Any athlete who participates fully in any type of sport will experience some type of injury. Martial artists may be more prone to certain injuries due to the nature of their sport, but occasionally one may suffer from an injury that you can’t ‘train through.’ What should you expect when a serious injury causes you to take time off? Maybe even necessitating surgery or rehab? Here a few things to expect and watch out for when you’re ready to get back into training.
1. You won’t be the same. Perhaps you were a powerful kicker and you tore a hamstring. Maybe you were known for a mean right cross and you separated your shoulder. Even when you’re cleared to return to training, realize in advance that your body has sustained a serious injury and it won’t perform the way it used to. Perhaps this may be temporary. If so, be patient with yourself and concentrate on strengthening the limb slowly and be careful not to push to quickly. Maybe the injury has caused permanent change. Rather than lamenting what’s gone, adapt and find new strengths and work-arounds.
2. You won’t be able to train as often or as intensely. At first. Maybe you used to hit the gym five times a week or more. Perhaps before class you would engage in six vigorous rounds on the bag or some sparring. The more dedicated you trained, the more you won’t want to wait before jumping right in and getting back to your old routine. Go slowly. Start with one class a week and go from there. Be prepared to be more exhausted than normal and be patient with your body. It’s suffered a trauma and is still healing.
3. Don’t stop therapy. Just because you’ve been cleared from physical therapy doesn’t mean you should stop your at home exercises. The time after you’ve been released and started to try and come back to training is possibly the most crucial time to keep up your therapy. You’re no longer being regularly monitored by a therapist and you’re trying to start up again with an intense activity. Give your body every chance to succeed.
4. Pay close attention to pain. If something hurts, stop. Even if it’s in the middle of a drill. Fighters more than most, will have the desire to train through pain because that’s what they’re used to. There’s a difference between a superficial pulled muscle or bruise and a strain on a barely healed serious injury that could cause permanent damage. Train smart and always ice your injury when you’re done.
5. Be prepared to receive some jibs, and ignore them. There are those people out there who are fortunate enough to have never been seriously injured. Hopefully your training partners are empathetic enough to be supportive, but you will get those people who don’t understand why you’re not jumping right back in. Or who think you’re slacking because maybe you look just fine. You’re not here to impress anyone (if you are, you’re in martial arts for the wrong reasons) so take care of yourself and ignore anyone who tries to shame you into pushing yourself into permanent damage.
6. Don’t assume everyone knows what’s wrong. Maybe you’ve been posting updates about your injury and recovery regularly on Facebook, maybe you’ve had a conversation with all of your instructors about it. Don’t assume all of your instructors and training partners know exactly what your limitations are, especially at first. No matter how much you think you’ve told everyone ad nauseum, it doesn’t hurt to remind them and ask for modifications or offer your own. “Hey, just to remind you, I can’t really hit hard with my right arm yet, so is it okay if I just throw the crosses very lightly?”
7. Be prepared to feel frustrated and sad. You’re mourning a loss. Perhaps it’s not what one typically thinks of as a ‘loss’ and perhaps it’s only a temporary one, but be prepared to feel frustration when you’re unable to do what you were able to do before and be prepared to feel sadness when you have to let some opportunities pass by or just can’t perform as you’d like. Recognize those feelings, give them a moment (privately if possible), vent to a friend if you can and then try and let go.
Always be sure to check in with your doctor before trying any activity and especially if you’ve been injured.