Returning To Life, To Sport, Following Injury

By Jill Daniel, Freelance Healthcare Writer

One hundred and thirty-two days. That’s how long it has been since I last went for a run – not that I’m counting.

Hip surgery on March 12, 2014 derailed me from the sport that I love and my experience since has been, well, unexpected.

Don’t get me wrong, I mentally prepared myself for the temporary cessation of a six or seven day a week habit. What I was not anticipating was the profound impact my change in lifestyle would have on so many facets of my life, as well as the slow, excruciating and incessantly frustrating re-entry back to my previous level of activity and my doubts that I will ever make it back there.

Just to briefly summarize how I wound up where I am today, it all started with the Virginia Beach Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon in 2005. My first distance race, I was instantly hooked and decided to immediately up the anty and register for a full marathon. In November 2006, I completed the Inaugural Outer Banks Marathon and knew that long slow distance was for me.

Several marathons later, I ran the Richmond Marathon in 2009 and low and behold, I qualified for Boston! Meanwhile, I had some nagging discomfort in my left hip, but, did I mention, I qualified for Boston? Hello, have to mark that off the bucket list and can’t let some aches and pains prevent me from a life-changing experience.

The accomplishment did however, motivate me to investigate what was going on and try to prevent further injury. Hence began a series of ineffective treatments and interventions including cortisone shots, physical therapy, anti-inflammatories and second opinions.

Pushing through the pain, I realized a dream and ran Boston in 2011, and Charleston in 2013 (not the most famous marathon in the world, but come on, you have to admit, it’s a lovely city).

The straw that finally broke the camel’s back came in the fall of 2013 when I realized that the overwhelming soreness, inability to walk comfortably or roll over at night that commonly followed a 20 mile run (that’s normal, right?), now followed a four or five mile run.

Fast forward to today, and my struggles that transcend the inability to run and permeate so many more aspects of my existence.

Fortunately, after speaking with Karen Kovacs, a physical therapist in Gloucester Point with Tidewater Physical Therapy and a certified USA Triathlon Coach, I can now make much more sense of it all, and have been completely validated…thank goodness, I am not actually going completely insane.

Following a significant injury and during the subsequent recovery, individuals frequently find themselves navigating a full blown grieving process. I may not have lost a loved one, but I have certainly lost the ability to partake in an activity that I so love.

The classic stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are common among injured athletes.

Not to mention, exercise is for many of us, our primary means of stress relief, and that has been stripped away now, during one of the most stressful events of our lives. Compounding this problem for some is the tendency that many of us have to turn to food in times of stress, resulting in an increase in the number on the scale and further contributing to the looming depression characteristic of recovery.

As Kovacs explains, the time previously spent training needs to be replaced with other healthy means of stress relief that will not jeopardize recovery. This may translate to walking, swimming or yoga; perhaps taking a class for which there never previously seemed to be time in the schedule. The sense of accomplishment that the sport previously provided needs to be achieved by another means. For some athletes, a literal redefining of one’s self is necessary because their sport plays a pivotal role in who they consider themselves to be as an individual.

As far as I can tell, the other imperative component of recovery is patience. Know that it is a lengthy process spanning from dealing with the immediate soreness and inflammation after surgery, to attempts to increase strength and reintroduce higher level activity, and finally, at long last, return to your beloved sport.

Hopefully, I’ll reach that final stage one day. In the meantime, I’ll just keep counting: one hundred thirty-three, one hundred thirty-four, one hundred thirty-five…

Recovering from an injury and interested in how you can safely return to sport? Find a Tidewater Physical Therapy clinic or Tidewater Performance Center near you and make your own appointment today? Have nagging aches and pains from your sport, like running? Physical therapists can evaluate you now and make recommendations to help avoid a worsening injury or tips for how to prevent an injury to begin with.

Tidewater Physical Therapy also offers running analyses (and Functional Movement Screens) for athletes to help identify potential weak areas that could lead to an injury. Ask about these services when you make your appointment.

Tidewater Physical Therapy often offers Runner’s Injury Clinics. Click here to find one near you.

Jill Daniel is a freelance writer based in Gloucester, Va. She is an avid endurance athlete, mother and consumer of healthcare. Education, whether in the classroom or life, is her passion.