Feb 122010

Ron Johnson Meet 2009Performing poorly when injured is something very easy for me to write about today since I’m in the midst of it. In November, I swam four butterfly events at a swim meet in Phoenix and at times, it was so cold (for me, at least), that I avoided cooling down after my races.

After swimming 8 individual events and 6 relays, I won the high point award for my age group and took home that as well as shooting pain in my rotator cuff and my neck. I hoped a few days of ice and rest would be enough to make it go away, but the pain was relentless. The only time I didn’t hurt is when I took ibuprofen every few hours and did absolutely nothing in the way of arm movements. It hurt if I tried to swim, it hurt to put on a shirt, it hurt when I typed. Heck, it even hurt to do something as normal as reaching and picking something up!

After a month of doing mostly kicking in practice and grimacing when I did everything else, I sought help from a physical therapist. He believes that a slight postural anomaly is restricting normal movement in my shoulder, so I am doing exercises to improve my alignment and being careful of how I train. Just this week, I have resumed normal swimming practices three days a week, although I’m going to wait another month or so before I go back to swimming four days a week.

You simply can’t perform your best when injured. I know, because I tried a meet last month and with disastrous results. There was a lesson to be learned from the experience, though. I knew how much I would have to do once my shoulder is back to normal to regain my old swimming speed. And I found that a little discouraging at first. But then I remembered why I am in the pool anyway. First and foremost, I swim for health and fitness and because my whole day goes much smoother after a good workout. Those of us who are highly competitive are better off not to try to compete when injured because, quite frankly, our egos don’t take losing very well. It can also make you want to work at a highter intensity than your injured body is ready to.

Be sure that you allow the rehabilitation process to work, which it won’t if you push too hard before your injury has had time to mend. Shoulder injuries can be especially stubborn because don’t get as much blood flow to the shoulder girdle as to other muscles in the body. For this reason, healing takes longer. Not being a very patient person, this has been a really hard pill for me to swallow.

Here are some suggestions to help you endure the rehabilitation experience so that you have a better chance of eventually getting back to peak performance:

1) lower your expectations temporarily – that way you won’t push too hard, too soon. Think about staying in shape and maintaining health instead of pushing to the limit. Listen to your body. If it starts to hurt in training, you need to back off.
2) enlist the help of a physical therapist who can assess your condition and give you exercises to rehabilitate the injury or realign your posture for less restricted movement.
3) extend your warm-up and cool down. Warm muscles perform better and with less injury and a cool down will reduce tightness in the muscles and connective tissue that may cause pain. It will also induce a relaxation response to make you feel less tense during the day (think about how all that tension can end up in your neck and shoulders).
4) Do active stretches before your workouts. Some of my favorites for swimming are shown in the article on the USA Swimming web site listed below. A similar version of this article also appeared in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of USMS Swimmer. Some of my favorite active stretches for running are shown in Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running book. http://www.usaswimming.org/USASWeb/_Rainbow/Documents/cac67f9f-4bae-4d19-bfeb-8e3f25e73dab/Active%20Warm%20Up%20040809.pdf
5) Find strategies to trasport you into a positive frame of reference – meditation, breathing, reading, etc. This has been a reall struggle for me, since I use exercise as an antidepressant and cutting back my training sometimes leaves me feeling a bit downhearted. I can’t believe all the negative chatter rattling around in my head – Omigod, I feel so old…I’ll never be able to swim fast again…I can’t even do this right, I might as well go home…Why am I swimming in the dark? Have I lost my mind?

Do your best to shut down the chatter before it gets you down! Then you can insert some positive dialogue. My shoulder (fill in part of the body) doesn’t hurt as bad as it did last week, maybe I’m getting better…At least I’m trying to do something instead of doing nothing at all….Even if I’m not too fast today, at least I’m doing something good for my mind and body at the start of the day…

If you struggle with depression, you’re not alone. I struggle with it sometimes, too and it is yet another thief trying to steal away our peak performances. I’ll discuss depression in the next article in this series.

2 Responses to “Reasons for Poor Athletic Performance (Part 2) – Injury”

  1. Jennifer J. says:

    I enjoy your blog, Susan. This post really hit home, as I am dealing with a shoulder injury too. I hate that it is taking so long to get better. I am telling myself today that it doesn’t hurt as much as it used to, and that is progress. Slow but steady wins the race…

    Hope we can walk soon! So much rain!

  2. Susan Dawson-Cook says:

    Hi, Jennifer. I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. My shoulder is finally almost 100 percent, but its been a slow and frustrating process. I do rehab exercises without fail daily with my stretch band, watch my posture, and back off on training whenever I feel shoulder pain. I also do a lot of active stretches before my swimming workouts whenever I can.

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