The Psychological Challenges of Injury

Japanese judoka throwing his opponent on his headThis post is inspired by Lori who re-hurt an injury from Friday, and was standing at the edge of the mat at judo practice today with the look like she was about to start crying from frustration.

I’ve been there, many times, and wanted to put down in writing some comments on the mental side of an injury. To me an injury is a solitary experience. You’re really never welcome on the mat with an injury. It sounds harsh, but for the most part people feel that either:

  1. You should take time off to heal and recover
  2. Your “injury” is not serious enough to adjust training or, worse, to sit out

I’m a big believer that the vast majority of injuries are the kind of minor tweaks that prevent you from doing some parts of training but allow you to do other parts. If you can move, you can train something, and more importantly, train in such a way that minimizes the chance of hindering progress toward full recovery.

I also think that overuse injuries are not a reason to take a day off, but a reason to restructure your training routine in such a way that the affected area is not put under much or any stress. Especially when you’re starting out (first 1-2 years of judo or jiu jitsu), this is an essential part of learning how to use your body efficiently to execute clean effective technique, avoid useless over-exertion, and understand the kinematics of the positions that lead to injury.

Of course, it’s a constant challenge for a coach to understand whether he needs to tell an athlete to stop bitching or if he needs to accommodate the training modifications required to go around an injury. In my experience, coaches lean too much to one side or the other: either baby me too much or turn Dan Gable on me. Walking that line effectively both for a coach and an athlete is tough.

Just a little personal comment… I don’t complain about my shoulders almost at all anymore. But they’re often over-stressed and hurt. I just learned to deal with them. I ice them after every session. I do a bunch of rotator cuff resistance band exercises every morning. And when the pain becomes acute, I’ll only work techniques that don’t heavily utilize my shoulders in training. I don’t tell anyone about it most days. I’ve figure it out.

On the other hand, a new “injury” happened to me this week: a tooth infection. I bitched about it to everyone. However, I know next time, I won’t nearly as much, since I learned how to deal with it, avoid it, quiet it, and in general just weather the storm. No one really wants to hear about my injuries or anyone else’s. When it comes to injuries it’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” world.

And now for a related poll… 


0 thoughts on “The Psychological Challenges of Injury

  1. Virgil the Barbarian

    I hear your pain, especially since I’m in injured mode myself after suffering whiplash and having pain in my neck muscles for the past month…

    Interesting that you mention the line between shrugging off a serious thing and crying for a minor problem, although i see more shrugging off than the other. After every major injury I didn’t pay attention to myself, ending up in worse pain and had to completely stay away from the mat for weeks.

    Right now, I just want to get back to moving but I know that if I do, I will end up in Paintown at the Ouch cafe drinking a cup of NOT-healing-for-another-month latte.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *