Maybe you've been lucky enough to avoid it up until now...but you've seen your friends dropping like flies all around you with one injury or another. Maybe you have a surgery scheduled for the near future to fix a problem that has been nagging you or a past injury that never healed. Or, maybe you are in the thick of it right now, lying on the couch with your ankle propped up on pillows wrapped in a drippy bag of ice.
Just the word alone causes you to break out in a cold sweat. The years, decades even, of hard work toiling over your craft gone out the window in an instant. True, an injury can be devastating, career-ending even...if you let it be. But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, it can be an opportunity to grow and come out better than ever on the other side. But you need a plan of action to get there.
Let me show you how.
It isn't rocket science...and it sure isn't going to be easy either. But by following these steps, you can feel confident that you are taking a proactive role in your recovery, giving yourself the best chance of getting back on your feet and in the studio as soon as possible.
Everybody knows how important rehab is following an injury, but have you ever heard of “prehab?” Since many injuries are accidental and unexpected, you won't always have the convenience of scheduling a surgery or procedure in advance and having the time to build up your body’s resilience and strength beforehand. But when you do, don’t underestimate the power behind prepping your body to go under the knife. The stronger you are before a surgery or layoff, the less you will be affected by muscle atrophy while in the recovery phase. Plus, you will heal faster with increased blood flow and healthier tissues surrounding the joint.
And don't underestimate the need for extra strength in the rest of your body in preparation for a surgery. It’s easy to take for granted the activities of daily living when you have access to all 4 limbs. But when one of those limbs is compromised, the other 3 three have to pick up the slack. Often, secondary injuries can occur in an unrelated body part during post-surgery/injury days if the rest of the body isn’t strong enough to handle the increased stress on it.
Even if you don’t have a surgery scheduled or can't anticipate a catastrophic injury, it never hurts to strengthen your body. Make it as resilient as possible to prepare for those “what if” scenarios. There will never be a situation where you regret taking the time and energy to fortify your body…so you have nothing to lose.
Here’s what my client Kaylee said after prehabbing several weeks before her surgery:
“Strengthening my body has helped so much in preparing myself mentally for what is coming! Knowing that I have done the work before surgery has eased my anxiety so much.”
We are familiar with this in the dance world…some of us a bit too familiar, I’m sure. Your rehab doesn’t have to take place under doctor’s orders with a physical therapy script. Because let's face it, sadly not all of us have health care coverage that is ideal. There are other methods of safe, slow, controlled strengthening that can aid in rehabilitation and help you regain full range of motion and function. Rehab can be tough, it can hurt, and it can be scary…and that’s if it’s done properly. Find someone you trust with knowledge of how to do things safely. But the key is doing something. If you don’t push your body a little bit at the right time following an injury, it can take you a lot longer to get back to full recovery.
Chances are that you are already going to feel lazy while you sit around and avoid your usual activities as you recover. You might feel guilty about wanting to tuck into bed early, “I didn’t DO anything today…why am I so tired?!” But, instead of questioning yourself and denying your body what it is craving when you feel exhausted at 8pm, make it an actual goal to get extra sleep.
You see, your body does most of its best repair work overnight while you are sleeping. Think about it this way: when you are sleeping, your body doesn’t have to multi-task with all the other activities you engage in while awake, so it can put more energy and focus on healing the damaged tissues. So instead of making yourself feel bad for being so tired, rest assured you are actually being very productive while you snooze for 10 hours each night.
I’m not a huge fan of supplements, but this is one thing I like to include in my diet whenever my joints and tissues feel not-so-stable and I lose that invincible feeling in my body. Collagen is super important for maintaining and building healthy connective tissue. So when your joints are damaged from an injury or surgery, this is the stuff you want more of.
You might have heard of the current bone broth craze, and there’s a good reason for that. Collagen comes from animal parts that are tough to eat - tendons, cartilage, and other tough connective tissues and less desirable parts - and maybe not the most appetizing to us Westerners (although other cultures have found ways of indulging in this health food regularly). But the benefits of collagen are too good to pass up. And unless you are game to gnaw on a pig’s knuckle (I did this in Malaysia…it’s not as bad as it sounds😉 #noregrets), most of those benefits can be derived from essentially melting that tough stuff down through many hours of slow cooking to create bone broth. If making a batch of bone broth is too intimidating, you can mix a tablespoon or two of hydrolyzed collagen into a liquid of choice for similar benefits.
You might be tempted to eat less when you are injured because you are doing less physical activity and think you don’t need as much to fuel you. While YOU might not need as much energy to do things…your BODY still needs the fuel to stitch things back together. And real, high-quality protein sources (beef, turkey, lamb, fish, chicken, eggs, full-fat dairy) are super important for that.
Protein is the building block for most of the tissues in your body. It not only helps prevent muscle atrophy while you are immobilized but also helps you build muscle faster once you are able to start retraining the injured area. So, don’t skimp on the protein! You don’t have to eat an entire cow at every meal, but just get a small hunk of it spread out evenly throughout the day so your body can always utilize that resource for rebuilding.
6) Less Sugar/Higher Nutrient-Density
If anything, skimp on sugars. Since your activity level is going to take a major dip while you are recovering, try to cut back on your sugar intake. Be careful, sugar can hide in many sneaky disguises including “healthy” sugars and carbs like honey, agave, pasta, & rice. (You can find more info on the kinds of carbs to eat for fat loss in my FAT LOSS GAME PLAN). This will help minimize unnecessary weight gain while you wait to return to your normal work load. You don’t want to waste any calories on “junk” food that is empty of the nutrients that will heal you.
Speaking of which, I’m not going to list all the vitamins and minerals that would benefit healing because there are so many that are important, and depending on your unique situation and current nutrient deficiencies, some may be more important to you personally than others. Unless you want to shell out a good amount of money to have a bunch of blood work done (even those results can be misleading sometimes), it's best to try and eat as large of variety of nutrient-dense foods as possible. Focus on real food that is close to it’s natural state and unprocessed. Buy organic, hormone/pesticide-free, non-GMO, grass-fed, pasture-raised when possible (yeah, that’s right…the expensive stuff). True, you may have to spend a bit more money on food, but this is the stuff that will directly impact your healing. And if ever there’s a time to treat yourself to high quality food, it’s NOW!
Again, without going into too much detail or getting overly paranoid about food labels, these are a few of the nutrients you want to pay attention to especially while healing:
- Vitamin C (citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, broccoli, etc.)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids (fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, etc.)
- Zinc (meat, shellfish, full-fat dairy, eggs, etc.)
- Vitamin D (fatty-fish, egg yolks, beef liver, sun exposure, etc.) *
- Calcium (full-fat dairy, sardines, leafy greens, almonds, etc.) – *you need both Vitamin D & Calcium together for proper absorption
7) Mental Game
It can be easy to get discouraged, sad, depressed when you are forced to deal with any kind of injury. No matter what stage of the recovery process you are in, the key is staying positive. I know that is so cliched but allow me to explain. If you constantly think about how far away you are from where you used to be…or how far away from where you want to be…you are not only going to torture yourself but most likely prolong your recovery. The mind is a very powerful tool. Don’t occupy it with nasty thoughts that will drag you down further. Use it to your advantage to heal you:
- Focus on one day at a time – What can I do today to allow me to heal a little more? Better yet, recognize that as painful as this situation may be to go through, it’s an opportunity to:
- Build back stronger than ever
- Re-evaluate your technique from a position of new knowledge and body awareness
- Gain an undeniable confidence as you overcome obstacles in life & learn how to navigate tough times. This seemingly devastating time can be a real opportunity to not only survive but thrive...if you have patience and use your time wisely.
- Focus on the rest of your body. Do what you can to stay strong and mobile in your uncompromised joints. This not only obviously helps you physically, but it can ease your anxiety when you know you are being proactive about your recovery. I’ve had several dancers come into my gym to work with me while in a boot or on crutches. The beauty about the machines I work with is that they are very good at isolating body parts. This makes it possible for you to enhance your body and maintain or even gain strength before you can even return to walking normal.
- Realize you can have a long dance career ahead of you if you treat your body well. These few months or even years of healing and recovery are relatively short in the grand scheme of things. And if you use this time to build back stronger, understand your body better, and respect where your limits are, you can actually have a longer career…and a more fulfilling one as well. Far from stealing time away from your dancing, you can gain it with the right mindset and willingness to learn.
Of course this is by no means a definitive list of supplements and tools that can help you heal…but it’s a good place to start. Perhaps the best part of these 7 steps is the sense of control it gives you over your recovery. That control turns into confidence and power. Don’t underestimate those 2 mental tools in their ability to heal you. Whether it is the placebo effect or not, your mind has so much untapped potential for making your body better. So start tapping that, and you’ll have a real unique opportunity to build yourself back up stronger than ever.
Be the Badass B!tch who REFUSES to surrender!
If you want help with either the physical or mental components involved in successful injury recovery, reach out to me anytime for Elite Coaching. We’ll come up with a plan to help you regain your confidence in your body and in your art.
Wishing you luck on your surgery today Kaylee! You got this!