Overcome Injury Paranoia With These 10 Tips
As my PT can tell you, there have been several occasions over the years where I have held back as I tried to figure out how to get over the fear of getting injured or reinjury.
If I had a dime for every time phantom pains made me think I had a stress fracture and needed to back off my running, I would certainly be living large.
Never once has that fear of injury come to fruition—it has always been a figment of my imagination.
Turns out, I’m not alone with my ghost pains.
If you’ve ever suffered a running injury, you know that as you follow your return to running program, the after effects often go beyond the physical, and you need to work on overcoming fear of reinjury.
I call it injury brain, and today, we are going to look at why we have this phobia of injury, how to recognize if your injury is actually an injury, or just your mind playing tricks, and finally, 10 ways of overcoming fear of injury as you return to running.
Are You Actually Injured or in Fear of Reinjury?
Injury brain is the deep-rooted fear of doing further harm or re-aggravating a recent injury.
It’s not fun and if you aren’t careful, it can really hold you back.
What happens, says my PT, is that our brains form a bias based on our history.
For instance, if you’ve had a tibial stress fracture and a month into your return to running you start to feel some pain in that area again, you’ll assume it’s your stress fracture coming back.
It could be, but if you’ve been careful and followed your physician/PT’s advice on returning, it very well may not be.
Your history plays tricks on your brain as you fear of getting hurt, and your first instinct is to shut down and back off running.
One of the outcomes of injury brain can be self sabotage.
Runners go through a training cycle just fine, and without pain.
We know that athletes get injured, and we hear the stats about just how many people get injured in any one year, and that starts to mess with our minds.
Yet as race day approaches, those fears start arising when finally pushing hard for something that you really want.
When those fears get the better of you, you drop your pace or abandon your race all together.
Not really how you want to waste all those training hours, is it?
So how do you move beyond your injury brain and get your head back into the game for successful running?
With some real effort—but it can be done:
See a specialist
If you have a pain that has you worried, go see your trusted practitioner, whether a physician, a PT, or a chiropractor.
The person who helped you return to running from previous running injuries is probably the best go-to-source.
Have him or her give you a good going over.
Tell them what you’ve been experiencing and what you are feeling/fearing.
If he or she can tell you things are ok, listen to him/her. These folks are the trained pros and in spite of what your fear is telling you, you can trust them.
Sometimes I joke with my PT that he is part PT and part sports psychologist for me because once he has declared me ok, I can accept it and move on.
Usually the pain turns out to be much bigger in my brain than in reality and he knows this.
Find someone who can do the same for you.
If you can’t find someone to trust, find the Facebook group of a local running group in your area, ask them who they see for injuries, or listen to this podcast episode with Brad Beer, where he explains not only what pains we can and can’t run through, but how to find a professional you can trust.
Test your running injury
If you have a genuine injury, you shouldn’t be running on it.
But if it’s still a big question mark in your head, try to push that fear aside and go for a test run or two.
Sometimes that’s all it takes for your brain to recognize that things are probably ok.
I have used this strategy several times myself.
If I can relax, go out for a short run and pay good attention to my “pain,” then I can usually figure out that it’s not a real injury and that I should stop worrying.
A few good runs later and I can generally put the issue to bed.
Learn about your running injury
This doesn’t mean going to Dr. Google!
Learning as much as you can about your past injury, it’s rehab/healing process, and what subsequent pains may or may not mean can go a long way.
Understanding a problem and pain can equate to taking control of it.
I’ve done this myself and it has helped.
Admittedly, it took some convincing to believe what I was reading versus what I was feeling, but I’ve learned that a large body of evidence generally gets it right more often than I do.
Make rehab into prehab
Injuries are not fun, we all know that, so remember this feeling, and prevent it from happening again.
Plus, I’ve found they give me a sense of comfort in the fact that I am doing something preventative.
For instance, I still retain eccentric hamstring curls in my routine, something I first began over three years ago when I faced a high hamstring tendinopathy injury.
It was an insidious, difficult injury to beat and I know I never want to revisit it.
By keeping those eccentric exercises in my routine, I feel like I have an insurance policy against a recurrence, even if I think I feel that old familiar pain now and again.
Feeling down about your injury? Seek help
Sports psychologists understand what you are going through and if you think it would help, there is no shame in reaching out to one to express what you are feeling.
Dr Stan Beecham discussed this in his podcast interview about runners and their paranoia, as did Brad Beer talk about the concept of runner blues, and why we feel so emotional and sad if we are unable to run.
Odds are you are far from the first patient coming to the physician with these issue and he or she will know exactly how to help you retrain your brain.
With powerful strategies in hand, you can get on top of your injury brain and show it who is boss.
Fed up with being injured? Share with your running friends
If you have running friends, odds are you have running friends who have been injured before, maybe even with the same injury you just came through.
Ask around and talk to your friends who have been in the same boat.
See if they experienced any of the “return to running” symptoms you have and find out how they dealt with it.
They may have some creative tips to help you pull through and put your fears to rest.
If nothing else, they can reassure you that they experienced the same fears, so you do not feel so alone.
Go through your training logs
Provided you’ve been cautious, a good read back through your training logs should help reassure you that you haven’t done anything stupid that really might jeopardize your return to running.
By seeing the mileage you’ve logged in black and white as you returned to running after your injury in a safe way, your brain can register that you’ve actually been quite well behaved with your mileage and that there’s no good reason to be hurting or facing any time on the injured reserve list.
Take that log to heart and feel confident rather than fearful about your running.
Stop allowing previous injuries to hold you back
Yes, you’ve had an injury.
But that doesn’t mean the sensations you’re experiencing now are the same ones you had leading up to your injury.
Remind yourself of how you felt as you realized you were injured.
Are the pains you’re feeling right now really the same?
Odds are they aren’t.
Stop assigning your current aches or pains the same outcome as before.
Celebrate the baby steps
Think back over the time you’ve spent rehabbing and returning to running.
Odds are there are some good runs in there where you’ve felt “normal” and pain free.
Remind yourself of those times and when they happen along the way, celebrate them.
They represent health and more than likely, the truth of your current status.
Keep them close at hand in your emotional memory bank and withdraw them as needed.
Remember, you are not defined by running
I don’t know about you, but the more I dwell on something—good or bad—the more it becomes my truth.
If this happens to be my fear of injury, then guess what dominates my every waking minute?
Instead, I try to readjust my focus on something else.
It might be the rally great strength session I had the other day, or how relaxed I felt after my easy recovery run.
I turn the attention to the positive and often, find it overcomes the negative thoughts trying to creep in.
What’s the bottom line?
There’s no question that injury brain is legit—studies have shown time and again that it’s human nature to associate familiar sensations with past experiences, whether negative or positive.
The trick is to rewire your associations and turn the negative into the positive.
Then you can put injury brain behind you and start down a positive path of run training.
Just like with the physical, mental practice can make perfect, so work hard at the brain games.
In time, you can get on top of your fear and begin to run again with confidence. This will hope not only in training but somewhere down the line, with racing as well.
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