Dr's RX: Emotionally Coping With Injury

by Todd Shatynski, M.D.

As I looked at my friend laying on the road with a broken collarbone after crashing his bike training for Ironman on Father’s Day weekend, I worried more about his mental state of mind than his broken bone. While ligaments, tendons, bones, and muscles heal, the fragile psyche of the injured athlete can be even more of a challenge. I see injured runners all year long as most are of a “hardy constitution” and run through all of upstate New York’s seasons. Still, when counseling the injured runner, there seems to be something easier to swallow when coping with the injury in the colder months. It is challenging for everyone to be told they need to take a prolonged break from their chosen avocation during the peak time of nice weather! It is this experience that has prompted me to write this article at this time of the year. Some of you may be coping with an injury and dwelling on the lack of training days and missed races.

Research finds that around 70% of runners will miss training time due to injury in a given year. While it is normal for someone to be bummed about an injury, I find that a lot of runners really struggle to stay positive when coping with an injury. Since the majority of running injuries are from overuse, it is often imperative to take a break from running to deal with the “culprit” as well as letting the injury (the “victim”) heal. When the body is accustomed to the steady flow of endorphins from your daily run and then that has to stop, it is similar to a withdrawal from any other addicting drug. While perspective is important, keeping it in mind that you still have your overall health, your friends, and family, I find it helpful to repeat the mantra “I will run again!” I really believe (and studies support this) that maintaining a positive outlook can assist in recovery from the injury. Also, if you count on running to keep you connected to your friends and social life, this may take some initiative on your part. Encourage your training partners to crosstrain with you! Take a pilates or yoga class together. Get the bikes together out on the path. Or just stay connected over a cup of coffee! Staying active is equally important. I always try to highlight what activities are still going to be allowed when running isn’t. The runners “high” may be different on a bike or in a pool or yoga class, but it can really help cushion the need to otherwise be on Prozac! If your doctor or physical therapist hasn’t gone over these guidelines, be sure to ask.

I have been on both sides of this problem, so I understand the pain and frustration of an injury. Through my experience in my sports medicine office as well as being an injured runner myself several times over the past 30 years of running, I have learned that the runners who are successful are the ones who can take the inevitable injury and adjust – often returning as a better, more healthy, and sometimes faster runner! Good luck and hang in there!

Dr. Shatynski’s Archive

Injury Prevention April 2018

Doctor’s RX Intro Column January 2018

Dr. Shatynski, of the Bone and Joint Center, has extensive experience in a variety of sports, including football, hockey, and endurance sports. A graduate of Guilderland High School, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, as well as participating in running and triathlons. He has completed multiple marathons and Ironman distance triathlons, including Ironman Hawaii.

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