You Need To Change Your Perspective On What It Actually Means To Be Injured

By: Lucas Zelazny


If you’ve ever had aches, pains, injuries, or surgeries you’ve likely worked with an athletic trainer or physical therapist for a period of time. I also have a feeling that once you finished your visits, you stopped doing your exercises. I bet you stopped foam rolling and stretching. I bet your pain came back. I bet you were frustrated and you started claiming that the surgery failed, the rehabilitation didn’t work, and that you’re going to have to get back in at ortho. 

Maybe you twisted your ankle back in high school and kept playing. You didn’t really do anything at all to get better. You just let it do it’s thing. Now you’re in your 30’s and damn does that thing snap, crackle, pop, and hurt. I bet your first instinct is to go see your doctor in hopes they’ll have a solution. They’ll give you an AT/PT referral. You’ll spend $500 out of pocket for a few sessions since that high deductible plan doesn’t kick in until you’ve hit your $4,500 out of pocket max. You feel better while in therapy so you’re discharged. 3 months later you’re back at square one considering the idea of visiting with a surgical specialist to finally fix this thing. 

If you’ve ever been hurt in your life this article is for you.

The Harsh Reality

Here's the deal, once you've been hurt, your body changes on a physiological level. You become more susceptible to reoccurring injuries, your arthokinematics change (The angular movement of bones in the human body occurs as a result of a combination of rolls, spins, and slides) because you've compensated in some capacity.

When you get hurt and your tissues swell the body responds by flooding the area with blood, white blood cells and chemical receptors in particular, to begin the repair process. This can actually create increased tissue damage called secondary cell death that is typically caused by a lack of oxygen to the tissue due to the high pressure levels.

Prolonged inflammation and pain can lead to atrophy of the muscles surrounding the joint and a decreased ability to activate the muscles. When this is not treated appropriately the swelling can become chronic. Chronic swelling leads to tissues becoming more rigid and less pliable than their healthy counterparts. Less pliable tissues are more susceptible to further injury. This can lead to other compensatory injuries. This is the reality.

Throw a surgery in there for something that may have done better with continued conservative treatment and this reality of physical dysfunction exponentially increases. Your body really won't ever move the same way again. It's just the way that it is.

Why You Need To Stop Jumping To Surgery

Here's the deal with surgery. It sucks, a lot. Thanks to modern medicine the intimidation factor of surgery has practically disappeared. We don't actually realize what is happening to our body. They hook you up to IV's and pump you full of chemicals that put you into a controlled coma. They perform carpentry on your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments which if done to your body in any other situation outside of the O.R. would likely render you unconscious from shock. They then suture up the external incisions, wheel you out, drug you up and send you home with your bottle of happy pills. Meanwhile inside your body it's like a bomb went off that you will now, depending on the operation, need anywhere from 4 weeks to 12 months to fully recover from. That's just the recovery from the acute trauma of having your body cut open and your insides altered.

Now your muscle starts to atrophy (Muscle atrophy is defined as a decrease in the mass of the muscle; it can be a partial or complete wasting away of muscle, and is most commonly experienced when persons suffer temporary disabling circumstances such as being restricted in movement and/or confined to bed as when hospitalized.) , you have massive secondary cell death, and your function pretty much goes down to 0. It is AMAZING that if you were to just sit there and let your body heal that your function even returns at all. That's some X-Men Wolverine level shit.

Many good surgeons will ONLY resort to surgery as a last resort after conservative treatment fails. But here's the thing... you need to actually do the work, daily, to feel better. Otherwise your conservative treatmen will fail, and surgery will be the only option and your post surgical rehab will be less effective.

Getting injured is tough. It's likely not your "fault" that you got hurt, but it happened and it's your responsibility to recover. If not for you, for everyone else around you. They're the ones that will have to take care of your ass after you've neglected your physical health for years. Do you want to be able to play with your kids? Do you want to hike on your family trips? Do you want to be able to dance at your daughter's wedding? Take care of your body. If your meter starts at 100% when you're born, every injury you don't continuously work to recover from takes percentage points off of that total every single year. You should be doing everything you can everyday to get that meter back to 100%.

The Best Analogy I Can Provide You With

I love comparing injury rehabilitation to weight loss. If you're 50 lbs overweight and you make the decision to lose that weight you have to work your ass off. It's likely going to take a year to do. Once you hit your ideal weight you're essentially at the cross roads of discharging yourself from your weight loss routine: You can either resort back to your old habits that made you gain the 50 lbs or you can maintain your new weight by continuing the habits and practice that allowed you to lose the weight. In order to stay here this must continue for the rest of your life. That's how you need to treat your injuries.

If you get hurt and you make the decision to recover back to 100% you have to work your ass off to bring your function back to 100. It's likely going to take a year to do. Once you hit your functional goals you're now at the point of discharge from therapy. You can either resort back to not exercising or doing your manual therapies that likely played a role in your pain and injury in the first place or you can maintain your functionality and remain pain free by continuing with your rehabilitation and exercise program. In order to stay pain free you must continue these practices for the rest of your life...

This is the reality of recovery. It's not 8 weeks. It's not 12 weeks. It doesn't stop. You need to change your mindset.


Change Your Perspective

There is no quick and easy road to recovery. You need to change your habits in order to return to 100% functionality. Once you get hurt it’s not going away. Right when you think it does it’s going to creep back up on you. Simply hop back into your rehab routine. 

Find yourself a provider you feel confident in. Get yourself a team. Work with a massage therapist to keep your muscles limber. Work with an AT to perform your continued manual therapy and rehab exercise maintenance routine, and work with a strength coach to get you stronger than before the injury and allow them to keep you there. Life isn’t fair. Getting hurt may not have been your fault. But it’s now your responsibility to get better and stay better.

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