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By Dr. Lauren Quattrocchi, DC

3 Minute Read

With the current third wave in Nova Scotia we are all experiencing some form of setback. Whether you were just getting into a good routine at the gym, finally back working at the office, planning a weekend getaway or about to start your summer baseball league, all of these things got derailed or have been set back by the current provincial restrictions but that does not mean we will never be able to resume those activities. We may not associate this thinking with injuries but it is very rare for an injury to heal smoothly, in a perfect linear manner. We have all had that episode of rolling our ankle, it swells up for a day, maybe bruises and within a few days we are back on our feet like nothing ever happened. On the other hand many of us have had that annoying back ache that prevents us from doing something as simple as tie our shoes and it can take a few weeks before we feel like ourselves again. Every injury is different and our bodies respond accordingly depending upon the specific injury at hand.
Young fitness woman holding his sports leg injury, muscle painful during training. Asian runner having knee ache and problem after running and exercise outside in summer
Have you ever been dealing with an injury and question “why am I not better by now, why am I still feeling this pain and why can’t I get back to my usual routine?”. If this sounds familiar, you’ve had an injury and expected your body to heal quickly. You started therapy, made some progress and decided to return to your activity but then end up hurting just as much as before. This causes frustration to set in, you feel like you have made no progress and you may feel like cancelling your treatments as they don’t seem to be helping. I come across this roadblock with patients and I find myself having the same conversation. An injury is not a linear journey and it is not always a simple path to reach the end. When something is wrong with your car, you drop it at the mechanic and pick it up once it is fixed. When you have a new car this fix can be simple and quick but the more miles it has on it and the older it gets, the longer and more complex the fix can be. Our bodies work in the same capacity. Variables such as severity of the injury, age of the patient, lifestyle demands, health status, etc all contribute to determining the prognosis, healing time and setbacks that may occur.

This can be discouraging but it is important to remember that just because you may have a bad day or a setback with your injury does not mean you have lost progression. We all have expectations after an injury that the treatment process will be straight forward and you will resume all activities before you know it. This is not always the case as there will be obstacles in our path, and there may be setbacks along the way but being prepared for this will make it much easier to accept and you will feel less frustrated. We all have to be realistic that when coping with an injury we still have the demands of everyday life. Although bending forward may irritate your low back pain and you have been told to avoid that movement, you may have no choice but to lift your child out of the crib. Yes, this will most likely create some irritation in your back but this is why setbacks occur and bad days will happen along your road to recovery.

line chart

Remember, a setback does not mean that treatment is not working, that no progress has been achieved or that you can never return to your activity but rather you may have to reduce the intensity of your exercise for a period of time, be consistent with treatment and focus on rehab in order to fully recover and reach your goals. This is why it is so important to ensure you are properly educated on your injury and listen to the advice given from your clinician. If they recommend no running for a week or reducing your distance from 10km to 5 km, it is very important you listen. There is a reason why restrictions or rules are in place but the more important aspect is that setbacks do occur and the perfect linear path is more likely not to be true. If you decide to ignore the recommendations and push your body more than it is ready then you may experience a flare up or tissue irritation.

There are a few things you can do to minimize setbacks and get the most out of your treatment.

  • The first is to become educated and ask your clinician questions about your injury. Understanding your injury and how to best manage it is one of the most important factors for a successful outcome. This will not only help guide you to cope with your pain but having a better understanding makes it easier to adhere to your treatment plan.
  • Completing your at-home exercises is another important aspect to avoid setbacks. If you were instructed to take a new medicine prescription you would never just take it when you felt like it, you have to stay on a consistent schedule. Exercises/treatment should be treated in the exact same manner as they are a large part of your recovery. It is important to not only perform your exercises but ensure you are doing them correctly at home. Never be afraid to ask your therapist to review your technique and get advice regarding activities to avoid, when to rest and how to avoid further injury.
  • Make sure you take note of your improvements and progress along the way. It can be very frustrating to attend weekly appointments, be diligent with your rehab and feel like you are not making any change. Your clinician will have certain measures to track your progress (range of motion, tissue tightness, mobility) but it is key to also set your own measures to track your progress. It could be something as simple as being able to walk down the stairs pain free or take the dog out for a walk with no back pain, but all of these little measures will help you see the improvements you have made.
  • The last thing that is important when trying to avoid setbacks and become discouraged is to set realistic goals. The goals of recovery are individualized for every patient as some may want to run a marathon and others may just want to be able to get up and walk around the house pain free. Take time to discuss your goals and remember it may not be a direct path to the end.
Asian men stress and hold the head with hand
Recovery and rehab after an injury can be like the stock market, don’t worry too much about the dips, look at the trends. It is normal to have setbacks when dealing with an injury. As we push through this third wave of lockdowns, it is really important that you do not lose sight of all the progress you have made with respect to your injuries so far. We are being told to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel but that does not mean to stop your rehab, forget all of your exercises and sit on the couch because when the time does come to return to the gym or start training for that marathon you want to ensure your injury is healed. The current lockdown can be viewed as a setback to our recovery process but when things like this happen if we have the right mindset, adhere to our treatment plan and avoid getting discouraged when obstacles occur you will be back on the path to full recovery before you know it. Remember just because you have a setback does not mean your progress is lost! We cannot avoid demands of everyday life and challenges that may arise but always look at the big picture, the overall progress made and do your best to not let the little setbacks get you discouraged.