A few weeks ago, I was heading out to hang out with some friends after an afternoon of training. As I was getting ready, I became aware of a growing pain in my lower right leg, starting at the ankle and moving up the shin. It just felt like a bruise, so I ignored it – until I went to put on jeans, and noticed a swelling the size of half a grapefruit (or a large orange; I’m not a fruit expert) ballooning from the limb.
“Ah,” I said. “Interesting.” And went to see my friends. I showed the lump to them immediately, because that’s the knee-jerk martial artist reaction: I have a cool injury? Better show other people so they see how cool it is, too!
They were less impressed.
“It looks like you’re trying to grow a second calf,” one said. “I’m pretty sure you should go to a doctor.”
“Nonsense,” I replied. “If I needed a doctor, could I do this?” And jumped up and down on the leg (not the brightest thing I have ever done, to be fair, but also not the dumbest).
This act was met with more consternation. Long story short, I was peer-pressured into going to an all-hours emergency care clinic. Several hours and three X-rays later, I was discharged with the encouraging words, “Well, the bone looks fine but if it starts to hurt worse come back, because that means you’ve definitely screwed up a tendon. Or a ligament. Something important. Are you even listening or just trying to figure out a way to spin this experience into a blog?”
I’m pretty sure those were the doctor’s exact words.
Anyway, as I write this, the leg seems to be healing fine. It’s still swollen and has manifested a tremendous bruise with as many colors as Joseph’s fabled coat. For presentation, it’s the second-most-impressive blunt-force leg injury I’ve ever had, falling just shy of that time I wrecked a motorcycle by launching it – and myself – off a curb and into a dumpster during the motorcycle license class (I told you jumping on a bad leg wasn’t the dumbest thing I’ve ever done).
Here is Gizmo helpfully offering to gnaw off the leg if it becomes gangrenous. Or if the injury causes me to forget to feed him.
I had to sit out a few classes to let it heal, and scale myself back when I reentered class. It’s looking like I’ll be back in action at 100% soon, but it got me thinking: this is a pretty common experience for us martial artists, isn’t it? We say “no one sits on the bench in martial arts” but that’s a lie – the bench is full of us temporary enfeebled. And man, does it suck.
If you’re like me, the thought of missing even one day of scheduled training sets your teeth on edge. It’s worse when the injury/illness keeps you from exercising at all. This isn’t my first time to damage myself (because when it comes to training I have all the enthusiasm of a golden retriever puppy by half the intelligence), and it won’t be the last. Here are some strategies I’ve built up to keep myself from going totally nuts when I’m out of action – I hope you never need them, but just in case, here you go!
1. Focus on nutrition.
One of the main reasons I train (other than a deep and abiding love of kicking things) is for health. When I can’t get my fix of movement and sweat and exertion, I find myself turning to self-pity-eating. Unsurprisingly, consuming a bowl of brownie batter as though it was soup never ends up making me feel better. It just makes me sluggish. And if I continue this eating trend for the duration of my recuperation, it’s twice as hard to make up for lost time.
On the other hand, if I channel the mental energy I would otherwise be putting towards learning new techniques into talking myself out of eating powdered sugar straight from the bag, I still feel like I’ve accomplished something.
The sad face isn't because the cupcakes are bad, it's because I really want them and know I shouldn't.
2. Do what you can, physically.
The barbell bench press at my Gold’s Gym became my best friend while my leg healed. I also worked on abs, and tried other upper-body moves that don’t put a lot of pressure on the legs. I had to cut out running, though. ☹ Sadness.
Now, I’m lucky. If I’d broken a rib, or tweaked my back, my options would have been a lot more limited. But I’m a firm believer of the “there’s-always-something” concept. Even if all you can do is go for a walk. Even if all you can do is work your grip strength. Even if all you can is slowly move through the arm motions of your kata. There’s something. Trust me, you’ll feel better.
3. Go to your class and just watch.
Ouch, this one’s hard. It’s aggravating to be so close and yet not able to get out on the mat. If you feel like this one is going to cause you more stress than good, don’t go. But before you make up your mind that you’re for sure going to skip, consider this:
One, you’ll still benefit from the social element of martial arts. You’ll still be able to see the people you train with, laugh at the jokes, and support your martial arts family. It might not help your physical injury, but it’ll do wonders for your mental health.
Two, it’s easier to fall back into a routine if you never fell out of it in the first place. If you keep coming to classes while you’re injured, that 15-minute drive won’t seem so far when you first head back for real.
4. Get into some literature!
Maybe going to the dojo or gym is too much hassle, or your injury prevents you from going. However, there’s no need to skip out on martial arts entirely! The internet has a wealth of martial arts subject matter that’s free and readily accessible. If you were working a particular concept in class before your injury, you can probably find training videos and tutorials online to get a good mental lock of the concepts.
Alternately, you could simply keep in the martial arts groove by reading a fun, entertaining martial arts website…something with trivia… interviews… all compiled in one area… hmm… if only there were such a site, perhaps a blog? (hint hint hint shameless Centurion promo!) (If you're into weapons, The Stick Chick is another great blog!)
Hey - I'm a copywriter, not a photo editor.
5. Put yourself in cryostasis with instructions that you are only to be awakened once you’ve been cleared to train.
Whoosh whoosh it's future time.
Let’s face it, Popsicle-ing ourselves in a futuristic deep-freeze pod is the only way to make the wait between injury and training totally aggravation-free. But until that technology becomes available, I hope these other tips help make your next recovery period drag a little less! And remember, prevention is the best cure. Take the necessary steps to avoid injury, and when you do get injured, learn from the experience.
For example: I have learned that my legs are vulnerable getting landed on by training partner’s knees. And motorcycles.
How do you handle getting sidelined by an injury/sickness? Let me know in the comments!