What to Do After You Injure Yourself

lego-stretcherCrap.

Things were going SO well.  You had been exercising regularly, eating rightbuilding habits, and building SERIOUS momentum…and then life throws you a curveball:

  • You slip a disc in your back
  • You tear a ligament in your knee
  • You get mono or some other sickness
  • You sprain your ankle
  • Your head falls off

Although it probably seems like the world is over at this point, fear not, my dear Rebel friend, for there is hope. With the exception of your head falling off (we’ll put this in the S.O.L. category), everything else above is something you can work around.

Today, I’m going to help you keep the momentum you’ve worked so hard to build, stay on target, and allow yourself the time to rehab so that you can hit the ground running when your body is ready.

Think of this like your emergency “What to do when the wheels fall off” post.

NOTE: I am not a doctor (in fact, I’m not even wearing pants right now). This article contains the thoughts and observations from a nerd who has dealt with this stuff and helped thousands of others deal with these things too.

Take a Deep breath

Breathe

First and foremost, relax.

It is NOT the end of the world.

You’re reading this, which means you’re still alive. This is a good thing. As they say, every day above ground is a good day.

So, no freaking out. No complaining. No crying over spilt milk.

No worrying about the past, as there’s nothing you can do about it, no matter how much it hurts. Rafiki taught me that.

What’s done is done. Think of it like a video game that suddenly has the difficulty cranked to Legendary. You’re still playing, it’s just more of a challenge now.

You will overcome this obstacle. You will come out the other side a stronger, wiser, and better looking version of yourself. You will level up.

Got it? GOOD.

Get a proper diagnosis

dr mario

First and foremost, check with your doctor or physical therapist and get a proper diagnosis.

I was an idiot and ignored my lower back pain for close to a decade, assuming it was from my posture, sitting too much, or spending too much time traveling. It wasn’t until last summer when I finally tweaked it pretty dang good while lifting that I knew something was wrong.

So I stopped lifting weights for a few months. Finally a few months later, I went to a doctor and got x-rays. 

It turns out, I have a spinal condition where my and L5 and S1 vertebrae don’t line up, and I could have been working on strengthening the right areas and getting better instead of avoiding it!

So, don’t do what I did.

Get a proper diagnosis from a professional as soon as possible, and find out exactly what’s wrong, how long you can expect to be recuperating, and when you will be back to normal.

Focus on your diet

lego-food-banana

I get a few emails a week from people who are really worried about gaining a bunch of weight during the rehab process. 

This is a valid concern, as it happens to the best of us.

We stop exercising, we start eating poorly, and the next thing we know, we’ve gained back all of the weight that we had lost.

NOT ON THIS DAY. THIS DAY, WE FIGHT (to keep that weight off)!!! 

As we ALL know at Nerd Fitness, our diets account for 80-90% of our success or failure when it comes to weight loss. This means that even if you cannot exercise ONE BIT, you will still be able to maintain your weight or even LOSE weight during your recovery period.

Now, the only way this will work is if you actually focus on your diet. If you can’t exercise (or have to significantly reduce your amount of exercise), then your diet immediately increases in importance.

Don’t forget, your body burns a crazy amount calories every day just by existing.

So work WITH your body.

Minimize liquid calories. Load up on veggies. Eat plenty of protein and healthy fats.  Cut out refined carbs and sugar.

The more closely you can eat a healthy diet and stay on target with your eating decisions, the less chance you’ll have of gaining back weight and pushing you further back on your progress.

Yup, easier said then done when you’re lying in bed and want to eat ice cream while watching Lord of the Rings. I never said this would be easy – nothing worth doing right IS easy.

You need to stay on target. Remember that every meal is an opportunity for you to continue your momentum and progress, or take a step further away.

The choice is yours, and yours alone.

Stay active any way you can

lego-workout

I HIGHLY recommend you check with your doctor or physical therapist and find out what you are capable of while injured:

  • If you can’t run, can you use an elliptical or stationary bike?
  • If you can’t use one leg or the other, can you still strength train your upper body?
  • If you can’t use one arm/shoulder, can you still do lower body exercises like lunges/squats/step ups?
  • If you can’t strength train, can you still go for walks? Walking is the best.
  • If your head fell off, how the hell are you reading this?

You can check out this article for ideas on how to train while recovering from an injury.

No need to play hero.

The WORST thing you can do is try to do something your body isn’t capable of and re-injuring yourself (or injuring yourself in another way).

So, find out what you’re capable of, what you can’t do, what hurts and what doesn’t, and work with your doctor/therapist to find any way to stay active. I don’t care what it is, but find a way to do something active every day.

And it’s not just because exercise (SPOILER ALERT) is good for you! It’s because if you can find a way to exercise every day, your brain will keep thinking “I am healthy” and thus you will be more likely to make eating decisions that KEEP you healthy.

Remember, diet is 90% of the battle!

I know if I skip a workout or two, I tend to eat much worse on those days because my brain isn’t thinking “healthy.”

So, keep yourself thinking healthy, find a way to be active, and make a game out of it to stay on target.

  • Stuck in bed? See how many arm swings you can do. 
  • Can’t do jumping jacks? Do karate kicks and punches
  • On cruches? See if you can “walk” a bit farther each day. Or, learn to dance like this guy.
  • Can’t strength train? See if you can become a better runner.

Yeah, it might be different than how you used to train, or even be a fraction of what you used to be capable of. Who cares?

Life is a game, and you just switched up your skill tree, that’s all!

What if I’m never back to normal!?

sad lego

Unfortunately, sometimes you might get an injury in which your training path is permanently altered.

When I found out about my back and that I would probably never be able to lift heavy weights again, I was devastated. Luckily, I came home, turned on Iron Man, and instantly decided to remake myself like Tony Stark.

About a month and a half ago I was cleared to start squatting and deadlifting again. Although I had to start at a very humbling beginning weight, I’ve been adding more and more each week, slowly but surely making progress. And now I’m deadlifting over 400+ pounds:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Steve Kamb (@stevekamb) on

I’ve heard story after story from people who were told they’d never _________ again, only to have them doing those things years later due to their dedication.

So if this happens to be you, remember first and foremost that you woke up today, and that we can build on that.

Think of it like you were playing a role playing game (RPG) as a Warrior, and suddenly you have to shift your class to Druid, Monk, or Wizard.  t’s not necessarily any worse or better than before, you’re just playing the game in a different way. You might suck at your old skills now, but that just means you can unlock new skills!

For my six months after the spinal diagnosis, I shifted my focus from heavy training to gymnastics, handstands, and bodyweight training.

The game has just changed a bit, which means you need to change too.

Change is good.

Set proper expectations

Expectations

This part is all mental.

Depending on the severity of your injury, you might get set back a few weeks/months in training.  If it’s a permanent change, you may have to make permanent adjustments to your routine.

You might not be able to lift, run, or stretch in the same ways right away. Even when you come back to full strength, it can be really frustrating.

“I used to be able to do this!” “Why can’t I ___________ anymore?”

Just like comparing yourself against the progress of others is a futile practice, comparing yourself to the old pre-injury version of yourself isn’t smart.

The ONLY thing you can compare yourself against is who you were yesterday.  Think of it like hitting the reset button and starting a new game or rolling a new character.

  • If you went from deadlifting 350 before your injury and now you’re back at 150….stop worrying about the 350, and instead next week aim for 155. THAT IS PROGRESS!!  
  • If you weighed 200 before the injury and 220 after the injury…getting down to 219 is one pound lost, not playing 19 pounds of catch-up!
  • If you could run a mile in 7 minutes before and now it’s 9 minutes, next week’s 8:50 mile should be a celebration, not a disappointment.

Understand that the process might take time, but also understand that you’re a freaking superhero capable of amazing things, even when you’re told otherwise.

Write your own destiny. Chose to be awesome.  

This too, shall pass

Sunrise

You’re gonna be okay, I promise.

Hit that reset button, and focus on building up a new version of you starting NOW.

I’d love to hear from you.  Have you been injured in the past? Are you struggling with this right now? How did you overcome that injury and get back on track? How can I help out?

I know a lot of injured Rebels would could benefit from the education, motivation, and inspiration from knowing they’re not alone in their frustration and confusion.

Get well soon, and rebel on!

-Steve

PS: In case you missed the announcement last week, we’re looking to hire a few part time contractors for work on Nerd Fitness projects! Check out our “Work With Us!” page for more details.

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photo source: Dr. Mario, Sunrise, Expectations, Sad lego, lego workout, breathe, lego stretcher, banana boat

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129 thoughts on “What to Do After You Injure Yourself

  1. wow… So I just read this, and it made me cry… But in a good way!
    I am currently laying in bed feeling defeated with a back injury. I can barely walk.

    I workout like a mad woman, kickboxing. Weightlifting…yoga, running. Even belly dancing! (Which may be why I have a back problem now)….

    ….life without exercise is like life without oxygen for me.

    Laying here to “rest up” is extremely hard right now. It’s like a mental challenge beyond description.

    I wasn’t truly positive about my outlook until I read this article, the way you portrayed the perspective of injuries has given me a new vision.
    I’m gonna go make myself a salad, or at least try to wobble into the kitchen somehow and whip a healthy dish up.
    Thank you, and may be the force be with you 😉

    -Kayla

  2. Wow, you have been through quite a journey… I was so encouraged to read it! I am on bed rest right now for back probs, I can barely walk! Your story encourages me to not give up.

  3. wow… So I just read this, and it made me cry… But in a good way!
    I am currently laying in bed feeling defeated with a back injury. I can barely walk.

    I workout like a mad woman, kickboxing. Weightlifting…yoga, running. Even belly dancing! (Which may be why I have a back problem now)….

    ….life without exercise is like life without oxygen for me.

    Laying here to “rest up” is extremely hard right now. It’s like a mental challenge beyond description.

    I wasn’t truly positive about my outlook until I read this article, the way you portrayed the perspective of injuries has given me a new vision.
    I’m gonna go make myself a salad, or at least try to wobble into the kitchen somehow and whip a healthy dish up.
    Thank you, and may be the force be with you 😉

    -Kayla

  4. I just got in a dirtbike wreck and its the beginning of summer and I was almost in a depressed state because I won’t be able to lift for half the summer thanks so much for writing this article it’s helped me a lot

  5. 8 years ago I was in the “head fell off” (almost) category. Had an infection in my neck, lost 3 bones and ended up with a spinal fusion. I was fine until a car accident 3 months ago. I’m almost feeling no pain today & I’m going to try to lift lightly this evening. Thanks for the article.

  6. I have a broken ankle. I am a very active person. I have been stuck between bed and couch for the past month. My sanity is a roller coaster and I have lost most of my motivation.
    I am lonely and really sick of this state I am in.

  7. G,
    I’m right there with you. I’ve been stuck at home nursing a bad back for the better part of 2 months (my fault, I’m young and foolish). As someone who loved running, rock climbing, frisbee, and was starting parkour training before my injury, I feel for you.

    Loneliness, motivation, and yes, my sanity, have all been issues these past months. But reading this article puts me in higher spirits and I hope it makes you feel the same way. We are not alone, and we’re not going through this alone. Just looking at the recent comments on this 3 year old article tells me that people are still reading this article and being inspired. You and I will get better, and we will be stronger because of it. I will be wiser, and will listen more to my body from now on. What will you gain? Even if it’s just an exercise of willpower, that’s something.

    Bruce Lee suffered a severe back injury that put him out of commission for 6 months. Imagine that – his entire life revolved around his fitness. To go from Enter the Dragon to bedridden in an instant should have been devastating. And yet, he spent those 6 months almost entirely on a bed or couch – like you – studying and reading, because he knew he would one day get better, and the knowledge might do him some good. I already respected him but learning this gave me a whole new perspective. Even when he was at his weakest point, physically, he retained his great willpower, to do what he must – which was allow his body to recover.

    Injuries in athletes can often lead to depression. Part of our identity is tied up into our physical fitness. But remember that you are your body, mind, and soul together. Sometimes a blow to one can affect the other, but don’t let it knock you out. When your body is weak let it take a rest and train your mind and soul.

    -Ryan

  8. things we may know but need reminding. I was hit on my bike. three months ago. last weekend I went out. My favorite thing is dancing. and I was really good at it. now I swayed for a bit. stoop for a bit..total 2.5hrs. I was so frustrated I thought I was further in my healing.My nik was Xena and boy has she fallen. so much farther to go.got my rubber bands now though.

  9. I was playing volleyball and my teams wasn’t shagging balls so I ended steeping ok ball and injuring my ankle. It turned out to be a high ankle sprain and a torn tendon. It’s been about 2 months and I’m still not doing everything I used to. It’s still hurts to run long distances or sprint for a long time. My doctor cleared me and now I’m playing basketball but I’m afraid of re injuring my ankle but worse this time.

  10. It’s been a very long time (think about three years) since I went to the gym. Yesterday, I finally did- and promptly tore up my legs. 36 crunches, 10 squats, 20 min on maximum incline on the treadmill and I can barely walk now. Great.
    Well, I can still do arms, at least. The real problem is walking to the weights!
    Thanks

  11. I’m recovering from a tib fracture. I fell on June 3rd 2016.. I have finished rehabilitation. Everything is over. My question is that I would like to do the elliptical machine at the gym, but I’m afraid to cause any harm to my knee. What shall I do. Any suggestions?

  12. I am recovering from a spinal injury that rooted from me ignoring the fact I had 80% scoliosis(born with it) so heavy weights are now out of the question. Cardio has been going well. I have followed Paleo for years. Weight is not an issue. I lined up a physical trainer at my gym to see what more I could do without causing issues with my spine. I told them about my injuries etc. The trainer tried all these funky yoga moves on me, and low and behold now I’m in serious pain right where my injury and scoliosis is! I’m furious all this time of rehab moving back to the gym slowly and 30 minutes with this trainer and I’m back to square one. What would you do?

  13. I had a groin injury last year and it took several months for me to walk around without any pain. I started working out a few months ago. I made significant progress and pretty much got back to my previous level of fitness before the injury but it tore again in the same place last week. I switched to weights and working out with my arms ( punches, arm jacks, shoulder circles etc) but its so frustrating to work with low intensity workouts. I’m watching my diet but is there anything else I can do to stay active? Any ideas? Help!

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  16. Thank you! I stumbled across this and it’s exactly what I needed to read. In 2014 I was diagnosed with Lupus but before I got I’ll, I was very fit, I made healthy a life style for my family and myself. When I got sick, I didn’t know what happen. I couldn’t do anything. Long story short, I was on medication that made me gain over 60lbs. Since all of this, I’ve been playing safe. Not staying motivated, finding myself getting upset because I’m not where I was. The list goes on! So thank you!

  17. 10 week ago I sustained a back injury at work, MRI results show tear in my disc
    Pre injury I was working out 4 -5 times a week cardio & weight training Im now signed off work Ive received very poor physiotherapy from NHS so now currently paying private..it’s been difficult being in pain most days on medication & all though there has been improvement, I’m only managing walks & one pilates stretch physios recommendation. I fear I won’t get back to where I was pre injury & feel frustrated struggling emotionally as I feel I need & want to do more. Reading your article has inspired me Thankyou! hopefully I will heal & get stronger day by day..

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  20. I know it’s been some time since this post, but i started reading and I have a similar situation as you did. I fell about 4 months ago, dislocated my kneecap, got a fracture in my femur, and have multiple ligament sprains..I had a contract with the navy for a special warfare job and now i’m looking for motivation and ways to stay positive knowing my dream job won’t happen. I find myself stuck in my apartment quite a bit because i’m still pretty limited on what I can do and I feel like that’s my biggest struggle right now. Any suggestions on things to do outside of home wit a knee injury?

  21. Honestly I’ve found it just takes time. Go slow. Hang out with friends but just know you’re gonna get sore and you’re going to have to ice it to beat hell haha. It’s been 3 years since I broke my knee in half and although everything’s healed and all the surgeries are done I still get really sore when I do too much. But my friends and my girlfriend know that and just help me recover afterword. Each day it’ll get a little better. I couldn’t even remember how to run 2 years ago haha and now I can skateboard (albeit badly haha) with very little problems. So honestly take it easy on activities you do do. Go for walks, go to the theatre, take up a hobby you’ve always wanted to do. Your mobility will get better and so will your outlook on things. I promise

  22. Thank you for posting. I was a marathon-er/triathlete/weightlifter…my gym friends called me Cyborg. I could do anything. In July 2020, I got achilles tendonitis, so I temporarily nixed the running, and switched to upper body weightlifting and low impact cardio classes/stationary bike…September 2020, I got what I thought was a hammie injury, and nixed the classes and only did upper body weights…November 2020, realized it wasn’t a hammie injury at all, but that my tilted and rotated pelvis was pulling the nerves and muscles in all the wrong directions, so I significantly reduced my weights routine and started yoga…then i got COVID…full and complete stop. Hit a brick wall. I’m a bit of a long-hauler, I’ve been sidelined for 6 weeks. Everything hurts and I can’t even walk more than 10 minutes, yoga hurts too. So I stretch twice a day. And I go get regular adjustments. I eat anti-inflammatory foods. I think alot. To go from running 26.2 miles in less than 4 hours, to only stretching twice a day, has been discouraging. I’ve been trying to use this time to learn something positive from this negative experience. And I know it won’t last forever. And when I come back, I’ll be healthier than before.

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