Monday Musings: On Fear of Re-Injury

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been slowly getting back to a state of relative normalcy with my activity levels. I’m still not running at all, but my gym-based activities are really at the same level they’ve always been, my personal training sessions are escalating quickly in intensity, and I’ve been getting back on some moderate trails. While the progress has felt good at times, I’m aware of this dark little cloud hovering over my head any time I’m doing something active.

That cloud is fear.

That is the face of pure menace.
That is the face of pure menace.

Turns out, I am incredibly anxious about re-injury this time around. When I’m working with my trainer, I can feel myself tense up as she increases the weights for certain exercises.  When I go from seated to standing on the spin bike, I’m over-analyzing whether I feel my SI “pulling”.  When I’m on hiking trails, I am descending with extreme hesitancy and caution to avoid an SI-jarring slip. I’m afraid to even ask if I should be trying to run in the near future. I’m afraid my physio and trainer might actually say yes.

This is the first time I’ve had this level of anxiety around re-injury. I’m not one for being cautious or tentative when diving back into activity.  I’m the person who usually pushes the boundaries of healing time.  This time around, though, the memories of not being able to sit and stand without intense pain, of not being able to walk for more than 5 minutes at a time, of not being able to bend to put on pants or tie my shoes, are still very fresh in my mind.  I am terrified that all it will take is one misstep on a trail, one poorly executed dead lift, or one overly ambitious workout to undo all the gains I’ve made.

It’s as though I’ve gone from one extreme to another on my spectrum of responding to injuries. I’ve moved from careless abandon to utter paranoia.

injury response
Totally normal responses right???

I have never been good at moderation.  Somehow I need to find that happy medium where I’m respecting my healing process but not letting my fears hold me back from pushing harder when it makes sense.  As a person who is more comfortable in extremes, in the all or nothing, this is actually a considerable challenge.  Like most things in life, I have no answer for this so I rely on Google to point me in the right direction. I read a lot of really crappy articles and found one that seemed relatively backed by research.

In it, I found my recipe for overcoming fear of re-injury:

  1. Increase personal reflection and confiding in others to allow more understanding of stressors and enable the creation of solutions. Check and check.  In fact, I think this blog counts as personal reflection. I also confide (ahem, whine) to my friends all the time.  So far, no solutions have emerged as a result but I’m clearly on the right path.
  2. Establish regular and graduated opportunities to experience success in ability and to increase confidence through positive self-evaluation in rehabilitation. Check again. I see a trainer weekly and we constantly see progress both in terms of range of motion and the weight I can bear. I get feedback from her to reinforce this. This overcoming fear of re-injury thing is starting to look easy.
  3. Utilise process goals to build and develop a structured path in which concentration is maintained. As each process goal is achieved there are more opportunities to congratulate oneself. Process goals should be set regularly in association with your physiotherapist/coach. Uh, I am on fire here. I have been setting weekly progress goals since roughly week 8 in my training program, and I have a highly structured path to maintain my focus on healing smartly.  This stuff doesn’t just look easy, it is easy.
  4. Provision of relatedness through positive feedback from coaches. Social support will increase self-confidence and reduce re-injury anxiety.  Alright, I was going with this list until I read this one. It seems oddly repetitious of both #1 and #2 on this list and sounds ultra airy-fairy. I like airy-fairy, but not when it comes to diminishing my own anxiety and fears. I declare this point useless. And, if that sounds too defeatist for some, I’ll also point out both my trainer and physiotherapist are full of positive feedback so I am good in this department.

What I’ve learned here is that I clearly have no reason to fear re-injury. I have all the processes in place to train and progress safely. I have all the support and feedback I need.  Grey cloud of fear, I hereby banish you to find another head to hang over.

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