How to Overcome Injury and Get Back on the Bike
Cycling Injuries Suck, Get Better Faster with these Tips
by RAE MORRISON
Yep, we have all been there. Whether it’s a fracture, sprain, or back pain, being injured sucks. While all your friends are off riding – getting fitter and faster – boredom kicks in, your data usage skyrockets and you exhaust our Netflix account. Going from your regular exercise and riding schedule with all the wonderful endorphins it produces to complete inactivity has a way of leaving you feeling frustrated, in a low mood, and often gaining a few extra pounds.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! I’ve had my fair share of injuries including a broken pelvis, a broken wrist, a broken toe, and most recently a shattered heel, requiring surgery with extensive metal work. No matter how big or little your injury, it can be a blessing in disguise and a chance to come back stronger, faster and more motivated than ever. The choice is yours and here’s how…
Rest, Rest, Rest!
After an injury, your body works very hard and uses a lot of energy to begin the healing process. It is extremely important to give it the time, rest and the fuel it needs to do a good job. The first few weeks are particularly vital for the healing, as the injured site is often fragile while your body prepares to get underway with repairs. Any disruption to this by doing activities which aggravate it is only going to set you up for a longer and a shabbier recovery. So, it’s better to bite the bullet and listen to your body!
Make a Glorious Plan!
Plan your rehab. There is so much you can still do and it’s a good opportunity to work on your weaknesses. Use this time to reset and come back stronger and more determined. For example, I knew my core, upper body, my left hip and glutes needed some work before I injured myself, so after being injured I finally had an opportunity to address it.
I made a rough plan that matched the surgeon’s instructions and timeline, which allowed me to progress while working on my weaknesses and rehabilitation. I get bored easily, so I would switch it up with a new routine every day. For the first three months – while I was in a moon boot – I would go for walks with my crutches, go to the gym to work on my upper body and core, and go aqua jogging or swim in the pool.
Win at Rehab!
Get creative. There are plenty of non-weight bearing exercises you can be doing to limit the loss of fitness and the deconditioning of your muscles. It’s very important to make goals along the way. For example: challenge yourself to a plank-holding contest; set walking distance goals; set goals to complete functional tasks such as doing your own grocery shopping by yourself, etc. Record you progress so when things do get frustrating or you get down, you can look back and actually see how far you have come.
Listen to pain. Pain is the best indicator of how your healing process is going. If your injury site is hurting during exercise, especially sharp pain, you’re not doing yourself any favours by pushing harder. In fact, you could actually be compromising your recovery. If it doesn’t hurt, then keep doing what you’re doing!
Find a team to help you stay on track. A physiotherapist, general practitioner, specialist, and support person/people (friends, family and/or dog) are all important parts of your rehabilitation. Recovery is not something you can do well on your own, it’s good to have people encouraging you along the way to tell you how well you’re doing – or tell you off if you get silly and start to overdo it!
Get Back on the Horse Bike!
Once you are cleared to get back on the bike, start small. It’s ok to feel a little apprehensive at first; your confidence will come back with time. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t feel like your old self immediately. Again, just look back on your progress and remember your still in the rehab phase of getting back to 100%.
Start riding flat gravel, and try something new to progress yourself every ride. After my recent heel injury, I started riding flat gravel with the goal being able to stand up and pedal. My next goal was to be able to ride hills, then to clip in and out, then to ride singletrack, then to ride steeper singletrack, then rougher terrain, then to manage drops and jumps. Start back at the basics and build yourself back up thoroughly. It doesn’t happen overnight – it took me three months to progress from flat gravel rides to being able to jump.
Reflect on why you got injured in the first place. Was it a crash? Analyze it. Crashes happen, but many of them could have probably been avoided. It could be a good opportunity to invest in skills coaching to give yourself the tools to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Was it due to overtraining or an overuse injury? Then maybe invest in a coach to help create an exercise program to prevent overtraining or just take steps to balance out your riding schedule with other activities. For example, dedicate 2-3 days a week to go to the gym or do home-based exercises to strengthen stability and core muscles. This will help to take the strain off overworked muscles and joints so you are properly balanced on the bike.
By following these steps, giving your injury the time it needs heal and staying active by other means, you will come back with a fresh mind, more motivation and often stronger. Make goals and keep your chin up. You’ve got this!