Let me start this post by saying this. Stating what can only be considered a fact.
Being injured sucks.
It really sucks. I know it, you know it, and anyone who’s had an injury previously or currently will know it also. The important thing to remember, however, is there are two distinct stages of being below maximum capacity. I separate these into the following two categories – hurt and injury. Or rather, whether you are hurt or whether you are injured.
As a child I loved sports movies. They always seemed to have a great moral that was transmitted through the plot of the film, they involved teamwork and perseverance, determination and drive. If you haven’t played a team sport, and don’t particularly want to, these movies are a wonderful way of experiencing the infused camaraderie that team sports have this magical way of growing inside you. There were love stories, emotional roller-coasters, moments of belly laughter and painful conversations contained in almost every single sports film. If you are not a fan, I absolutely recommend that you give them a go.
One of my favourites back in the day was an American Football film from 1993 called “The Program”. It was a more hardcore, ball-busting action film with as many isolated incidences of machismo as you can find in almost any film. Classic ’90s. Training the men to want to grow up to be real men, tough and impervious to pain. As we know now, this isn’t necessarily the ideal that it was once considered to be, and more sensitive traits are just as valuable. But a few of these moments of magic contain wisdom that should be held onto. One of these quotes is contained in the clip below – “Are you injured or are you hurt?”
The dictionary definitions, as shown above, list hurt and injured as synonyms. I don’t think this is necessarily true. Using the two words to indicate separate levels of severity is a genius touch, and it is illustrated perfectly in the above quote from Coach Sam Winters why the distinction is so useful.
Coach – “Jefferson, are you injured or are you hurt?”
Jefferson – “What’s that mean?”
Coach – “Well, if you’re hurt you can still play and if you’re injured you cant. So, are you hurt or are you injured?”
Jefferson – “Uh, I think I’m just hurt”
Coach – “That’s good, then get up!”
To expand upon the opening quote and why I found it so potent, it is the ability to distinguish between the two which comes in key. Of course, when you live within the domain and lifestyle that is fitness, you want to train. Be it CrossFit, Muay Thai, BJJ, Powerlifting, Weightlifting, Strongman, Rugby, Football, Tennis, Running, it really doesn’t matter, you want to engage in the pursuit and pastime that excites you and energises you to face your days. But depending on if you’re hurt or if you’re injured, this becomes more challenging.
If you are hurt, you can continue in some capacity to pursue the activity of your desires. You may be limited in some respects but your ability to engage with your sport of choice is not overly diminished and, as long as you take steps to appropriately limit the risk to whatever appendage you have hurt, you should be able to continue on.
If you are injured, however, things become a little more complicated. According to the Difference Between definition, an athlete “can play or participate in a tournament when he is hurt. But if he is injured, he must abstain from such events. He must take ample rest and treatment for healing. An injury incurs intense bodily pain and needs treatment for recovering. The part of the body undergoes permanent change where an injury occurs. That part may heal and the player may become fit, but it never returns to its original condition.” The key point of note here is “permanent change where an injury occurs” – this implies that anything that is reversible can be classified as hurt, and anything irreversible as injured. If you are injured, you need to work around your injury both as it heals and after it heals. Whilst it is healing, you might need to completely alter your method and style of training for a number of days, weeks or even months, depending on the place and severity of the injury.
Let me just caveat this for a second. Both being hurt and being injured matter, and if you are in the position to be able to stop, rest, recover, heal and take notice of what your body is telling you, then, of course, you should do so. The levels of classification become very different if you are a professional athlete, a competitor in one of many different martial arts or generally for someone who partakes in a high-performance field – requirements of your field of battle may be such that you have to push through what might otherwise be considered an injury.
That being said, the importance of this quote for those of us who simply want to remain fit and healthy and strong is substantial. In my capacity as a trainer, I have had it implied to me on a number of occasions that exercise might be bad for you.
“By putting myself out there on the sports field or in the gym, aren’t I more likely to get injured? Aren’t I putting myself at some real risk of getting hurt?”
The answer is yes… But also, it’s no?
How does that make sense?!
Yes, being on the field of battle puts you at risk of injuries that you might otherwise avoid. Yes, you can get bruised, battered, beaten, cut and scraped in a way that you will never be likely to obtain from sitting on your sofa. That is an inevitable fact. You are “in the arena“, as Teddy Roosevelt famously said, and you are putting yourself in the way of harm.
And yet… There must be some benefit to this risk, some trade-off for the potential for damage, hurt and even injury.
And there is.
Once you step into the breach, you put yourself at a state of perpetual risk but at the same time, you put yourself on the path to incredible, life-altering benefits. You gain hardiness, endurance, toughness, resilience, fortitude, strength. Physically and mentally, you build yourself up from wherever you stand currently to the place that you desire to be. You cultivate an internal atmosphere of development, growth and life-long learning, and externally you strengthen your body to a place where it is more able to withstand potential hurt or injury.
And this is the crescendo of the music that is my thought process. When you dead-lift 200 kg, you are infinitely less at risk of hurting (or injuring) your lumbar spine when you pick your child up off the ground or lift your shopping from the boot of your car. When you have the ability to do a bar muscle-up, the idea of having to climb over a wall to escape someone pursuing you seems far less daunting. When you can run a mile in 5 minutes, you know that you have a certain level of fitness so that when you step on a football field or a tennis court, you will be capable of performing to at least a moderate level even if it’s your first time playing the sport. You are toughened up for life. And I mean this on two levels – you become more resilient to the impacts that life is going to inevitably throw at you, and you are reinforced for the duration of your lifetime. For as long as you engage in fitness pursuits, you will find your body more tolerant of these dangers.
But this does not mean that you are immortal. Or that you won’t get hurt, or injured! For instance, I recently injured the little finger on my right hand in a bike accident. After I stood up from the impact, the finger was so deformed and bent out of normal shape that when I tried to straighten my finger, it extended only as far as the first digit on the other hand. In the adrenaline of the moment, I reset the dislocated digit myself and in the following days it swelled up like a balloon. If you’re squeamish, I’d skip the next part!
My job in Thailand is to coach. I need to be able to demonstrate the movements I am programming, as well as just explaining them, and I need to be able to be hands-on with weights and equipment during my day-to-day. Within my training, my main sporting endeavours at the moment are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and CrossFit, and these requires an immense amount of hand engagement and grip-fighting. Finally, I write. A LOT. And that means a serious amount of typing. In the immediate week or two following my injury, all of these things were restricted. Splinting my hand meant my typing velocity was reduced dramatically. I couldn’t grip any plates or barbells, so I had to use members of my classes or other available staff members to demonstrate the movements that I’d programmed as I explained them. My jiu-jitsu training went from five classes a week, sometimes two classes a day, to almost zero, and my CrossFit workouts got adapted to become almost entirely lower-body.
What this shows is that a relatively small injury can still mean a cataclysmic shift in your training and your life. For this, hands and feet injuries are the worst.
As the injury recovered, I begin to bring back gripping movements into my training and began to participate once more in at least the technique classes of BJJ, though I trained substantially less than I had been previously. Slowly but surely, I regained the ability to press the keys on my keyboard with my little finger. Frustratingly, when you touch-type the right pinky is used heavily as it is what you would use to press the enter key. Which is one I use regularly.
This proper management and steady progression is the key to recovering as much capability as possible. And yet, were I more diligent I would have spent more time with the finger splinted and it would have most likely returned completely to straight. As it stands, I am about four weeks out from the original date of injury and still don’t have back all of my gripping capability. I am still unable to hold my body-weight on a pull-up bar, or to completely close a fist, but ligament injuries can take from 6 to 8 weeks if not longer as a friend who is a doctor has informed me. I need to remain patient, which is one of the hardest parts, especially as a lover of sport.
The key takeaways from this post are to do the best you can to become hyper-vigilant for when you are simply hurt, or when you are injured. Once you have clarity on which criteria you fall under, in the case of an injury you must take aggressive control of how you manage the situation and how you plan the progression of your recovery. In the case of being hurt? Decide how important it is for you to continue on, and with what immediacy. It is also to remember what you can gain from putting yourself at risk of potential hurt or injury, before you simply decide to write it off.