5 Lessons on Injury

It’s been just about six months since my ACL was repaired for the second time. I can’t believe it’s been that long already. Remember when I was complaining because I would not be able to start running until 5-6 months post-op? Have I started running yet? No. Am I OK with that? Yes, because I know that I haven’t been ready.

I went to see my doctor today. I’m not 100% yet. Nowhere near 100%. My ACL is looser than he would like it to be but it’s OK. It just means that I have to continue to give it the time it needs to heal and to set properly. This is one of the risks when you have surgery to revise a previous ligament reconstruction – it can take longer to heal and the revisions tend to be looser.

I’ve been cleared to start trying to run and bike – basically anything that involves moving straight ahead. My doctor wants me to be careful doing side-to-side movement – that’s what could potentially loosen my ligament more. There’s a lot that I need to do in terms of strengthening my hips and glutes to give me the lateral strength and support that I need. In the back of my head, I’ve been daydreaming about a surf trip to Costa Rica in January. I asked my doctor about it. He said, come see me in three months. Drat.

This whole experience has been humbling and frustrating. It’s hard when I want my body to cooperate, when I feel like I’m doing everything that I am supposed to be doing but I still am not seeing the progress that I want. Then, I read about research presented at the American Orthopaedic Social for Sports Medicine Annual Meeting indicating that patients who undergo repeated ACL reconstructions or revisions surgery are unlikely to return to prior activity levels even though they show basic functional improvement. Fantastic. There’s part of me that doesn’t want to be careful anymore. I just want to be.

At the same time, I’ve also learned a lot through the process. I hope these lessons will help others if, unfortunately, they get injured.

1. It is not the end of the world if you can’t exercise for X weeks/months.
You won’t wither away or gain a million pounds. I’m not saying that it’s not hard, especially when fitness is a big part of your life, but you have to respect your body and your injury. Your body needs time to recover. It’s better to take a little bit of time off now than try to do justonemoreworkout and risk a more serious injury which may require surgery (ahem). In the long run, it will be worth it to be healthy and injury-free.

2. Be patient and forgiving of yourself.
You will be weaker than you were pre-injury. You will be slower. You may have to retrain your body to do the most basic things. For me, the hardest part of trusting my body to learn to walk again after surgery. So many times I have wanted to rush the process, to go back to the routine I was doing before I was injured, to just be done with it and move one with my life. But I know that’s not the smart thing to do. Instead, I’ve learned to appreciate the little things and to be thankful for the progress that I have made.

3. Recovery takes longer as you get older.
Sad but true. When I had my first surgery in my early 20s, rehab and recovery seemed like a breeze. In fact, I have very little memory of it. It just happened. I got better and I continued to do whatever I wanted to do. Things are taking longer this time around. Instead of being frustrated, I am trying to recognize that this is where my body is now and what it’s capable of. Instead of berating it, I’m trying to work with it.

4. Do your physical therapy exercises.
Seriously, do them. I know that it can be tedious and annoying to do leg lifts three times a day, every day but consistency is the key with rehab. These exercises are designed to strengthen weak or tight muscles or to correct muscle imbalances. When are muscles are imbalanced, we tend to overcompensate which can lead to injury.

5. Trust your instincts.
At first, I went to a physical therapy practice near my home because I was not interested in negotiating the NYC public transportation system on crutches in order to go to a PT practice in Manhattan 2-3 times a week. From the beginning, I didn’t necessarily feel “taken care of” but I figured that ACL reconstruction is fairly common and that the rehab protocol is standard. What difference would it make? The approach makes all the difference. 2-3 months into treatment, I decided to switch practices and I’m SO glad that I did. After my first visit to my new therapist, I felt a million times better. My treatment is monitored much more closely and I’ve been making greater progress. Make sure that you find a physical therapist that you are comfortable with.

I know many others have shared their stories of injury and recovery. It’s been extremely helpful for me to read these stories and to know that I’m not alone. Here are some that inspired me:

Tell me, have you come back from injury? What helped you through the process and what lesson did you learn?




    • admin says

      Thank you Sana for sharing your story. You are absolutely right – while it doesn’t always appear so, injuries are a blessing. I’ve become much more appreciative of my body and what I’m capable of doing. It’s also been a huge reminder to enjoy life.

    • admin says

      Never has anything been so hard as it was to learn to walk again. And to trust that my body would be able to do it when it wasn’t giving me any indication that it would listen to me. Thank you.

  1. says

    I love this post. I recall being ‘broken’ for nearly six weeks and basically not being able to walk. Not fun, not at all. Do your exercises and trust your body <– yes! Not stressing about how and when I was going to recover was really important, once I start the inside work and relaxed my body started to dramatically improve.
    Donloree recently posted..Its Beginning To Look A Lot Like Fitmas!My Profile

    • admin says

      Thank you Donloree. Yes, not stressing out about how or when I was going to be all better is HUGE. That’s all I could think about at first – 3 months and I should be able to do X, Y, and Z. And when I couldn’t? It was a huge let down and disappointment. I’m trying now to trust that my body know what it’s doing so long as I’m also supporting it by doing my exercises and remaining healthy. I’ll get there one day, right? 😉

  2. says

    This is SUCH a good post, I am so glad you wrote this and you have learned so much from your injury and experience. you are so right ‘one more workout’ could be the kiss of death for an injury, just don’t risk it. It is so hard when we love it so much, but it’s just not worth the risk. I am so glad you are continuing your recovery, even if it’s not as fast as you’d like. you have come through this with such poise and patience, I am so so impressed.
    jobo recently posted..12 redeeming miles.My Profile

    • admin says

      Thank you my friend for your kind words. Much of the time, I don’t feel so patient or posed (I’m sure that my husband could attest to that). I think that a lot of it has been about recognizing where I am and, rather than get upset and frustrated about the things that I could not change, focus on the things that I could do. That has been a huge mind-shift for me.

  3. says

    Such great advice my friend — I have REALLY admired how you’ve handled your injury, with a lot more patience and trusting of the process than I probably would be able to muster. I am so glad you’re on the road to your comeback, even if it feels like a long way to go still, you’re getting there every single day, stronger and stronger. I’m so proud of you!
    Jess recently posted..22 miles: demolishedMy Profile

    • admin says

      Thank you for your kind words! I think that I started trusting the process because I started realizing that there was nothing that I could do about it!! haha. I know that the road ahead is still long but you’re right – every day I’m making progress and every day I get stronger. I have to remember that.

    • admin says

      #3!!! Sigh. My husband enjoys reminding me that I’m getting older and things don’t always heal as quickly (he’s 7 years older than me so he likes to rub it in when he can.) I hope that if and when you do get your knee fixed, that it goes swiftly and smoothly!

  4. says

    Great post! It is hard for fitness enthusiasts to handle not being able to do their favorite workouts but you are right, it is not the end of the world. I’m looking forward to reading more as you continue to recover!
    Betsy recently posted..How I Got HereMy Profile

    • admin says

      Thanks Betsy. It’s always hard when you can’t do something that you really love or that is an outlet for you. I appreciate your kind words and thoughts.

  5. says

    I so appreciate this post! (And thanks for the link love, too!) My knee injury was nowhere near as severe as yours but it’s still not 100%. In fact, this mornings run was less than stellar. Proof that I can’t rush recovery. Patience is so hard to find especially when you’re the impatient kind (like me). I think you have been handling your recovery beautifully! Stay strong and you’ll get back. And I agree with Debbie – damn you age!!! 😉
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..Barilla Microwave MealsMy Profile

    • admin says

      Seriously, #3 is killing me. I mean, I get it but I think of all the things that slows down recovery, that’s the one that I wanted to defy the most. Yes, (don’t want to nag) but please be careful with you knee! I’m totally impatient most of the time and I have no idea why I’m more willing to go with the flow this time around. We’ll both be back at it and stronger than ever :-)

  6. says

    Thank you for your wise, insightful, and practical words. “Trust your instincts..” so simple but can be so hard sometimes, when we just want to MOVE! No? I have a collapsed arch in my foot that has me good this time. I have learned to love my shorter runs and cross training for now….
    ilene recently posted..Life of the PartyMy Profile

    • admin says

      I have no idea why it’s so hard to trust our instincts. On my first visit to the PT place, I knew that I should look for another place but I talked myself out of it because it was inconvenient. I hope that your foot is OK and gets better soon. But it’s a good opportunity too to do something different like bootcamp :-)

  7. says

    Oh, I’m so sorry it’s still not 100%, but that’s definitely good news that you can begin to run and bike! I love your reflections- every time I’m injured, I have to work hard to remember it’s not the end of the world. It really feels like it sometimes, when you’re so used to being active!! And trust your instincts is an awesome tip, too. I’ve had some sports drs who were MUCH better than others, and it’s so important to find someone you are comfortable with. Thank you for the shout out, too. :)
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..School Lunch Ideas + Sweet Potato Energy BarsMy Profile

    • admin says

      I am so excited to try to run – even if it’s only 10 minutes on the treadmill at a really slow pace. I will take it. I think that people often think that they can’t switch doctors or PTs – not sure if it’s because they are the presumed experts and who are we to question them – but it’s so important to find someone you are comfortable with, who listens to you and your concerns and works WITH you.

  8. says

    This is so good to know! I haven’t injured myself more than some bad bruises…yet. I’m sure the day will come, and I do try to put these things you’ve listed into practice. The hardest part is patience, when I feel like a coiled spring that just need to RUN NOW, and I just can’t.
    Kristin recently posted..5 Tips for Mud RunsMy Profile

    • admin says

      Sometimes I don’t feel so patient. I think that my husband would probably agree with that :-)
      My fingers are tripled crossed for Costa Rica!

  9. says

    First off, so glad you switched PT clinics! You should def find a PT who is going to take care of you. Unfortunately, ACL is a common surgery so you can get thrown in a “mill” clinic. I actually just posted last week how I came back from a wrist surgery ;). Check it out when you have time! BTW, you are crossing over the hump just keep up with that patience. Great post!
    Ali recently posted..Limbs of HealthMy Profile

    • admin says

      Thanks Ali. I will definitely look for your. I definitely felt like I was in a bit of a “mill” clinic. I mean, there were so many red flags. But I’m so glad that I switched. I too hope that I’m crossing over the hump!!

  10. says

    Great post! I had major back surgery- fused spine. It changed what I could do a lot. But there is also heaps I can still do. For that I am grateful and that is what I focus on because I don’t want to constantly dwell on what I can do. It has also taught me there are other things I’m passionate about. Life doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be all about one sport or hobby or job etc. And now I’m so grateful to be mobile, I don’t take it for granted in the same way at all!
    Jess recently posted..Simple things for an Amazing Bridal BodyMy Profile

    • admin says

      Jess, I really love your perspective. It isn’t all about one sport or hobby or job like you say. And you’re absolutely right – it gets so tiresome and depressing just thinking about what you can’t do. I’ve definitely learned not to take things for granted!

  11. says

    all of your lessons, i concur with. especially the first one – it’s really hard to let go of the fitness/active mindset when you’re on the DL for a little bit but – that’s all it is – a little bit!

    i really like this post – and the fact that you’re cleared to do running and biking again! once you start moving and strengthing, won’t that help the ligament tighten up? (i really have no idea about ligaments/ACL/MCL issues!)

    happy friday!
    lynne @ lgsmash recently posted..Fitness: fitmixer Boot CampMy Profile

    • admin says

      You know, I have no idea. I think that there are two things. One is just the actual physical healing of the ligament and setting into the joint. I guess I kind of imagine it like the ligament needs to fuse to the end points wherever they attach. And I guess if I do too much lateral movement, it stretches out the ligament so that when it does fuse, it’s loose. At least that’s how I understand it. The other part is about strengthening all the muscles that support my knee so that I don’t put too much strain on the knee.

      #1 was really really really hard!!

  12. says

    I really needed this right now. Thank you so much.
    My first PT session is next week and I am having a lot of problems being patient and forgiving myself.
    I know I need to let my self and accept that in the long run I made the right decision; however, right now it is very frustrating.
    Reading all these things I am thinking and feeling put into works really helped. I need to remember this for sure. I won’t get totally out of shape, it will take a while, and I am no longer 20, such is life.
    Now I just must force myself to do the activities/exercises the PT gives me.
    Thank you so much for putting lost of my crazy, worrisome thoughts into much more eloquent words.
    Abby @ BackAtSquareZero recently posted..Restaurant Week = Food ComaMy Profile

    • admin says

      I glad that this was helpful. It is ridiculous frustrating in the moment and it’s hard to step back and see the bigger picture sometimes. I think that it’s totally fine to grieve (because frankly, that’s what it felt like for me) and I think after you go to PT and have a sense of a plan, it will feel better. At least, I felt a lot better once I had a plan in place and knew that I was working towards something.

      Good luck Abby with your first PT session. You can definitely feel free to vent any time if you need it!

  13. says

    I’ve been putting off having foot surgery for a few years now, but the pain has begun interfering with my workouts and hurts throughout the day. I’ve decided to have the surgery soon – being able to exercise and be physically active for the rest of my life is more important than taking 3+ months off while my foot heals. I am happy to read I won’t gain a million pounds. I was worried about that, but even if I do I am hoping in the long run it will be worth it.
    Savvy Working Gal recently posted..Why I am cleaning my desk?My Profile

    • admin says

      For me, that was the big reason why I had surgery – I wanted to be physically active for a long time to come and to do things with my kids. It was definitely a quality of life issue. I know that going into it, the recovery time seems like FOREVER but it goes by pretty quickly. And like you said, it’s a worthy trade-off. I think that it’s also a matter of keeping up with a healthy lifestyle during the recovery period too – just watching what you eat, etc. Good luck with surgery and you will be back soon. Have you scheduled it?


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