When you consistently push your limits, which is necessary to create change, it is inevitable that you will, at some point, get hurt. You can only poke the beehive so many times before getting stung. Once you feel that sting, it is important to know how to deal with it.
The first thing to understand is the difference between HURT and INJURED. If you are hurt, you can continue doing what you are doing. It may be uncomfortable, but it will not cause more damage if you continue. Rub some dirt on it, and suck it up. If you are injured, damage has been done that needs to heal in order to prevent further damage. If you hear a pop or crack or feel a sharp or hot nerve pain, you need to stop. Understanding this difference is YOUR JOB! A coach can only know so much and can’t guess at what you’re feeling. Get to know your body and be conscious of how things should feel.
When a body part is injured, your body goes through a healing process. The first step is INFLAMMATION. When tissue is damaged, blood flow is compromised and cells die. Your body sends extra fluid to clear out the dead cells and introduce new ones. The fluid can seep through damaged vessels into the damaged tissues, causing swelling. Your body also increases blood flow to the injured area while enlarging blood vessels upstream of the injury and constricting those downstream. This also contributes to swelling. Inflammation can be painful, but it is necessary in the healing process.
As inflammation subsides, the PROLIFERATIVE PHASE begins. Now that the dead tissue is removed, new scar tissue is laid down. This is a HUGE point, so don’t miss it! Scar tissue is formed in line with the forces placed on the area, and then shortens to minimize the size of the injury. What does this mean? It means that if you sprain your ankle and start walking on the outside of your foot with your foot rolled out and arch flattened, your tissues are going to heal in that crappy position and then shrink-wrap themselves into that crappy position. Remember the movie Rookie of the Year? Funky butt lovin’ is right! This is why it is so important to maintain good positions, range of motion, and movement patterns throughout the healing process.
Finally, in the REMODELING PHASE, scar tissue is replaced with stronger tissue. This will probably never be back to completely normal, but it gets close. Again, this tissue is laid down along lines of stress, so don’t mess this up!
Now that we know what happens during healing, how do we assist and optimize our healing? First off, your fuel! When injured, your body needs high-quality food to fuel the healing process. Good sources of protein provide the building blocks for the new tissue being built. Arganine and glutamine are two amino acids that can be supplemented to aid recovery. My favorite anti-inflammatory foods that help healing (or help day-to-day recovery from WODs) are turmeric, garlic, ginger, pineapple, and any Omega-3s.
After an injury, the most popular go-to is ice. However, the few studies that have been done on the subject have shown the only significant benefit of ice is preventing second injury that would be caused by severe swelling in the first thirty minutes or so after the injury. Beyond that time period, compression and elevation will help aid the inflammatory process. The waste being cleared out of the injured area gets drained through the LYMPHATIC SYSTEM. The heart does not push fluid through this system, your muscles do. Think squeezing Gogurt out of its tube. If it is painful to move the injured area, compression (like a VooDoo Band) can squeeze in place of your muscles. Of course, once you can move without pain, get moving!
Too many people think that because they are injured, they can’t go to the gym. This is total nonsense! Exercise is crucial for your healing, both physically and mentally. Just getting your heart rate up increases blood flow throughout your body, which your injury needs. You can use this opportunity to focus on weaknesses that you may have been neglecting and on maintaining strength in your healthy parts. Unilateral movements (one arm or one leg) don’t get used too often, especially in CrossFit, but these can be extremely useful in building strength, stability, and control. If you need suggestions of ways to work around your injury, ask a coach or Google. No matter what your injury, there is something you can come in and do.
Mentally, you need to stay in your routine. One week away from the gym and suddenly what was “me time” becomes a chore. After a month, getting your Nanos on is like pulling teeth. Don’t let that happen. Come to your usual class, hang out with your friends, and get work in. Set some new PRs in single-arm snatch, single-leg deadlift, seated press, etc.
No one wants to get injured. By focusing on mechanics, technique, and mobility, you can minimize your chance of injury. However, if that day comes, realize that your injury is not an excuse—it is an opportunity. You have the chance to focus on the holes in your game that most people ignore. Don’t let that opportunity pass you by.