Thoughts on fitness, health, good nutrition ... and running.

Welcome to Bald Man Running, a blog launched by Frank Murphy on January 1, 2015.

In March, 2013 I was selected as a contestant for the sixth season of Fort Wayne's Smallest Winner. Through this amazing program, I learned about good nutrition, sound exercise and accountability. By October, I would lose over 88 pounds (almost 37% of my original weight)! One of the many things I acquired through FWSW was a love for running. You can retrace my weight loss journey and discover how I became a runner by reading those entries labeled "fwsw" ...

Note: Many of the blog entries on this website predate 1/1/2015. Prior to launching BMR, I had written articles for various projects, and I have imported many of them into this blog (labeled "retro").

Monday, November 14, 2016

Recovery from Injury

Lately, I’ve fielded a lot of questions about injury recovery. I’ll share some of my thoughts regarding recovery with the intent of helping others who have suffered injuries.

Background: I’m a long distance runner. In January 2016, I slipped on ice and broke several bones in my ankle. Surgery was required, and I now have a permanently implanted plate and several screws. It’s now November 2016, and while I’m not quite back to where I was, I am certainly doing fine.

Ask your health care professionals A LOT of questions.
If you have a doctor that doesn’t like questions (which I think is rare), then you need another doctor. It’s normal to have high anxiety and fear when freshly injured. Asking questions is the only way you’ll understand what has happened and what needs to happen. Doctors appreciate patients who ask questions. It demonstrates that you are their partner in treating your injury.

Recruit a secretary.
Take someone with you to doctor visits (pre-surgery, post-surgery follow up visits, etc) so they can take notes. The doctor will give you something in writing, but it’s likely to be short bullet points. Your secretary’s job is to write EVERYTHING down. When you’re dealing with anxiety, it’s easy to misremember something or to forget to ask certain questions. Your secretary can cover these bases for you.

It’s quite likely your doctor won’t quite understand your fitness passion. For example, my doctor hasn’t treated many long distance runners, so it was really helpful to have a secretary that could “translate” between me and my doctor.

Under ideal circumstances, you wouldn’t need a secretary, but it’s really helpful for those for first few visits. Yes, it is a lot to ask of someone, but it can make a huge difference. Plan on returning the favor by being a secretary for someone else in need.

Ask for some rules.
Sometimes doctors struggle to get patients to do a bare minimum (i.e., “you should walk a little everyday, even if it is still uncomfortable”). My doctor saw that I would have the opposite problem. I needed limits placed on what I could do. I promised to stay within the guidelines, and he promised to revise those guidelines after each checkup.

Obey the doctor.
If you’re told not to run for two weeks, then don’t run for two weeks. Runners have a reputation that screams “I’ll show you … I’ll prove I can run just fine.” It’s not brave. It’s not beast-mode. It’s stupid.

Be smart. When someone runs in spite of the doctor’s advice, they usually make the injury worse. Instead of two weeks with no running, they wind up with six weeks of no running. This type of setback is easily avoided if you just obey your doctor!

Even worse? When a runner disobeys the doctor’s orders and doesn’t immediately aggravate the injury. The patient thinks “see, I’m fine … what does that doctor know?” In reality all they did was dodge a bullet. People who play Russian Roulette and don’t draw the bullet chamber aren’t good at Russian Roulette … they’re just dumb lucky. Don’t press your luck. Behaving in the short term pays off in the long term.

Watch your food intake.
I suddenly went from burning about 8500 calories (or more) a week to complete bed rest. I couldn’t afford to eat the same way after my injury that I did beforehand. It’s really easy while on bed rest to let food get out of control.

If you don’t normally keep a food journal, start one. Use an app like myfitnesspal to keep track of your calories. Failure to watch your dietary intake can lead to unwanted weight gain, which then leads to negative emotions, which then leads to further setbacks.

See a physical therapist.
This isn’t always possible (i.e., health insurance may not cover it, or it might not be critical to your specific injury), but it can make a huge difference.

While my surgeon fixed bone damage, there was still significant tissue damage too. Without physical therapy, I would have had a surgically repaired ankle, but it would have been very stiff for a very long time. My physical therapist helped me regain range of motion and flexibility, which is an area where the doctor wasn’t able to do very much for me.

It’s also important to see a therapist familiar with your training (i.e., for me, I needed a therapist who has experience treating long distance runners). I am fortunate to have a therapist who knows me well and is also covered by my health insurer.

Like your doctor, you must also listen to your therapist. When a therapist gives you homework (exercises and/or stretches to do at home), do it.

Don’t lie to your doctor or your therapist.
If you were told not to run, and you did, fess up. Lying to a health care professional is stupid. They’re trying to help you, and if you withhold information, then you compromise their ability to do that.

You might be afraid of getting chewed out because you disobeyed. Suck it up and tell the truth. It’s one thing to disobey in a moment of weakness, but it’s far worse (in my opinion) to intentionally lie about your activity simply to avoid a tongue lashing.

Set a goal.
If you’re asking lots of questions of your doctor and/or therapist, you’ll have a rough idea of when you’ll be able to resume activity. Find something to challenge you at the end of your treatment plan as a way to celebrate your progress.

For me, I found a race I wanted to run and that race became my target. This goal kept me motivated to train and rehab responsibly so I could be ready for my target race. Having something to look forward to and to focus on was a huge help for me.

Be prepared for the doctor/therapist to shoot down some of your goals, so have multiple things to consider. Several of my initial ideas were not feasible, and the doctor said so. Eventually, we settled on that race and it was great for my mental well-being.

Attack your rehab!
I know a lot of athletes that love a great physical challenge. They look for extreme events and push themselves hard to complete the task. Apply this same mentality to your rehab. All of the exercises, PT sessions, restrictions, etc. can be very difficult and tedious to do. These things are not sexy or regarded as major victories. After all, you never see a bumper sticker that says “I did 4 sets of 10 ankle flexion stretches.”

Consider rehab as a challenge to be conquered. For many athletes, they’re fighting the wrong battle. It isn’t about getting back on the course or field as quickly as possible … it’s about getting out there in optimal condition. Rehab correctly and you’ll be back out there soon enough. Skimp on rehab and you will compromise your performance and health.

Adjust your expectations.
Throughout my recovery, I actually had many goals of varying degrees of difficulty. The “big one” was my race, but there were several smaller milestones I wanted to reach. Some of those goals I achieved, and some I did not. I now realize some of my goals were too aggressive, and I had aimed higher than my capabilities. If you’re not careful, failing to meet a difficult objective can feel like a setback, when it isn’t.

In my case, that big race goal was to complete my first 100k (62 mile) race. I started strong, but faded badly and wound up dropping at mile 42. At first, it stung and felt like failure because I didn’t finish. However, I eventually realized I had also accomplished quite a bit. For example, my previous distance PR was 32 miles, so I had shattered that record. I also learned a lot from the experience, and am now better equipped when I choose to tackle it again. I have found silver livings in an experience that initially felt like dismal failure.

Final thoughts: Much of this advice is simply the same basic principles I learned while a contestant in Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner (FWSW). They taught me how to work out responsibly, eat cleanly and practice accountability. Look over my advice, and you’ll see it’s just these three principles worded in different ways. In FWSW, it’s not about losing weight (which I did), but it’s about approaching life with a healthy mindset. What made me a FWSW success is the same thing that helped me recover from my injury.

1 comment:

  1. I am so proud of you. And I was honored to be the Secretary. I would take copious notes, then take a pic and message it to Frank.One day, he only heard the doctor say, No more boot!!
    My notes said, wear a brace , do this, increase by this, come back at this time. He didn't remember any of the restrictions!! Without following those, he could have had a setback.