscles that make that movement are attached to the tibia, it wouldn’t be reasonable to try to stress the recovering bone in my efforts to get better more quickly. Thus, I am following my recovery protocol of rest, elevate, ice, move the rest of the body, drink plenty of water, keep up with the medication, and eat a healthy diet. Resting is the easy part. Lately, my body frequently knows it needs rest and I’m suddenly knocked out. I recommend listening to your body and doing as it says. Your body knows when it needs rest and sleep is known to help repair damaged muscle and remodel bone.1

Physical Feats Are Only Overcome by Challenges

Whatever you do, keep challenging yourself. That’s the last part of staying motivated. Every chance you get, try to challenge your body. Continue to exercise the other parts of your body to keep them strong and flexible. Being creative is an important element when trying to figure out what you can do. I’m stuck most of my time either lying down with my leg up or hobbling around to the bathroom with a walker. At first, I was afraid to do anything that might aggravate the injured leg, but as the days went on, I started to carefully test what my body could handle. I started doing one leg bridges with my good leg. I tried dips using my walker. I‘m still thinking of ways to keep the remaining muscles active. Also, don’t forget the injured area as well. If you’re cleared to do some basic movements with muscles near the injured site, do so. I was told that I am able to curl my toes of my broken leg. When I tell my brain to flex the toes, in my mind I can see the toes curling through their full range of motion. However, when I look at my toes, they’re hardly budging. Every chance I get, I’m working on moving those toes so that I don’t lose that function and I know that if I’m working on it now, it’ll become easier as the weeks go on. It may take some time for them to finally reach full range of flexion, but at least I know that getting back to my workouts and working with my clients is nearer.

Resource:

1. Retrieve from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4970273/ on 2/29/2020

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2 Comments

  1. been there. done that. Injuries suck. I once tore a ligament and tendon. I was out nearly 6 months before getting back to work. One day, you are able to do most things on your own, the next, you can’t even take a glass of water back to the couch. One of my most frustrating times ever. Everything became so hard. But you just gotta push through it.

    1. Thanks for the comment Randy. I agree that these little setbacks are annoying, however, like you said, you do have to push through it and in the end it’s just another experience of your resilience to overcome difficulty obstacles in your life.

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