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How to approach your recovery from a long term injury


Posted by Neil B under Fitness & Training, Football (Soccer), Tennis, Running, Cycling on 30 March 2013 at 12:00 AM

Sustaining a long term injury is an incredibly frustrating, down heartening and negative experience. How you react to such a setback will have a direct impact on both your experience during recovery and the extent to which you recover long term. 

It's every sportspersons worst nightmare; A long term injury. You've been training hard, you're approaching your peak and then all of a sudden it's all taken away from you in an instant. No more training, no more competing, no more of the sport you love for the forseeable future. For many, this can be an incredibly hard realisation to come to terms with and accept. All of a sudden your daily routine is altered completely. Whereas before your injury, training would constitute a major part of your day, after an injury, rest and rehabilitation will form the major part of your daily routine. Knowing how to deal with this reality is key to your ability to perform your long term rehabilitation program to the best of your abilities. 

It is the length of time that rehabilitation will take that is the most challenging to a sportsperson when recovering from a long term injury. Getting your head around the hours that you will need to put in to recover from your injury, in order to simply return to a similar level of fitness as before the injury can be a daunting prospect for many, and can ultimately lead many to slack off in their recovery. Ultimately there are many aspects to a successful recovery from a long term injury and keeping on top of them all will be crucial in a successful recovery.

Rafael Nadal

Obviously every athletes' first priority when recovering from a long term injury is their physical recovery. It is important to realise early on in your recovery that there are no shortcuts. Your recovery will depend on the commitment you show to your rehab. You must view the physio as your friend, not foe. They are there to help you recover from your injury. The daily/weekly trips that you make to the physio should not be viewed as events in isolation. It is crucial that you do the recommended recovery exercises in your own time, at least 3 times a day, rather than just in the physio's studio. While the temptation will be there to return to action as soon as possible, it is imperative that you do not return until you are given the go ahead from the physio/doctor. As well as this, do not expect to return to action straight away at a similar level as before the long term injury. The recovery period does not just entail the actual recovery of the injury, it should include the period after where you have to return to the same fitness levels as before. This can be seen with Rafael Nadal, who has gradually eased himself back into competition following a serious knee injury. This gradual approach to competing again is crucial in ensuring you do not have a recurrence of your injury. 

 Our guide to your physical recovery from a long term injury can be viewed here 

While clearly a sportspersons physical recovery is their main concern after a serious injury, it is important not to overlook the mental aspects of recovering from a long term injury. The process of recovering from a long term injury can be an incredibly frustrating, lonely and negative experience. If you do not mentally come to terms with the fact that you are seriously injured then you can spiral into a negative mindset that will significantly impact on your recovery. Accept that the injury has happened and you are the only one that can make it better.

Stuart Holden

 Getting into a positive mental attitide about your recovery will greatly increase your chances of recovering fully. Similarly, when it is clear the recovery will take a long time, focusing on the end goal from the beginning can be de-motivating as it seems too far away and any setbacks will hit you a lot harder. Instead, focus on small, short term improvements, that will be measurable and provide you with positive boosts along the way. The importance of this attitude can be seen in American International footballer and Bolton Wanderers player, Stuart Holden's attitide to his recovery from a "one in a million injury". He has been out of competitive action for over two years, with an injury to the end of his femur. However, his positive attitude to his recovery remains constant and is helping him get through his rehab.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Holden said:

“I’ve learned with this one not to put a target on myself. Everything is good and going well, but I can’t push it. I don’t want to say I’ll be back in a month and find out in a month it’ll be another month.” 

This emphasises the importance of having the correct mental approach to your recovery. One of the most common mistakes people make when in rehab for a long term injury is to isolate themselves, either from their teammates or from their training partners as they feel seeing others doing what they can't will be too hard. In actual fact, these people represent an important support network that will help you through your recovery. Isolating yourself will only put you into a negative mental attitude. The atmosphere and camoraderie your teammates and training partners can give you will be a crucial outlet for you in your recovery.

Our guide to the mental aspects of recovery from a long term injury can be viewed here  

Aqua Jogging

One thing that few people think about when they are on the recieving end of a long term injury, is that it can give you the opportunity to work on other aspects of your fitness that you wouldn't ordinarily get the chance to train. Cross training can be invaluable to getting you through your recovery from a long term injury. Activities such as Aqua running, Swimming and weight training can be perfect. Not only does it give you the buzz and excitement of training that you may have feared was unnattainable at first, but it will also give you the opportunity to come back a stronger athlete in other areas of your fitness. As such, if you successfully return to the level of fitness you were at before your injury, then you will actually be a stronger athlete, as you will have improved other areas of your fitness. Getting some sort of physical activity into your recovery routine can be crucial in breaking up the monotony and boredom of recovery. It is important that you ensure any cross training you do does not affect your injured area in any way, so it is advisable to consult your physio/doctor regarding any cross training you want to do. However, our guide to incorporating cross training into your recovery from a long term injury can be viewed here 

Whatever your injury, it is crucial that you take your rehabilitation seriously. If you want to recover fully from your injury, it will require hard work, determination and a positive outlook. But throughout it all you know the effort will be worth it, to get you back playing the sport you love.

Have you suffered from any serious long term injuries?? What methods did you use to help you get through the long road to recovery and emerge on the other side a stronger and more determined athlete? Share your approaches to recovering from injury with our users in the blog below!

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    “I’ve learned with this one not to put a target on myself. Everything is good and going well, but I can’t push it. I don’t want to say I’ll be back in a month and find out in a month it’ll be another month.” i just love this ;)


    The most serious injury I have suffered is ITBS which impacted on my running. I researched, asked advice and really increased my knowledge base. It was the first time I had visited a physio, and ended up seeing one only 4 times. I put in place his recommendations and was back to running in no time, pain free.

    Lucy K encouraged this.


    " Athletes put in alot, physically & mentally during training & competition.The same approach should be equally so, during times of injury & recovery. One must give diligence to understand the nature of a specific injury, he/she may have suffered. To know what is required, to ensure a full recovery.....regardless of the time-frame it may demand. Not only does this help to ensure a successful recovery, but it demonstrates the mindset of a well rounded athlete!"

    encouraged this.


    Entered to run the 2011 Auckland Marathon (it was going to be my 2nd one), a month out got a serious Achilles injury. Because I didn't have the right support structure (no training partner/family support not there) around me to get me thru this I found this a hugely de-motivating experience and almost entirely stopped training of any sort for almost 3 or 4 months. I'd built this run up so much in my mind - aim was to improve previous time by at least 15 minutes - that I couldn't see what I was going to do next. So I agree that the mental side is as important as the physical side.

    Lucy K encouraged this.


    I don't have an injury as such, I rather have a long term joint illness, that has really made it difficult to train. I constantly have to think a million moves ahead, as a simple wrong step or a 20 meter run to the bus can cause much pain and regret for several days. I also can't do most of my favourite exercises for my hands as they really don't like supporting my weight in certain positions. So it's been really hard. To find the right sports and exercises. To learn to take it slow. To learn to see the small changes. And not to feel too bad, if things don't go as planned... The hardest thing relly must be, how to stay motivated as it's sooooo easy just to curl up in bed. But I'm still hanging on. And this page here seemes to already have a good impact on my motivation levels with the challenges and tribes and most of all: strangers encouraging me :)

    Lucy K encouraged this.


    great article, i have really enjoyed reading this. i believe that sports massage derby

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