Recovering from a chronic injury can be a confusing and frustrating process, especially if you don’t have the right support. Luckily there actions you can take to tip the scales in your favour. Here are 8 strategies which will help to maximise the success of your own rehabilitation program.
1. Appreciate that the site of your pain is not the site of the problem.
The number one mistake therapists make when treating chronic injuries, is that they put all their attention and treatment on the site of the clients’ symptoms. As a client too, it can be difficult not to insist that treatment goes to the place of your pain. Letting go of this compulsion will make it feel easier to adopt a holistic approach to your recovery and will allow you to appreciate and enjoy the progress of learning new movement patterns as you learn to stand, walk, and run with greater poise and ease. There will always be a multitude of wins along the way during rehabilitation, but these will often be missed if you lack a broader awareness of your body.
2. Learn to soften your focus on your symptoms.
When your symptoms have been driving you mad for so long and they are the whole reason you are engaging in rehabilitation, the temptation can be to make the process all about the pain and getting rid of it. I appreciate this may sound counter-intuitive, but I always encourage my clients to ‘soften their focus’ on their symptoms and learn to pay them a little less attention. It is inevitable that during the recovery process, that you will encounter fluctuations in severity of your pain or injury and if you are overly fixated on them as your only marker of progress, you will most likely be strapping yourself onto an emotional roller coaster. These roller coasters generally consist of becoming excessively optimistic which can result in ‘overdoing it’, and then becoming extremely disappointed, losing motivation, and engaging in self-destructive habits. Not only this, paying a disproportionate amount of attention to anything in your life can easily begin to distort its reality and holding something constantly in the forefront of your mind results in its amplification. Teach yourself to dial down the intensity of the problematic area of your body as you begin to tune more into your system as a whole.
3. Adopt a ‘Growth Mindset’.
Through her work, world renowned psychologist Carol Dweck, managed to identify two opposing mindsets that can be frequently observed in different types of personalities. A fixed mindset can be described as a person who believes that their basic intelligence, talents or qualities are simply fixed traits, and they spend their time trying to document them rather than build and develop them. A failure to a person with a fixed mindset can feel disastrous and can easily lead to feelings of inadequacy. A growth mindset is inherent in a person who believes that their talent can be developed through hard work, good strategies and input from others. Failure to somebody a growth mindset can be a point of excitement because it is an opportunity to grow and become more. I highly recommend paying attention to your own experiences in this respect. In terms of rehabilitation, a fixed mindset will be drawn to focus on practicing the exercises which they are most familiar and comfortable with and will frequently ‘forget’ about the more challenging ones. It sounds crazy, but therapists see this pattern every day.
Now don’t get me wrong, it is important to be aware of your strengths and your assets and there is nothing wrong with celebrating what is already good and working well with your body. However, the things which challenge you the most are the ingredients which will ultimately lead you the pain free functioning body you are craving. See if you can learn to celebrate when you find a weakness and become excited about the progress its resolution will bring you.
4. Manage your expectations.
Expectation is the enemy of progress. How long will something take? It will take as long as it takes, it’s that simple. If you put too much rigid expectation on how quickly your symptoms will abate, it will interrupt the natural ebb and flow of your healing and it will create anxiety. From my experience a person’s anxiety can lead to them becoming their own greatest obstacle. Once you have found a therapist and a strategy you are prepared to put your trust in and fully commit to, take your time to find a place of acceptance that healing takes time. Understand that your recovery time may be proportional to both the length of time you have been injured and to the overall time and effort you are prepared to put into your rehabilitation. The way I see it, you can’t make a plant grow quicker by tugging on the stem. Just be responsible, trust in the process and try to be patient with your body.
5. Set yourself up for success.
I love an old adage. ‘Look after the pennies, and the pounds look after themselves.’ And ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ Are two which I like. But what on earth have eggs and pennies got to do with regaining my physical prowess? Well quite a lot actually. The pennies I’m referring to are the minor details in your life. There are countless small habits and behaviours which we engage in throughout the day which will contribute or detract to our overall success in life. Becoming more conscious of just some of these will impact favourably on larger goals, meaning that we will move towards our goals with seemingly greater ease. Take stock of your daily routine and notice which habits or behaviours are in line with feeling better physically and which are not so helpful. Try to double down on the things you know make you feel better in the long run and even try to add in rituals which align with your desire to optimise your physical body. So, what of the eggs? The basket is your rehabilitation program and your time with your therapist, the eggs are your actions or your responsibilities. Your therapist and an effective program are absolutely the key facilitators of your healing, but don’t make them the be all and end all. Take responsibility for your health in as wider context as possible, get yourself motivated by reading and listening to inspiring content, and ask your therapist to point you in the direction of appropriate resources so you can educate yourself. In short, don’t put all of your hopes, dreams and expectations into that one avenue of support.
6. Be a geek.
There is nothing more empowering than self-education and self-knowledge. A challenge such as an injury or a dysfunctional body is always an opportunity to learn and to grow. Use your injury as a catalyst to stimulate you to learn more about the human body and in particular your own body. The more you discover about the subject of wellbeing, the greater the chance you will spot and appreciate crucial nuance in things like corrective exercise and your own personal habits. Many individual exercises look incredibly simple, but it’s the minor details which can make them effective. A desire to dive more deeply into your exercise, understand their principles and to understand the movements you’re engaging with will ultimately lead you to getting more out of them. Train yourself to become more conscious of what you do with your body over a 24 hour period and you may begin to spot minor details in how you habitually sit, stand move and sleep which may be compounding your symptoms and preventing them from fully unwinding.
7. Get excited.
Getting out of pain can seem like a compelling option in the moment when things are extremely bad, however, this doesn’t always last, especially when your pain or symptoms begin to reduce. It’s commonplace for people to lose motivation and focus when they enter ‘no mans land’ od things just being manageable. So as you can appreciate, if pain is your only motivator, as it diminishes, so will your drive. It is also widely accepted that goal setting is more effective when stated in the positive. Stating or focusing on what you don’t want is not a great strategy for moving away from it. So, with this in mind it can be very helpful to have a clear vision of a bright future where your pain free body will allow you to engage in as many meaningful activities as possible. Ask yourself, what have I got to look forward to when I have my body back where I want it to be? What fresh challenges will I set myself? And, what will excite me most.
8. Be positive.
I know this sounds something of a cliché and that positive thinking has gained some bad press in recent times, but it definitely has its place. One of the key differences between successful recoveries and failed attempts, is often the individuals ability to look for and find positives. There are two types of clients in this respect and it is usually the second session when this trait comes to light. Client one will come in and tell you everything that is wrong, that doesn’t feel good and usually that they are no better, but with some gentle and persistent questioning, will reveal that they actually had a period of reduced symptoms and that overall they have been of lower frequency or intensity. Client two will tell you everything which went right and will be able to give you examples, no matter how minor of how they have improved and are feeling encouraged. Sometimes this client number two will express that they have experienced a sense of improvement even if there isn’t anything tangible they can offer you. Needless to say, client number two ALWAYS gets better. Client number one can be coached and can shift their attention to the positive but it will require that they have an ego flexible enough to accept a deeper responsibility for their part in their healing journey.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Stay Awesome Dudes & Dudettes and see you soon.