Tips from competitive athletes on how to come back from injury

Injuries can sideline us from the sports we love, sometimes for a long time. They can leave nagging pain. They can create doubt and even trepidation.

Yet most injuries can be overcome with knowledge, determination, patience and compassion. Try these strategies from two pro athletes who went from laid up to killing it.

Let yourself be upset

recover from injury
“This is going to take a long time to heal.” Photo: Courtesy of Rebecca Cramer
You’re in pain, and you’re stuck out of your sport. It’s fine to be upset and throw a little pity party.

Take the ins and outs of shoulder injury — a nightmare for every adventure athlete — like Rebecca Cramer. In 2015, the North Carolina whitewater kayaker and mountain biker was 3.5 miles into the biking portion of the adventure triathlon called The Silverback when she went over the handlebars and broke her collarbone.

RELATED: Pro snowboarder Mark McMorris talks overcoming the mental aspect of injuries

“I wanted to be positive, but that’s when reality set in. I knew it would take a while to feel strong again,” Cramer told GrindTV.

Be your own friend during this time. Then set a plan to come back from injury.

Have support around you

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You’ll need people who can lend some time and love over the course of your recovery. Find them, tell them what you need and embrace it.

“Doubt was persistent and pestered me a lot with thoughts that I wouldn’t get back to where I was,” Cramer said. “Luckily, I had great friends and an awesome PT [physical therapist], Wes Miller, who helped keep me grounded and focused.”

Be dedicated to your recovery

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Figure out what you want, visualize it and then put in the consistent time and energy to make it happen.

Pat Keller attributes an awesome physical therapy crew for his return to the top of whitewater kayaking after dislocating his collarbone behind his sternum in a major bike crash in 2010.

“I did arm swings to range-of-motion stretches to Thera-bands to workouts. I spent many hours per week in [physical therapy] and getting it all back,” Keller told GrindTV.

RELATED: Pat Keller paddles on despite injury

Too often, people quit their prescribed physical therapy routines once they feel “good enough.” If you want to hit the racing scene or get back to the highest level of your sport, like Cramer and Keller did, you have to commit to PT until you’re better than “good enough.”

Expect to backtrack

Doubt and fear are natural. Don't look back for too long. Photo: Courtesy of Roberto Nickson/Unsplash
Doubt and fear are natural. Don’t look back for too long. Photo: Courtesy of Roberto Nickson/Unsplash
If you got injured playing your sport, you might have a bit of a mental injury nagging along with the physical. It may be obvious from the get-go or strike without warning, as it did for Cramer.

“Shortly after I was cleared, I went out for a short ride and walked a small drop I had ridden numerous times,” she remembers. “My brain would not allow me to ride it. Pre-injury, I would not have even noticed the drop.”

Mental setbacks could mean stepping down a little bit or going all the way back to basics. Things that seemed inconsequential may now loom as body-breakers.

RELATED: Kimmy Fasani shares her Sierra-style injury rehab routine

Getting mad at yourself here will do you no good and may even hold you back more than the physical injury did. Be compassionate and patient with yourself. You’ll come back from injury in due time and with a deeper appreciation than before.

Accept what you need to and prioritize

Real talk here: You might not be able to get back to 100 percent. You may have to make some hard choices, like Keller did.

“My sternoclavicular joint is still dislocated and a constant red flag in the back of my mind,” Keller says. He knows nothing can be done to fix the problem without incurring far more serious consequences, such as death or shoulder immobility.

“I do not know how I could live with the latter. My priority is what I know and love the most: my relationship with gravity and the river,” he adds.

Figure out your priorities and how to accept whatever reality you face. You’ll find a much happier, fulfilled life that way.

Postscript: Both athletes recovered to have stellar seasons. Cramer competed and finished the Silverback in 2016, and Keller has won dozens of extreme races in the six years since his injury.

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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