Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Three Types of Injuries

I'm at it again, with my completely untrained attempt as a sports psychologist. Be warned.
As athletes, we're pretty terrible on our bodies. Injuries, and illnesses, for that matter, suck. There's no way around that. Right now I'm kind of dealing with both, and at a time where I'm on a reduced work schedule because of the holidays, it's KILLING me. As a general rule, I've always grouped injury, and to a lesser extent, illness, into three main categories with respect to sports, and the categorization has actually nothing to do with severity, but rather the source of the lost training time. This categorization existed long before I became a triathlete or even a runner or swimmer; it's just solidified itself in the last few years as I become more in tune with my body, as opposed to when I was a teenager and/or baseball player.

Stuff happens: I'm censoring the name of this category. That's not what I actually call it. This category is just the incidental sort of injuries, as well as where I'd put most illnesses for athletes. This is what happens when you're on the losing end of the Poisson distribution of rolled ankles, common colds, unavoidable bike crashes, etc that will at some point happen to you. These are the "when and how bad" injuries, rather than the "if" ones. They can be infuriating because there's little you can do to control it, but at the same time, I've always had the easiest time accepting these. I just accept to some degree, I'm going to occasionally roll an ankle awkwardly while running, catch a cold, or have no way around the guy in front of me on a group ride when he goes down. Obviously there are things you can do to mitigate these to some degree, like not running on trails (how can people live like that?), riding your trainer all the time (no thanks, Andy Potts) or being Bubble Boy.
Anybody who can understand this graph probably already knows what a Poisson distribution is, and that I'm not entirely using it correctly to describe injuries, but I know 95% of people just click through these posts and look through the photos. Credit to Skbkekas on Wikipedia for being more patient than I am with function-drawing programs.
Overuse/training-induced injuries: This is probably the category that scares coaches the most, because they end up feeling responsible. Of course, the athlete is far more at fault for any of this, because they're the only ones who really know what's going on. Obviously just classic overtraining falls into this category, but I also put into it just "overdoing" things, perhaps to the point it compromises your immune system. I would also include things like when my back has flared up on me in the past after neglecting core workouts for far too long, every ex-swimmer's permanent rotator cuff damage, stress fractures, you name it. These are plenty common, and every high-level athlete faces one of these injuries at some point. They're frustrating for sure, because you know you could have prevented them. They can also be tough to come back from, because it can be hard to gauge recovery, as well as know how to prevent it for the future. There is the silver lining, though, that you can learn from it. After my late-October back flare-up, the second in 6 months, I resolved to make core/strength workouts as important as swim/bike/run workouts, and I haven't had any issues with my back since (except for right now, but that's unrelated. We'll get to that in the next category)
This is roughly what I looked like during my two back episodes brought on by weak core muscles. Image from PhysioDC, a Physical Therapist in Washington, DC, from their article here
"I'm an idiot" injuries: 100% preventable. Constantly kicking yourself. SUPER-anxious to get back out and train. This is how I feel right now after being a bit of an idiot and taking my mountain bike, a cross country 29er with its not-at-all-slack geometry and with my next-to-zero MTB skills, on one of the smaller technical freeride features on the trail on Christmas Day. I figured it was a super small jump gap. I've probably done higher/longer jumps unintentionally before on various dips, rocks, and roots on the trail before, but never one like this as a purpose-built jump. Well, I landed completely wrong, went over the handlebars, and I landed mostly on my face before rolling to my back, with the only positive being that I was by myself so nobody was there to catch it on video. It was my worst fear of exactly why I stick to cross country-style mountain biking, and why I probably will never venture onto any of the technical trail features again. I had no business doing what I was doing, and it's entirely my own fault why I'm sitting on the couch on my day off from work right now, rather than being outside riding or running in the awesome late-December weather we have. There's little positive about this type of injury, except that maybe it causes you to take a few days off of training, preventing a worse injury from one of the other two categories. That being said, this is probably the hardest to deal with, at least for me. I was entirely in control of myself, but I did something that caused me to get hurt and miss out on things I would rather do. In the grand scheme of things, making that jump wouldn't have really meant much at all, and I've already  missed out on quite a bit over the last few days. It's not like the other two categories where at least the injury occurs doing something that's supposed to help you; in this case, I would have gotten nothing out of it. Instead, I chose to spend Christmas in the ER getting checked for a head injury, and spending the last three days on the couch with ice on my SI joint. My point is, these injuries make you feel dumb, and you often have an idea what you're getting yourself into long before you actually get one of these injuries. I'm not advocating that you stop engaging in any risky behavior; the thing is that you have to acknowledge the risk and realize that if you do get hurt, you'll probably beat yourself up about it quite a bit, like I am right now. When you're used to spending upwards of 20 hours a week training, you can only redo LSAT prep quizzes so many times before you go nuts and decide to start writing rambling blog entries about topics on which you have no formal training (which means it's time to find myself a psychology MOOC, something else to occupy myself while I have nothing better to do)
You can, and should, zoom in. My drawing skills are subpar (well, they're kind of like snowman-level if we're talking golf terms), but the words make the picture, I think.
After pausing your Garmin, always make sure you take a selfie when you get in a bike crash. Then check your bike, then start to make sure you're not bleeding. In that order. That way, you can document your stupidity well, before your eye swells shut like I was afraid mine would.
Although it's my SI joint that's still bothering me, this sight is what caused me to go to the hospital on Christmas. I have another helmet I can use in the interim, but I'll most likely be replacing it with one of the new MIPS-equipped helmets. As much as I've been told I have great calves, I'd venture to guess that my brain is probably still my best asset, so I'm happy to do a bit more to protect it.

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