I’m not afraid of a good life lesson now and again but i’ll admit the schooling fate delivered me this past March was a rough test. My winter bliss was rudely interrupted when I was nearly killed by an avalanche while backcountry snowboarding in Japan. The accident left me with the worst injuries of my adult life — a dislocated shoulder, ACL and MCL tears in my knee, and a broken pelvis.

Though my recovery has been difficult, thankfully my brain has stayed engaged by the extraordinary things I’ve learned about the human body and it’s healing processes. Lessons about the intestinal effects of hospital food and the breaking point of orthopaedic pelvic hardware were two disturbing realizations I had to make, but I’ve also caught on to far more beneficial info.

Thanks to the help of a therapy endowment from the High Fives Foundation, I’ve clued into a few universal truths about rehabbing from sports injuries. Judging by my ignorance prior to the accident, I know there are a lot of other athletes out there who wouldn’t know where to start if forced to rehab an injury. So from the perspective of a rehab rookie, I wanted to share a couple basic lessons I’ve learned to help those faced with a similar quandary after a major injury — how do I begin to get my athletic life back?

Start Therapy Now

Physical therapist Scott Williams of Synergy Healing Arts relayed the first hard lesson to me when he checked my strength and range of motion after eight weeks off my feet.

‘It only takes a week of inactivity for your muscles to start losing strength,’ said Williams. ‘The sooner you can get moving after an injury the less scar tissue will form and it will be easier for your body to regain strength.’

Eight weeks of recliner time had melted my muscles like ice cream left out on the kitchen counter. Had I known how hard it was to regain that strength I would have done a lot more therapy in the early stages of my recovery — if only simple leg raises and shoulder stretches. The bottom line is that the easiest way to rebuild strength is to not lose it in the first place. The nature of your injury or pain might mandate chill time, but otherwise you need to start therapy as soon as possible post-injury or post-surgery.

Identify Your Imbalances

Having hopped around on one leg for two months, the muscles in my hips, butt, lower back, and legs were drastically out of balance. When I started to walk again I had a bad limp and pain in my knee. Integrative bodyworker Karen Stubbs worked with me to identify which tight, weak muscles were pulling me out of alignment and stressing my damaged knee.

‘It’s important to understand that where the pain is isn’t necessarily where the problem is,’ said Stubbs. ‘I try to correct weaknesses in the body rather than just treat the pain.’

Stubbs improved my pelvic imbalance using a combination of massage and stretching techniques. Throughout the treatments we talked a lot about anatomy and she pinpointed each tight muscle to me. Gaining this personal awareness of your body’s imbalances after an injury is a critical first step in the recovery process. The knowledge has reinforced all my therapy and allowed me to confidently stretch and strengthen using exercises at home. Now that I know the muscles, I can feel when my improper body alignment is limiting the effectiveness of an exercise or causing me referred pain.

Explore Your Energy

One of the hardest parts of the healing process has been coming to terms with the connection between my mind and body. I’m a very pragmatic and logical thinker so it makes sense to me that my flow of energy could affect my healing, but trying to determine what ‘energy’ exactly is always loses me.

Working with acupuncturist Bird Lew has been my first opportunity to explore the concept of energy. The subtle yet definitively positive results of the acupuncture treatments have only further perked my curiosity and left me with the impression that you don’t need to fully understand it to benefit from it.

‘The long-term goal of acupuncture is to renew the spirit, ease the mind, and bring the body back to balance,’ explained Lew. ‘You should feel an increased overall sense of well-being and sturdiness.’

Walking out of an acupuncture session, I felt like my brain had a cleaner connection to my body, as if my internal radio was retuned and the static was cleared up. The newfound clarity has helped me observe the status of all my internal systems.

When you’re injured, it’s easy to mask other health issues, so however you can increase your awareness of your overall health seems highly recommended. If you’ve never contemplated the unifying factors between your mind and body, the beginning of your rehab is a good time to start as the mental exercise hones your senses to clue into the correlation of seemingly unrelated symptoms.

Don’t Stop Now

The most important thing I’ve learned about rehab is that you only get out of it what you put into it. If you’re serious about getting back in the game, you need to fuel your healing with healthy food and dedicate serious time and energy into rebuilding strength. Rehab might be the hardest work of your life but the payoff in happiness will be priceless when you can return to a life of your favorite fun and games.

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