The path from injury to healing can either be a terrifying walk in the dark with monsters growling in the shadows…
Or it can be the same walk in the dark – complete with monsters – but you’re armed with a map, a sword, and a level head.
This is Part Two of my post about how to heal injuries, and the process of recovering from pain and returning to full ability…you can find Part One of this post HERE.
Imagine that ‘knowing what to do on your healing journey’ is your sword. ‘Implementing healing strategies’ is your map. And you keeping a level head is just that – not always easy to do when you’re thrown off track by an injury, I know.
In this post, I’m going to share the strategies I took to aid the healing process along, to stick to it consistently, and to help my mind get through what was by far the worst part of the injury process – the mental aspect.
For specific actions I took to heal, read the Sword section.
For how I implemented it all and didn’t lose my mind while still living the rest of my life, read the Map section.
For how I handled the gnarly mental mind-hell that is injury recovery, read the Level Head section.
Handling The Journey: Your Sword
Once an injury has happened, your job is to send as much ‘healing signal’ to your body as you can.
Many people see inflammation and stress as “bad” things to be fully cut out after an injury or pain develops. What is true though is that without stress and inflammation, healing cannot happen.
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to an injury. And pain is a natural protective mechanism. Blunting either of those things with medication only makes sense if the volume of inflammation or pain is so overwhelming that it impedes other healing processes, as in the case of serious emergency room situations.
There is no ‘magic line’ of inflammation every human must stay under,
but there is a point where it will be overwhelming, and that’s when medications as intervention are useful.
Given that I intentionally stopped taking NSAIDs several years ago, and started learning to deal with the sensation of pain through other modalities, the inflammation and pain of shredding the inside of my knee wasn’t even close to intense enough to make me consider taking pain or inflammation reducing meds.
(In the case of a significant and serious injury, pain meds and drugs to cut inflammation have their place. No one wants to have surgery without anesthesia, for example.)
While allowing some inflammation is a healthy part of the healing process, you also don’t want to create a hostile environment for your body to do its “healthy, healing, things”. A supportive healing plan includes attention on diet, sleep, and stress – three areas where inflammatory loads on your body are influenced and lack of order in any of them can impede the healing process.
Here’s what I did with those three areas especially during my healing process, and many of these habits are sticking with me still today…
For my diet, I made the choice to cut booze, up my intake of colorful vegetables, and add bone broth back into my diet along with keeping up my usual protein intake, so that my body wouldn’t have to deal with the inflammation in my knee and a huge pile of inflammation from a poor diet.
I doubled down on sleep – getting more and better quality of it. This meant cutting back on caffeine so that I was actually naturally tired by 9pm and could fall asleep easily. I also got serious about cutting my mobile device use in the evening, and swapped streaming movies for reading books.
I didn’t focus on eliminating stress because that’s not how it works, instead I focused on managing my stress load and my stress tolerance. I was in the middle of the Unbreakable Body 3.0 launch when the knee injury happened. Product launches themselves are incredibly stressful, and add on to it the biggest injury I’d ever had, it was tempting to revert to my old ways of stressing myself out. But this time, I chose differently. I’ve expanded on exactly how I view and handle stress load/tolerance below.
Move It As Soon As Possible
Force is the language of cells, and so immobilization of the joint for an extended period of time is incredibly unhelpful for healing. This does not mean you should start rip your cast off and start waving your broken arm around, obviously, but…
Moving within a safe range of motion, under very light tension to start and increasing over time, early and often, is very beneficial for helping the send the signals you want to your cells as they start the healing process.
I used the Functional Range Conditioning principles I learned by taking the FRC and Functional Range Assessment (FRA) courses to create my own healing program, just like I do for clients.
That doesn’t mean I went sprinting on my injured knee, but the first morning with my new knee and all of its torn tissues, I began pushing my patella through its existing ROM, I began positional isometrics to start recapturing flexion and terminal knee extension, and I began moving each and every joint of my lower body through whatever ROM I had access to.
I explored each movement, evaluating the sensations I was feeling, determining what was actual mechanical pain and what was guarding, what was fear and what was a line of tension.
(the caption for this Instagram video is longer than I’d like to include here, but to read the specifics of what I’m doing in the video, click here)
I took movement breaks every two hours to work specifically on my knee, hip, and ankle, ROM for a few minutes – this was in addition to keeping up my Daily Movements series of drills.
It didn’t feel “good”. It took up a lot of time. And yet – I did it. Because I had non-negotiables to uphold…
Implementing Healing Strategies
While Still Holding Down The Rest of Life: Your Map
I was asked how I made so many changes to my life so quickly for this healing process, and was able to stick to them so well. For me, it was quite simple. I had non-negotiables to uphold.
It was unacceptable to me to become someone who had an injury that nagged at them long after the injury had passed. I would heal – fully – and in a timely manner. Non-negotiable.
So I got crystal clear on what stuff in my life was ‘mission critical’, and anything that wasn’t, I dumped it to make space and energy for focusing intently on healing. Because you only have so much time, energy, and capacity. And it’s likely that you’re going to have to let a few things go in order to have room in your life to rebuild your body.
For me, that meant letting go of the desire to rush everywhere. Having been a chronic over-scheduler and rusher-around-to-things, this was a ridiculously new and challenging thing for me. But my knee simply wasn’t going to stand (literally) for me rushing around because I’d scheduled myself to within an inch of my life.
It also meant letting go of relationships that were sucking up energy and not providing a return. Injury recovery requires your head and heart’s attention. People who are sucking those resources dry simply didn’t fit in my space anymore, and they may not in yours either.
It also meant finding peace in living what younger Me would have called a fairly “boring” life filled with lots of parasympathetic drive activities. As someone who revels in dopamine rushes, this was new, confusing, and ultimately, fantastically good for me.
I’m not recommending you do exactly what I did. But I am recommending that if you want to get something different than what you’ve currently got, you’ve got to do something different.
And given that total system stress influences how your body responds to anything – including healing – removing things that don’t matter as much so that you can focus on doing things that do matter much more for your healing process, is one way to help ensure you don’t overwhelm your stress load or tolerance…
Your system is unique to you. The amount of stress you can handle will be different from your spouse, your friend, and even your sibling. Understanding your own unique stress load and stress tolerance is vital for supporting yourself, whether on a healing journey, or not.
Stress tolerance is not about being able to be in a huge storm of stress and being “fine”.
Stress tolerance is about being able to ebb and flow with the stress that comes through your life. It’s about putting practices into place that increase your tolerance to stress. It’s also about recognizing the sources of distress in your life and removing or reducing them.
It’s about being able to pick up on the the subtle nuance of cues your body gives you that are asking you to lean in harder to your mindfulness practice, or increase the amount of naps you’re taking, or get back to writing in your journal, or cut back on your intense workouts, or take more time to breathe deeply each day.
Keep A Level Head About You
Part of addressing your stress load and tolerance is so that your body can be in a supportive state for growth and healing. Having a chronically elevated sympathetic nervous system certainly makes it harder for healing, growth, and pain-reduction to happen.
But another reason to handle your stress load and tolerance is because of how those things influence your state.
The story you’re telling your Self about your body, your injury, your ability to heal, and the world around you, impacts how your body responds. As such, your state of being matters.
For example, if you are told (and you believe) that you’re fragile or broken, you will respond as if that is true – even though it is not.
Priming like this can negatively impact your ability to eliminate pain, it can hamper your ability to regain range of motion and control, and it can influence your potential for re-injury in the future.
As I teach about in my workshop on eliminating neck and shoulder tension, pain is influenced by many factors beyond simply ‘whether or not there is a mechanical reason for you to experience pain (like a bone being broken).’ Things like cognition, belief, logic (or lack thereof), and previous experiences all influence whether or not you feel pain.
But, just as the point of addressing your stress load and tolerance is not to be “stress free”, the point of addressing your state is not to be “totally relaxed and unconcerned”.
The point is to take your injury or pain seriously, and to understand that your mind is a powerful agent in supporting your healing.
To give you a sense of what that looks like in action, here’s how I implemented pain science concepts into my life –
I heard the pop. I knew the gravity of what had happened. But I didn’t share that with anyone other than the people who were with me when it happened, my favorite physio, and my closest friend. The last thing I needed for my mental state was friends and family members sending me “omg are you ok, poor thing! that sounds terrible!” texts that would reinforce, consciously or subconsciously, that things were not good.
While those messages would have been well-meaning, reinforcement that things were not great was not what I needed reflecting back at me a million times over.
Many days I used all the bravery I had to keep moving through that unknown middle ground of “logically, I understand that it can and will heal…but what if it doesn’t?”
It can be challenging to see and truly believe in the vision of You – healthy, strong, durable, capable of doing everything you want to do – when your current state feels drastically different from that.
And it’s a fact that humans are not particularly motivated by outcomes that are far off. (It’s why diet advice aimed at preventing an illness thirty years from now rarely works to create change in the individual now.)
Imagine trying to trust something you can’t picture in your mind…nearly impossible. Using imagery helps your brain to understand.
I actually watched youtube videos of arthroscopic surgeries to cement in my mind what knees that had been damaged look like from the inside…seeing live videos navigating around the knee gave me a more tangible image in my head than just looking at x-rays or drawings in books.
There were days I’d feel overjoyed at the progress I’d made with my healing. And there were days I’d sit on the training floor and feel tears welling up in my eyes at how weak, broken, and scared, I felt.
I never let either of those ends of the spectrum be named as the one and only Truth for me. On the days I felt like there had been sizable progress, I appreciated it while also acknowledging that there was more work to do.
And on the days I felt like I might never get to be whole and strong again, I acknowledged the fear for what it was while also recognizing that I’m really confident in how my biology and cellular turnover works under the forces and stimuli I was giving my body.
While I hope my posts on my own injury recovery provide insights and support for you, I do not intend for them to be your blueprint for healing. Work with people like me and my colleagues to create a plan for your body. Learn more. Understand your Self and your Body better. Grow from this.
Your injury can be one of the most profound and transformational experiences, if you allow it to be. Frankly, it’s going to change you unless you absolutely resist it.
Let this be a part of your story but not the defining aspect of it.