Injuries, unfortunately, are often a big part of everyone’s fitness journey. Usually (and hopefully) they’re minor and manageable, but sometimes they’re not. And that’s just how it goes. Let’s talk a bit about prehab and rehab, my injury experience, and how to get through the mental barriers that come with injuries and other setbacks along the way.
Prehab is an incredibly important part of my training. I already have a very functional foundation in my programs and all of the exercises I perform/prescribe, but adding in extra prehab is very important. It’s also very individualized!
what is it?
Prehab can be anything from stretching a single muscle group, to running, to performing a full on physical therapy routine.
Based on the individual and their specific needs, the prehab is going to be different. But prehab in general is the performance of therapy-like exercises in an effort to strengthen a muscle/joint/body part and minimize the risk of injury.
I personally have a pretty hefty routine of prehab that I do just for my whole body. I pick and choose which parts of the routine depending on the day, how my body feels and what I’m training that day. But I’ve always been very strict on properly priming the body, and also properly recovering to avoid injury.
is it fun?
Not particularly. Prehab can be tedious, painful, intense, or difficult. It often consists of small, controlled manipulations of certain muscles/joints in order to instill proper mechanics, mobility etc.
That being said, it can also provide tons of relief of certain muscle groups/joints, making them feel loosened, aligned and ready. It is SO important to incorporate proper mechanics and corrective exercises into your routine to make sure you’re doing everything you can to avoid injury.
how do I do it?
The first step is to figure out what you need it for. What stops you from doing certain exercises or activities?
It may be that tight hips stop you from squatting to 90 degrees, or that a stiff shoulder doesn’t let you lift over your head. Or maybe you don’t have any issues yet, you just want to be preventative, which is the whole point of prehab. Which is great!
In any case, figure out what ails you or what you think you want to protect further from any injury. Then, research. Every body part requires different stretching or mobilizing, and it’s always going to look different to prevent pain and injury. Start trying to research prehab exercises for each area, or ask me! And I can help.
Injuries and mental hurdles
Oftentimes injuries lead to a variety of mental hurdles that need overcoming during the recovery process and further down the line while integrating back into activity.
Sure, the physical pains of injury suck. And they can last a while. However, they are usually manageable and generally fade quicker than the lasting mental barriers.
Mental barriers from injury have been reported to be the reason many people stop lifting weights, athletes quit their sport, or individuals don’t ever start exercising in the first place.
Return to activity post-injury is difficult due to the psychological reaction to injury. These psychological reactions can look different depending on the individual. Common culprits include:
- Inability to participate in valued activity
People who love their sport/activity/workouts who are then forced to suddenly stop all involvement have a hard time accepting this loss.
- Threatened sense of identity
Oftentimes exercise, activities, sports and other things that involve movement and a healthy body create one’s sense of self. The inability to move in the ways they normally do causes a loss of their sense of identity – who am I without exercise?
- Inability to reach goals
Some people thrive on goal-setting, and dreams of reaching those goals (whether long-term or short-term) often disappear and are stripped as soon as injury occurs.
Injuries can be a real b*tch to overcome, and a lot of injuries come with unwanted emotions – anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, sadness, fear and disappointment.
How to cope
There are so many ways to make your injury less overwhelming and more manageable! Don’t lose hope.
- In my own experience, one of the most important components of recovery and getting through the mental barriers that come from injury is having a solid support system. Reach out to someone important to you (a friend, partner, coach, family member) and let them know that for the next __ number of weeks, you’re going to need to lean on them. And then do it! Those that love you will gladly take on the role of supporting you and helping you through a hard time.
- Take your recovery seriously. Your previous “job” may have been exercising daily. Now your job is to recover – do everything in your power to help this happen! Treat your recovery like a new priority with new goals – to get better ASAP. Looking at recovery as a component of training can help, as it has a lot of similarities. Spend your time away from the gym working on the things you still can – stretching, breathwork, mobility, meditation, nutrition – all things that will help your performance down the road post-injury!
- Stay busy. It may be difficult at first, not knowing how to fill your gym-time with something else. But find something you are passionate about outside of exercise. This will help with keeping your sense of identity, and also keep you occupied instead of sitting around bored and sad all day. Grab a book, practice a new language, join an online class – the options are endless! You can still stay fit while injured – mentally and physically.
My injury experience
Unfortunately I’m not unfamiliar with injury! I had my first knee surgery when I was 14 and had screws put in the end of my femur to try to limit the effects of a degenerative bone disease attacking my knee joint. I then had two more surgeries on it over the next 8 years.
It was always hard taking time away from my sport (I ran track for 16 years) and missing out on everything that I couldn’t do while on crutches. Looking at it as a temporary setback for longterm benefits always helped me get through it.
wtf happened to me this time
If you didn’t know, I’m currently injured.
As I write this, I have not walked in exactly two months. I went from doing 20,000 steps per day, hitting the gym at 6am every day, performing olympic lifts, sprinting on the treadmill, biking around my city, and doing yoga on the weekends – to being unable to walk for two months. That is a LONG time, and it has not been fun.
Basically what happened is that my foot had a very unfortunately-timed encounter with the ground. I ended up rolling my ankle and *somehow* shattering a very important bone into 8 pieces. Kind of a freak accident but I’m not mad (anymore). Just a bit of bad luck, what can ya do.
Right when it happened, I was pretty sure something was broken, but I didn’t know if I was just being a baby. Keir had to come carry me inside and we tried to convince ourselves that it wasn’t that bad.
Turns out it was the most bad.
That’s slightly dramatic, but it wasn’t good.
When I rolled my ankle, I managed to shatter my cuboid into 8 pieces. I spent all day in the ER as they took x-rays, a CT scan, and waited for a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon to look at my imaging. The surgeon then confirmed that I would need to have reconstruction surgery ASAP to repair my poor, mangled cuboid.
I went home in an air-boot and waited for the surgeon to call and schedule my operation.
Idk if you wanted to learn about your feet, but here’s a little (very brief) lesson in foot and ankle anatomy!
The cuboid is a bone in your foot that is essential to the integrity of your ankle. It aids in stability, range of motion, balance, and the function of the lateral column of the foot. So a displaced cuboid that has disrupted the joint lines of the foot & ankle ultimately jeopardizes the functionality of the foot and everything that it can do (which is a lot!).
The cuboid is also the central bone for three joints of the midfoot that “bridge” the foot to the ankle: two metatarsal joints, the calcaneocuboid joint, and the articulation with the lateral cuneiform. So it connects the bones in the midfoot that allow full function from the heel all the way to the toes.
Because the cuboid is such an involved bone with multiple muscle, ligament and tendon attachments, it is apparently VERY uncommon to have an isolated injury. Meaning that if you’ve injured your cuboid, you’ve likely injured MANY other components of your ankle – ligaments, other bones of the midfoot, etc.
In true Teigan fashion, I managed to pull it off. I’m a true winner. Simply shattered my cuboid without harming any other aspect of my ankle (hence the freak accident part).
Surgery was so important for me because due to the disruption of the joint lines associated with my cuboid, I had lost a lot of length of the lateral column of my foot. Think of a crushed can being half the height of its original form. This loss of length meant incredible problems for my foot for the rest of my life if it was not fixed.
I’m going to be really nice (ugh) and use a digital photo for what I had put into my foot – a plate and 8 screws (internal fixation). I may sound like a crazy person, but I asked my surgeon to take a photo of my foot before he stitched it up. So he did! And I think it’s the raddest photo, however I think some people may get mad at me if I put it in here and they had to see it lol. It’s a picture of my foot on the operation table, open incision, plate and screws newly drilled in. I’ll just let you imagine it for a sec (send me a message if ya wanna see).
This is pretty much what it looks like (below). In the photo of my foot, it’s so amazing to see how perfectly he re-aligned the joint lines. He also was sure not to disrupt the major nerve that runs right over the cuboid. I just find the body so interesting and love to see this kind of stuff. Hopefully I’ll get to be an OR nurse one day!
I won’t be able to run for 6 months (or do anything high-impact). This is huge for me and has been a struggle! But I have the best support system and have been managing thanks to Keir taking care of me – he is an absolute angel.
I have been completely non-weight bearing for exactly two months now. Along with being on crutches, I’ve also had to wear a tall air boot ever since I got my cast off (it’s been 5 weeks). As of today I can start putting a bit of weight on it, but it’s going to be a long road to full recovery. I’ll also be starting physical therapy tomorrow to get everything working again (my foot can’t do much as of now).
I’m not going to lie, I have been very frustrated. Being unable to walk has been honestly infuriating sometimes. I can’t work, I can’t make myself food, I can’t go anywhere, I can’t do what I love to do. I’ve lost 15lbs and tons of muscle/strength, and I can’t even shower standing up. It has been SO easy for me to focus on everything that I can’t do, and sometimes I let myself think about how much it sucks.
But then I stop myself because there is so much that I can still do. I’m focusing majorly on my stretching and hip mobility right now, something I haven’t been doing as much as I should. I am also diving into French courses! Which I’ve been wanting to do since I moved to Canada and met Keir. So I have plenty to do and I have to accept the challenge of channeling my energy into new things for a while.
And as of today I can start to walk! So my recovery will really speed up from here. I can’t wait till I’m back in the gym and crushing new goals again!
My current daily routine:
- Tea and stretching in the morning (1 hour)
- Very funny (sad) workouts that only use one leg/upper body/core
- Practicing French
- Working on my Microbiology online course
- Watching every cheesy Netflix xmas movie
If you find yourself struggling with a physical injury, time constraints, a new schedule – ANYTHING that is stopping you from getting to the gym and reaching your goals, talk to me about it. It can be so hard mentally to overcome and we can work together to get through it.
And if you want some help on coming up with prehab exercises catered to your needs – hit me up! Let’s keep you healthy so you don’t end up like me and my foot.
Hargreaves E. The psychological response to physical activity related injury. Journal of science and medicine in sport: supplement 1. 2012;15:137. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2012.11.330