Disclaimer: I’m no medical professional but following a few rules worked for me. Medical professionals are the best source of quality advice on such matters.
Post-surgery x-ray. Seb suffered a Lisfranc injury on May 7th…
On May 7th while failing to safely lift some deadfall off a trail I crushed and bent my foot until three metatarsals snapped like dry kindling and a whole heap of bones dislocated inside my foot. I didn’t know this at the time; I just thought it was sprained. I think I probably did know it was a real mess but I hoped I could make it better by thinking it better. The next day the doctor at the medical clinic told me I had better get myself to Vancouver for a consultation with the surgeon.
The surgeon looked at it, looked at the x-rays and told me to be back at the weekend for surgery because he was going to open me up, stuff a bunch of metal in there, fuse some bones, and even use a bone graft from my ankle because one bone was “dust”, as he so gently put it. I asked how long it would till I rode my bike again and he told me that if I was lucky I might try riding in six months but usually recovery can take years. I don’t mind admitting I cried at this point.
Anyway, fast forward four months – to 7th September actually – and I’m stood on the start line of the 4Kings about to charge around the woods in the dark while chased by crazy eyed animals. I had achieved so much to get that far that quickly and I was over the moon, but the best was yet to come. Fast forward another three days and I’m in tears again, as race organizer Tony Horn announces to the expectant crowd that I had won the overall title.
I can’t say I know everything about recovery and health, but here are some of the things I learned and that might help you if and when you get bitten by the trail.
The unavoidable truth.
First Things First
So you are injured, the first thing is to suck it up because you are in this whether you like it or not. There is no bargaining with your god to turn back time. Now is the time to wipe your eyes and start planning your recovery.
Depending on the injury a few things will help in the early stages. Sleep and rest are important because your body will naturally go into overdrive trying to heal itself. It will make you tired and so don’t fight it. Get early nights and take siestas. Give your body all the opportunity it has to just emergency repair itself. Watching movies, Top Gear and reading will help settle you into a more rested state. In particular, reading The Hunger Games should help put you to sleep. Take advantage of this time to laze about and enjoy it, because soon enough you need to get off your arse.
Doctors are great at diagnosing ailments and getting you fixed enough to get out of the hospital. Stick to whatever treatment procedure they give you and don’t deviate from it because it might actually slow down your healing.
Doctors are very good at what they do but it is the clever and knowledgeable physiotherapists who will get you living properly again. Their profession is dedicated to helping you recover the best you can. Doing something pro-active will help with healing.
Every injury is different so there is no one-stop shop for fixing the human body. Physios have seen it all before and should know how to best tune you back up. Find a physio who engages in a lot of sport themselves or ask around for solid recommendations from friends and past patients. Look for the physio with signed posters of Olympic athletes hanging on their walls. I am lucky that in Whistler there are some great physios. I chose Back In Action because I heard the staff are exceptionally experienced and are all top athletes themselves. Mike Conway was my go to guy as he has experience with my injury and he was training for an Ironman and getting married in the same week. Knowing he had focus and dedication like that was enough for me.
In North Vancouver I would have been looked after well also. Nathan Vanderkuip is a mountain biker who lives on the Shore and knows his stuff.
Also, do your homework, research your injury and the best cures for it so you can bounce ideas of the physio. Show them you are keen to get healthy and they will really challenge you. More so, if the physio gives you exercises or things to do then do them. It will speed up your recovery and make you better when you are. It will also cost you a lot less in physio bills in the long run.
When you’re banged up, it’s even more important to make sure stay healthy.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
The human body is incredible. You can absolutely destroy it and it will repair itself. That’s real life sci-fi madness. Your body is going to be working overtime to fix you itself so you need to fill it with the right things to help it do its own thing. Eating a balanced diet (whatever that means) is going to help.
You need your daily dose of water, but keep away from caffeine and alcohol. These two are ‘bone robbers’ which means they stop the body absorbing the calcium you are feeding it. Cut them out or cut back to moderation to give your body a little helping hand. I went down to one coffee in the morning and a tipple of tequila or Scotch every other night. This was my treat and helped my sanity.
The same goes for drugs and cigarettes. These things actually block your body from healing. Cigarettes also alter blood flow and patients that smoke are at a higher chance of developing a non-union of bones (that’s where bones don’t heal). Also, for all those partial to the wacky-backy, weed just makes you monged out enough to enjoy The Hunger Games and have an insatiable desire for crap food. If you can cut it out, then do so.
Milk is usually associated with bone building (calcium) but actually there is more of it in things like kale and spinach. Don’t overdo it with certain foods just to get more of the nutrients you think you need. Making yourself vomit from drinking too much milk is a good cue. Do some research and find the best foods to eat and what to avoid. I don’t need to tell you that the usual diet of Monster energy drink and McDonald’s is about as useful for your body as a fart in a jar. Also, there are supplements that help your body absorb the nutrients you are putting into it, but natural nutrients are the best thing. It is worth reading up and consulting your local health store professional, even if they smell of patchouli oil and dreadlocks.
Think outside the box. What have you got to lose?
Staring at the wall is not exercise…
You are going to have moments when you are frustrated, irritated, and depressed. You will be frustrated at not being out getting amongst it or even being able to wipe your own arse. Because of this you may feel like breaking down. My advice is to greet all these feelings if you need to. Bawl your eyes out and shout at the devil…
BUT ONLY FOR TWENTY MINUTES MAX!
You need to let these feelings out but then quickly get it over with and move on. Your mind is the best medicine for healing. You need to set it to heal, not piss and moan. If you get down and depressed then your vital energy is getting spent in ways that will rob you of the energy your body needs to heal. Whinging and whining will get you nowhere.
Don’t Go Mad. See your injury – and the resulting time off the bike – as an opportunity gained not an opportunity lost. If you are laid up from doing what you love (probably mountain bikes if you are reading this) then find something else to do ASAP. Do something productive. Use the time you are given to do something you never have time for otherwise: learn a new skill, read some books, or pick up a new sport. Masturbation doesn’t count. It isn’t a sport or a useful skill so keep it just as your own private hobby.
I looked at my injury as a great way to learn some new skills (I tried video and discovered that the pros really are pros and it is harder than it looks) and see BC in a different light. Normally everything I do is bikes, bikes, bikes, but my injury forced me to slow down and enjoy BC in a different gear. I tried fishing (I got bored but enjoyed the rest and the views), I enjoyed hanging out with friends and people as people and not just riders (my girlfriend loved that it wasn’t all bike talk at dinner anymore), and I just generally gave myself more time to just stop, breathe, take in my surroundings, and be grateful for my life.
Enjoying BC in a different capacity than the usual “bikes! bikes! bikes!”…
Listen To Your Body
Some people are better at this than others. Some listen to their wimpy little minds to expect the worst and deal with it like a curse. Others go too hard too soon and cause greater problems down the line. Your physio is a good second opinion for this. See your doctor’s prediction of “six months off the bike” as a good worst case scenario but know that if you work hard at healing, rehabbing and recovering then you should be able to beat this. But listen to your body. Not the heart or the mind. Take them as secondary voices but let your body tell you what it wants. Some people can overwork their body but most people underwork their body. Your body might need a kick and a shove to really get firing.
Don’t Be Lazy
Get moving, and do some kind of fitness or exercise. Having your blood moving about the body is good for you. Exercise the parts of your body you can. If your legs are toast, go paddling. If your arms are creamed then get on your pegs. Remember that it is good to be outdoors getting fresh air and keeping your mind occupied. I’ll reiterate, masturbation isn’t enough.
Keep fit and healthy before you get injured. The more efficient your engine and chassis is the easier it will self-heal. You don’t have to wear Lycra, sign up to Strava and stop boozing and chasing girls to be healthy but the healthier you are before you slay yourself the quicker and better you will heal.
I worked all winter with Monika Marx of Marx Conditioning (marxconditioning.ca). We were building a solid base of fitness and strength so that I could go into the summer really attacking some of the goals I had set out for myself. When I was injured in May I thought I had wasted all winter training but soon realized that all winter I had being working to make my body fit and healthy to recover faster. Also, working with Monika before the injury meant she knew what I was capable of, what my goals were, and what worked best for me. She was able to swiftly reassess our approach and come up with a recovery plan because we had an established relationship already.
Don’t dwell on your situation… make the most of it.
See your injury as an opportunity. I used mine as an opportunity to rethink my goals and the strategies I would use to achieve them. It gave me three months to just train my mind. It made me hungry, focused, and determined. It also gave me time to plan and prepare for when I was healthy. Last weekend I won the 4Kings race in Whistler, something I could only dream of doing even when I was at my fittest. The difference was this time I really wanted to just do well to prove to myself I was recovering and I had time to set out a game plan. I planned every day and every stage of the race and every moment leading up the event. I had spreadsheets of equipment needs, planned my dietary requirements, pre-rode the courses and would then run through them in my head planning where to go hard, where to rest, where to stop, even where to change gears.
In the end, winning the 4Kings is an amazing achievement and something I am so happy to have accomplished but what I am most proud of is that I had a plan and I stuck to it. If you get injured you need to figure out your plan ASAP.
Hopefully this article can serve as a future resource. Injuries are inevitable but the speed with which you recover is partially your own responsibility. Have you made the most of an injury in the past? Your tale below…