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WOOCS 2.2.5

Returning From Injury

“It’s not if you’ll get injured, but when and how badly.”

It’s my answer when people coming to derby ask if injuries are common. Of course they are! We play a contact sport on eight wheels. When you watch rugby do you doubt that injuries happen? I have been playing since 2009.

My injuries have all included:

  • Rink rash (bare skin on wood floor)
  • Cut forehead, arms (trying to remove the jammer hat, people bracing )
  • Bruises on upper body, shins, lady parts (people bracing, getting kicked, falling on skates)
  • Concussion
  • Sprained neck
  • Bruised coccyx
  • Bruised hip (from “super-manning”)
  • Pulled groin
  • Bruised sternum
  • Broken Nose x3+ (we’re not really sure on that one)
  • Scratched cornea (poked in the eye)
  • Pulled quad
  • High ankle sprain
  • Bruised rib
  • Sprained thumb(s)
  • Sprained LCL
  • Torn MCL
  • Torn PCL
  • Torn meniscus
  • Complete tear of the ACL

I’ve seen some battle damage.

Anyone that’s been in the sport competitively for more than a minute has. The goal should never be to avoid injury, but rather to prevent major injury. In the process, you set your body up for bouncing back quickly if you are ever injured.

I am coming off of ACL reconstruction with a hamstring graft. I have been out of contact for exactly one year with major damage to my ligaments, calf muscle, and tibia. I was told that most people take up to a year to return to sport after surgery for an injury like mine. I am 5.5 months out of surgery. I have been on skates for more than a month, and I began minor contact just after the five month mark. As I progress into more intense contact, these are the five things I have held onto the whole time:

Positive Mind, Positive Results

Since the moment I felt my knee displace, I have worked on a positive mindset about the injury. Step one was working to forget what it felt like (spoiler alert: I still remember now and again). Reliving the injury does nothing but make you feel worse about it. Things happen. In your mind, take your injury, ball it up like a piece of paper, and now visualize yourself throwing it away.

I love writing post it notes with positive affirmations on them. You can also use dry erase marker on mirrors throughout your house. When you see the positive affirmation, say it aloud! You might feel goofy at first, but our brain believes what we tell it. Why not tell yourself good things? Here are some great examples:

My injury does not define me
Having weakness does not make me weak
I am powerful
I will return to sport better than before
I deserve to be happy
I am worth love

I also like listening to ‘Personal Development’ daily. YouTube has a plethora of TedxTalks videos to motivate and inspire you. Work hard on you daily. The stronger your mind and your confidence, the easier it will be to transition back into practice.

Never Stop Caring About Your Body

It’s really easy to go, “Boo hoo I’m injured, I’m going to eat all of the junk food and binge watch Netflix for the next 6 weeks.” I’ll give you the benefit of a few days. To say I didn’t have some time crying over ice cream and watching every season of Top Chef would be a lie, but I only allowed myself the occasional transgression. Why?

The quicker you heal, the quicker you return to play. Healing is linked to our overall health, and our overall health is directly tied to our activity level and our nutrition. The moment I hurt myself I knew that my nutrition and workout plan had to change. Self-assessment, forgiveness, and understanding are your friend in the process of healing. Vitamins, protein, and water are important building blocks for your cells, and they are going to be hard at work during your recovery.

You wouldn’t expect a team of people to build a house without concrete blocks or mortar right? Then why would you expect your body to heal itself without vitamins and protein?

Finding workouts you can do with your injury is super important as well. Keeping up your muscle mass and cardio health means your body is strong enough to heal. Blood flow is critical to the healing process, so don’t you want your heart to be as healthy and strong as possible?


Make Rehab Your Prehab

All the exercises they give you to get your shoulder, knee, ankle, hip, back, etc strong again? You should probably keep doing those. In fact, poke your friends that have gone to physical therapy for injuries you haven’t had and ask them to show you their PT routine. Something as simple as a straight leg raise can make a difference in quad reaction during gameplay. For me, straight leg raises as part of my weekly routine meant that post-surgery I could IMMEDIATELY get out of bed on my own, and get into PT two weeks sooner since my quad rebounded so quickly.

Go in strong, come out strong.

As you’re getting back into your game, you must continue your routine of exercise, and (p)rehab. If you were a “I don’t need/have time for cross training” person pre-injury, this is where that has to change. Again, we play a contact sport on eight wheels. If you are not conditioned, if your joints and soft tissue aren’t prepared for the brutality we put our bodies though – you are simply going to reinjure yourself.

Ease In

Which brings me to my next point: you must ease back in. It is tempting to try and jump right in where you left off but you cannot. It is recommended that when starting back to a workout routine, it’s recommended that you start at 50% of where you were before and add by 10% weekly (as long as the injury had you out for 3 weeks or more). This goes for cross training and derby practice.

Most of us coming back from a sprain, strain, break, or tear will be non-contact for a while. Use that time to redevelop your footwork and agility. You can start with slow laps and increase the amount of time on skates, and the intensity of your on skate workout each week. Once you are confident with your control and steady state cardio, you can turn up the bursting agility.

“But I’m a jammer! I want to start on my bursting power right away!” Why not do this first? If you’ve been off for a while, even if your injury was not leg-related, the soft tissue in your joints will not be as equipped to handle the work. It’s not uncommon for them to lose some elasticity or strength if you’ve been on a ‘no exercise’ routine for long enough. You want to recondition them to skating before dumping crazy amounts of strain on them.

I’ve found that easing into contact is important as well. Starting with just bumping around and getting a feel for what it’s like can help you build confidence. From there, pushing people out of bounds and one-on-one positional blocking practice can help you regain your balance, core strength, and blocking conditioning. Leading me to my last point…

Just Because You’re Cleared, Doesn’t Mean You’re Ready

I know that once we’re cleared for exercise and for full contact, we’re super stoked and ready to jump right back in. Just because you CAN jump in, doesn’t mean you should.

The ortho can tell us if the bone is healed, or if the ligaments are attached, or if the tear is gone, but they can’t tell you if the muscles surrounding those things are ready for high impact. They don’t know if our footwork is responsive enough for intense practices. They can’t tell us that our minds are ready to leap back into the fray of scrimmage. This goes hand-in-hand with the ‘ease in’ mentality.

For example: I will probably get cleared for full contact on September 15, 6 months post op. However, I know that when I practice sticky blocking, or sprint 10 laps, my hamstring cramps, and the outside of my knee feels tight. My surgeon is not going to know that, only I am. The “I’ll be fine” mentality needs to drop. Those of us who have sustained long term injuries tend to see past our own immediate wants to do what is best for our body. I have seen too many bruised ribs, dislocated shoulders, high ankle sprains, strained hips (etc) go back into charter play without preparation, self-analysis, or caution simply because “Well the doctor said I’m fine”.

Can you guess what happened to 9 out of 10 of those skaters?

I know they are the same clichés we tend to hear over and over when we’re injured, but there’s a reason we say them. Get your mind right first, then your body right, then put the two together. If you do it right, you won’t have to worry about re-injury.

The last thing I need to press is that you should invest in your protective equipment. You’re injured, so this might be the best time to replace those knee pads or spend money on a proper helmet. You’ve been eyeing up that compression gear – this might be the best time to nab some. Compression gear is thought to increase blood flow to the area compressed, decrease swelling, and reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

About the author:

Merry Khaos is a member of Tampa Roller Derby and part of our 2018 STEAKS CREW.

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