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Getting injured can be one of the most mentally and physically upsetting experiences anyone can go through. I know, I had several major injuries, derailing my hopes for a football career. At the moment you get hurt, badly, there is not only physical pain, which continues during physiotherapy and the recovery process. There are also times of overwhelming sadness and frustration.
Dr Tamara Ghazi, medical director of DISC Dubai and Kirsteen Thain, co-founder of GetFitChick Training & Nutrition gym, answered our questions about how to best deal with an injury, both physically and mentally, and how to successfully navigate your way through physiotherapy or even surgery, on the road to recovery.
Do prehab physio now
Your condition before injury is a key factor in how quickly you will recover, so it pays to lay down the right foundations as part of your exercise regime. That way, when you are injured, you can focus on healing.
“Research shows that developing a stability program before any surgical procedure can speed up recovery greatly,” Dr Ghazi says. “Movement is medicine! There is so much one can do around an injury.”
Prehab is one name for it, accessory work is another.
“Doing accessory work to stabilize and strengthen smaller muscle groups, tendons and ligaments is vitally important in the recovery process. It’s the foundation of strength and wellness, so think of it as bulletproofing your body to aid against injury.”
Get a correct diagnosis
“It’s so important to have the right diagnosis to ensure the right treatment plan for the patient,” says Dr Ghazi. “Communicating your goals to your surgeon/ therapist and understanding your injury is just as important, in avoiding re-aggravation and setting an appropriate timeline that you can stick to for return to play.”
Get and keep a positive mindset
Developing and maintaining a positive mindset is the most important part of rehab and recovery, says Dr Ghazi.
“The brain has so much control over our general wellbeing and willpower to do anything we want,” she says. “If you’re not willing to put in the work because the thought of injury or surgery depresses you, then the road to recovery will be long and tough. Medicine in our day and age is incredible and rehab does not have to be boring.”
Thain advises anyone who is injured to maintain consistency by incorporating their new physiotherapy routine into their life. Part of a positive mindset is continuing to exercise safely while injured.
“Know that you can work around your injury,” she says. “Stay up-to-date with your physio appointments, keep going to the gym and do your rehabilitation there, so you don’t lose that as part of your daily life. Once you get used to not going, it can be hard to get started again.”
“Rehabilitation takes time, as muscles and stability take time to develop,” says Dr Ghazi. “If you rush the process to return to action, you can end up with injuries which are more severe than the initial one. Slow down and enjoy the process. Take time to reflect on other areas of your health; this could be a great time to work on your mindset and habits.”
Have a strong support crew
“It is essential to have a group who can either work with you in your rehab or help maintain your patience and the right mindset through the rehab and recovery process,” says Dr Ghazi. “If you can’t hold yourself accountable, surround yourself with friends who will, and who inspire you to properly return to your favorite activities.”
Get the right physiotherapy
There is so much information online and on social media that can be harmful as well as helpful, so be careful, says Dr Ghazi.
“Physiotherapy treatment plans should involve both manual and exercise therapy. The latter can eventually be done at home with proper guidance on technique and the right choice of exercise progressions. Even top athletes still have guidance from physios and coaches, as we tend to downplay our injuries.”
And don’t over-rely on a personal trainer or a coach. He or she does not have the medical training to give advice on injuries.
“A personal trainer cannot diagnose your injury for you, so make sure you see a physiotherapist first before starting a rehabilitation program,” says Thain.
Stick to the physio plan
With the right guidance and support, it shouldn’t be hard to stick to a treatment plan.
“Rushing the plan or slacking off the exercise can also cause damage to the area in the long run,” says Dr Ghazi. “Research and rehab protocols have advanced so much, almost any condition can be rehab-ed to its original state with patience, hard work and the right mindset.”
Most people don’t realize it can take up to a year to recover from surgery, says Thain.
“Be patient, set yourself the goal but realise that time will go by faster than you realize, so follow the recovery protocol,” she says. “People who don’t, don’t recover properly.”
Study surgical options carefully
If it turns out surgery is needed to fix the problem, choose the right surgeon – one who makes you feel comfortable and at peace, and clearly communicates what to expect, says Dr Ghazi
Pain management during recovery also needs to be addressed.
“Some surgical procedures involve casts or braces which can limit movement temporarily, so it’s important to know what to expect so you can plan accordingly,” she says.
Nutrition for healing
Even if you are diligent about physiotherapy and have the right mindset, recovery will be negatively affected if you slack off on getting the right nutrients, says Thain.
“Eat a variety of whole, unprocessed foods to make sure you are getting different micronutrients from different food sources,” she says. “If you are going to be limited in movement, you need to eat less than usual.”
While it’s tempting to turn to comfort food when we’re feeling low, that can be counterproductive to healing, says Dr Ghazi.
“Many food groups have anti-inflammatory and healing properties,” she says. “The general rule is to stay away from highly processed foods and drinks and keep your intake natural foods high.”
Mitch is a former semi-professional athlete, personal trainer and physical education teacher who has decided to explore the world and work with his partner in their adventure travel business. When not flying off to exotic destinations, Mitch can be found on the beaches of Dubai waiting for that next wave.