As an athlete, you’re surrounded by other players that are injured…but you continue to feel invincible and think that’ll never happen to me…and then it does.
Whatever the injury may be, frustration and disappointment ensues. I was in the same position once- which is why I wanted to share my thoughts about what injured athletes should and can do within their current circumstances.
Seek Medical Help
This one may seem obvious, but is something that a lot of people will forgo. Without a diagnosis, you’re just guessing. As an old coach used to say; assess, don’t guess. A short term injury can quickly turn into a long term injury if not treated correctly. Seek opinions from athletic trainers, physical therapists, and doctors. And if the diagnosis differs among health care professionals, seek MORE opinions until you feel confident about the extent of your injury.
Reduce Calorie Intake
The extent of a reduction will be dependent upon your sport. If you expend a lot of calories throughout the week through games, weight training, and on the field/court sessions, a moderate to high reduction is recommended.
However, if you play in a sport that requires minimal movement (baseball, throwing, golf, etc) calorie intake will remain similar to the pre-injury period. A lot of athletes seem to forget this! Many will come back from a medium to long term injury overweight and unfit. Pre-game meals consisting of pasta, rice, potatoes etc with the team should be scaled back somewhat.
Continue to Train- Do Something!
Again, this is going to be specific to every individual. If the injury is to the upper body, continue to work on endurance/power through cycling. If you are a hockey player for example, work on a Wingate Anaerobic Bike for 30-45s intervals if you have access to one.
If you are primarily an endurance sport athlete, continue to work on conditioning. This can be completed through interval type training, or through regular long, slow steady state training.
If you have a lower body injury, perform upper body work. The possibilities are endless. But please, don’t revert to a boring hand ergometer. Instead, keep your heart rate elevated.
This is easier said than done. An injured athlete may not feel like part of the team as they are not directly contributing to their team’s success, but they are still an integral part! Help coaches set up practice, help motivate your teammates in the weight room, and offer advice to teammates based on observations on the sideline.
Communicate with Athletic Trainer, Strength Coach & Team Coaches
Make sure everyone is on the same page. I currently know of an athlete who is recovering from an injury, and does not feel ready for competition. Yet, their coach expects them to be back playing, ready and fit within the next week. Evidently, communication in this instance can be improved upon.
Having clear lines of communication between an athlete, athletic trainer and a strength coach can make a huge difference in return to play. By working together, an athlete will reap the benefit of exercise progressions, planning, and recovery- which will ultimately help them get back to participating in their sport faster.
Setting goals will be dependent upon the severity of an athletes injury as well as their duration of recovery. For athletes with short term injuries (1-4 weeks), set a couple of short term goals. For athletes with medium-term injured (5-8 weeks) set a number of short term goals and medium term goals. Finally, athletes with long-term injuries (ligament/bone injuries), setting short, medium, and long term goals is advised.
For example, let’s use an example of an athlete who recently underwent ACL reconstructive surgery.
Short term goals: Increase maximum number of push-ups, pull-ups in 30 seconds. Increase 1-RM bench press etc, successfully pass sport coaching certification.
Medium term goals: Get back to jogging within X number of weeks, run 5km without stopping, throw without pain, have full range of motion at X joint etc.
Long term goals: Return to practice, return to starting line-up etc.
Hopefully, the above recommendations will be of help to some injured athletes. I was in the same position once (10 month injury), and felt lost. But, over time I learned to use these six ideas to my own benefit…they definitely helped.