Injuries. They come when you least expect it. Clearly. Or you’d be able to prevent them.
They can force you away from the activity you love, they can shut down your social circles and energy levels, and, almost in an instant, the big goal you were chasing is replaced with simply hoping to get back out there.
If you’re lucky, you’ll make a full recovery and be a better and stronger rider because of it. Or you might make a return to the sport with a few modifications in place that enable you to enjoy it in different ways.
I’ve had a bit of an annoying run with things that have kept me off the bike recently. I knocked out my front teeth last June, recovered enough to feel strong again, only to have a minor crash and end up back on the recovery path for another five or so months. Superstitious people say things happen in threes. I’m taking four months out with a virus, not long before the teeth incident, on a count back just in case.
I share this purely to give this blog some context. Each event has allowed me to experiment with quite a few recovery strategies while waiting for the healing properties of time.
Still, even if you’re armed with all the perspective in the world, the reality is the recovery process is often a challenging one. Here are some proactive approaches that will help you to feel 'more up' when coping with an injury is making you feel a little down.
1. Notice patterns
What can you do? What can’t you do? Use these to communicate with health professionals in clear and specific terms and to find activities you can enjoy that don’t slow you down.
This might be the heart rate you can ride at for a certain amount of time before bringing on symptoms, types of terrain or riding postures that are more likely to aggravate a problem area, or painful ways of loading a muscle that you can show to a physio to help isolate the effected area.
2. Find a health professional who helps you work out an accurate diagnosis and formulate a plan
Sometimes this is easier said than done. Ask friends for recommendations if the course of treatment you’ve tried isn’t helping. Find someone who thinks like a cyclist so you can communicate on a similar level. Listen. Do your exercises. If you’re not finding an improvement after five appointments, consider a different strategy. A good health professional will acknowledge this too and refer you on.
Remember that if you’ve identified patterns that exacerbate the injury, you can also use these to track and communicate about recovery.
3. Listen to your body
Be patient. Don’t rush the recovery, you’ll only send it backwards. When you’re ready, try some gentle rides close to home so you can stop early if you need to. I find the wind trainer and a good TV series helpful in times like this. This allows you control the effort and time, and feel positive as you see both slowly increase before you confidently head back out into the riding world.
Avoid putting yourself in tricky situations before you’re ready, like a bunch ride. This can tempt you to injure yourself further in order to finish with the group or complete a challenging route before you get off the bike and rest.
4. Keep an activity diary
If you get absorbed by the day-to-day of recovery, it’s easy to feel like you’re not making any improvements. A diary enables you to look back over how much you can do this week compared to two or three weeks earlier. When improvement is incremental, this is a valuable tool for seeing the bigger steps you’ve been making through the small ones.
5. Fix your bikes
Bike repairs, like injuries, can also happen when you least expect it. Take your bike to the doctor for a routine check up and some much needed maintenance while you’re out of action. Check the wear on your chain, the condition of your brakes, overhaul your suspension, and catch up on the latest goings on from the bike world. You’ll be back out there again in no time and it will be even better on a freshly serviced bike.
6. Catch up with friends and family
I’ve written before about how injuries have a negative effect on your social circle. But so can riding too much. While you’re off the bike make an effort to keep in contact with friends and family and build strong relationships away from cycling.
7. Think outside the square to manage things that set you back
Recovery has a way of plateauing. You get far enough to be able to do a few things but the time until you reach full awesomeness can be hard to determine. Think of some left of field solutions to respond to this next series of challenges and see if you can come up with some modified ways of engaging in the sport.
This could be riding with a slower group while you thrive on the social engagement and the outdoors time. Maybe it’s riding on the wind trainer with your arm in a sling and some fitness-building intervals to tick off. Perhaps it’s a modified bike set up, starting your ride after a short drive, meeting your friends for post-ride coffees, or taking time off work, reducing your stress and having a holiday.
About three years ago I had an unusually long recovery period after laser eye surgery. I was fine riding indoors, but my vision blurred whenever I rode at speed outdoors. I eventually ordered a pair of mountaineering sunglasses that didn’t let any wind pass by my eyes. This solved the problem and let me return to riding as my eyes kept healing over the next twelve months.
8. Think about how you engage with social media
If you’re someone who uses social media a lot think about the personal impact of the messages you’re soaking up. If all your friends are posting about cycling – what a great day it is for a ride, how fun a particular event is, how sad they are that it’s raining and they can’t go riding for a whole day – consider switching off for a bit if this is making you feel down rather than up.
Also step back and think about the messages that you are putting out there. There’s a fine balance between having a whinge and letting the people around you know what’s going on.
I found myself using Facebook a few weeks ago to crowd source some help for the two things I was finding most challenging with a bruised sacrum: successful strategies for working at a desk while unable to sit on a chair and aerobic activities that don’t require core stability or power from the legs. Instead of a collection of ‘oh you poor thing’ responses, a series of positive, proactive tips and unexpected acts of kindness from friends and colleagues made me feel incredibly supported and cared for. It helped me to keep thinking outside the square, feel valued and integrated at work and in various social communities, and turned my attitude right around when I needed it most.
9. Ask for help
When it comes to recovery, armed with sound advice from others, you’re often the best judge of your limits. You may not be able to perform at 100 per cent capacity at work and you may need to modify the way use your time at home to keep your energy up or to spend time on specific exercises.
Communicate with the people around you to come up with strategies that meet goals and expectations on both sides. Ask for help if you need it. And find ways to help others in return.
10. Invest in alternate activities that make you feel good
The plus side of feeling frustrated about not riding is you have enough energy to feel that way. Take some of the time and money you’re not spending on cycling and use it to engage in something else. This could be cross-training to build your strength or aerobic fitness, or a hobby such as photography, gardening, crochet or web design. Maybe you want to knuckle down and get ahead at work or in education so you can go on that cycling holiday when you’re well.
In addition to helping you move toward other goals, investing in other activities means you build the part of your identity that’s not tied to cycling. These activities can also make you feel more connected to your local community and expand your social circle.
I found myself walking through town in trendy tights, tall ugg boots and shouldering a yoga mat last night. I laughed at how wholeheartedly I'd embraced this change of pace and thought about how this new caretaking activity is something I want to bring into my cycling life now too. I suddenly understood why others feel the same way.
Injuries can be one of the more frustrating side effects of enjoying cycling, or any physical activity, as a passion. But they’re also part and parcel of an active lifestyle.
Positive mental health hits can come in unexpected places. Stay open to surprises, keep your eye on the bigger picture and, like any good bike ride, enjoy discovering things that are different and new.