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Feature - Beyond the comfort zone

Getting back to game after injury

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Like the five stages of grief, there’s a healing process to go through. Before you gain access to the R&R room, and settle into the couch for some hardcore napping, you need to pass through the first phase – denial. Injuries tend to announce themselves without shame. As soon as the deed is done – ankle rolled, shoulder popped, ribs crushed, bone snapped; you know you’re there. You don’t need a deck of tarot cards to know what lies ahead. But like a kid getting dragged off to bed just as the party’s warming up, you kick and scream and resist.

Dr. Fisher has seen it.

"So, doc, can I get back on my bike tomorrow?"

Ah? No.

"Doc, I rolled my ankle on the weekend, I’ve rested it for two days, can I play pick-up basketball tonight?"

Ah? No.

Combine our general reluctance to leave the party with the fact that most sports-related injuries are invisible, and you have a recipe for denial.

"Usually, when I consult with someone after an injury, the first thing I do is start drawing," says Dr. Fisher. "I do a diagram, or show them a model. Part of my function as a physician is to give some basic anatomy lessons."

As with any good basement meeting, the password to recovery is admitting that you’re injured. "Hi, my name is Dave and I have three dislocated ribs." "Hi, my name is Lee Anne, and I have a concussion, a broken shoulder and a torn MCL." To get out of that room, and back to life, as soon as possible, you need to get your head around the injury. Find out what it is, what’s going on inside, what it takes to mend. Grab a pile of magazines, flick Oprah on and wait. There’s healing that needs to happen. Torn tissue needs to knit together.

"A good couch and a sympathetic dog to hang out with is key," says Patterson. "Because none of your buddies will be hanging around. They’ll all be out trying to injure themselves."

Dr. Fisher cautions on the art of finding the balance. "It’s important to get back soon, but not too soon, or you’ll re-injure yourself."

The Zen-masters would say, Listen to your body, grasshopper. If it’s saying Slow Down! then slow down. If it’s saying, Ow! Don’t touch me there! then investigate.

After the third time in as many minutes that his therapist had rolled his body over, jumped her full weight on him and still not relocated his ribs, skier Dave Hobson was about to give up on physiotherapy. His initial response to an injury sustained in a ski collision was inspired by the "ignore it and it will go away" school of medicine. Unfortunately for Hobson, three dislocated ribs don’t go away. The muscles around them do adjust to the ribs’ new location and that’s been the problem.