I woke up with an incredible pain in my neck and terrified because I couldn’t move my neck to the left at all. I phoned my friend immediately to cancel our hike and scrambled to find a physiotherapist that was open on a Saturday morning. 4 weeks later and my neck is still in pain. I think it reactivated an old whip lash injury of mine from a few years ago when a drunken driver hit my car so badly that my front seat broke. Every time my neck hurts I am reminded of that horrible accident and the news that my neck was irreparably damaged. I have had 5 physiotherapist appointments and 2 chiropractor appointments in these last 4 weeks. But the worst part for me is having to scale back dramatically on my exercise like swimming, hiking and even yoga because it just serves to inflame everything. My neck, shoulders, back and even my ITB injury is inflamed. My body is crying out for attention and I’m trying to listen.
For some-one who likes to be physically active a few times a week, it’s hard for me when I get sick or injured and it all grinds to a halt. The regular exercise is an important boost of endorphins for me and helps regulate my good mood. Exercise is also a form of socialising for me and a healthy way to connect with a lot of my friends. So when I get sick or injured and can’t exercise there are some things I have to remind myself of.
1. Listen to your body
The worst thing you can do is to ignore your body when it is sick, tired or injured and push past it. Your body is trying to tell you to slow down, to take a break and you need to listen to it or risk making things worse.
2. Get perspective
I have a family member who has an incurable degenerative disease and I have friends with permanent disabilities. Whenever I am suffering and slow to recover, I am reminded that it is generally temporary and I can get better or improve. So instead of throwing myself the biggest pity party, I just need to keep things in perspective by thinking of how hard some people have it.
3. Stay connected
Just because I can’t see my sport friends at sport, it doesn’t mean I can’t message them or make plans to see them outside of sport. Or show up to the practice and hang out afterwards. The friends have become an important part of my life and it doesn’t mean that I can’t see them because their support is important during this period.
4. Go back slowly
The moment you feel better is not the time to go back 100% into your exercise. You can’t pick up exactly where you have left off. You start off slowly and give yourself time to get back to your previous fitness levels. This is so critical to prevent a relapse.
5. Be kind to yourself
When you are sick or injured you may have feelings of frustration or anger to yourself or your body. It’s counterproductive. Now is the time to be very kind and gentle to yourself so that you can heal faster. Do other things like draw a hot bath (obviously not in Cape Town), watch a movie or binge watch a series, go for a massage, catch-up with friends or whatever makes you feel good. I also have to watch what I eat more carefully during this period because I am not exercising and my metabolism invariably slows down beyond it’s already snail speed.
The sadness and frustration that comes with an injury or being sick has definitely gotten worse the more active I have become. When I didn’t used to exercise regularly then it wasn’t as big a deal but now that exercise has become a significant part of my life, going weeks without being active is hard. I like to take the down time to reflect on how grateful I am that I can generally do all these things, that my body is crazy enough to allow me to swim for 4 hours straight in the icy cold Atlantic sea or climb three mountains in one day over 9 hours. I push my body hard and expect it to perform but sometimes it pushes right back. And in those times I really have to listen to it and respect it enough to take care of it properly.