Getting Back On The Bike: Recovering From A Serious Injury

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some of my worst mountain bike crashes and asked some of you to describe your most painful bails. The severity of the crashes varied although most of the outcomes weren’t too bad — there was a nose case, some cartwheels, a big blast of wind, some road rash, and some hurt pride — any of the crashes could have caused serious injury had the rider made one wrong move too many. For me, my wrong move has kept me on the shelf for almost four months, although I’m expecting that I’ll be back on my bike shortly, just before I’ve been off of it for four months. What have I done during my ‘time off’?

Listen to the pros

If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer a serious injury, my first bit of advice is this: listen to the people who know best.

Doctors, chiropractors, and therapists all are paid because they likely have much more experience than you do when it comes to dealing with people who are badly injured. They’re the ones who explain why you have tenderness on the outside of your knee or stiffness in your lower back and can tell you how to get better.

When you’re unsure about the status of your recovery, don’t be afraid to ask questions — it’s a whole lot easier knowing where you’re at than it is to be second-guessing yourself or the person helping you. Also, if you’re faced with a serious decision — surgery versus no surgery — don’t be afraid to get a second opinion, you’ll thank yourself as you deal with your recovery.

As long as you’re comfortable with the people you’re working with during your recovery, it comes down to something simple: your chosen health care folks know how to get you back on the bike — listen to what they say.

Be prepared to be bored silly

If you’re like me, you spend upwards of 20 hours per week on your bike and if, for some reason (say an injury), that outlet is taken away, you find yourself with a whole lot of time to kill. When I went down, I couldn’t do anything and it killed me to spend the first couple of weeks sitting around, unable to do a whole lot.

Usually, I’m one of those people that comes back quickly from injuries so I was a bit surprised when my recovery took longer than expected. For the longest time everything hurt, and it was hard to move off of the couch or out of bed but, slowly, I started to get better. Don’t get me wrong — I still hurt — but it wasn’t as bad, and I started to notice little improvements in the way I was feeling.

What I’m trying to say is that your recovery isn’t stuck in an endless loop, and you’ll see regular improvements (and, occasionally, some backsliding), even if they’re taken in small steps. My initial prognosis was a couple of months’ rehab before a full recovery; however, for whatever reason (see below), it has taken me a bit longer to get back at it. Fortunately for me, we’ve seen almost constant rainfall for the past 45 days, so I’m not exactly missing the time in saddle right now.

Don’t hurry back

If you’re a sports fan, you’ll notice that many pro athletes come back from injuries before they should and end up on the shelf with an aggravated injury. Believe it or not, this can happen to you and likely will if you come back before you should.

Personally, I’d much rather be at home enjoying myself with a beverage than starting over with my recovery because I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike for another couple of weeks. If you’re patient and listen to the people who are experts, you’ll be back sooner rather than later and, if your body isn’t ready to ride, take the time to recover fully.

You’ll also need to decide the path that you’ll take during your recovery. I chose to take a little longer to make it back to full health so I could do some active day hiking and trail work during the winter. Had I sat at home, I likely would have been cleared to ride just about the time that our 45 days of almost non-stop rain started. Whichever way you choose, stick to your plan and don’t start riding too early.

Don’t blame the people around you

In most cases, you crash because of something you did and you need to come to grips with that. You also need to remember it when you’re trying to get healthy, because you’ll probably be spending more time at home with your friends and family. In most cases, this type of home arrest isn’t a bad thing, but I found that I was more short-tempered than normal (arrrgh!) and everybody had to deal with their fair share of my sarcasm.

I also found that everyone at my house was in better spirits if I took off for a mellow hike or went for a walk around the block for a while. If you need time to yourself, you can go for a walk, take a drive, or go to a movie. If you can’t leave the house, plug in some music and tune out for an hour or so.

Summary: Back in the saddle

Be realistic during your convalescence because not everyone recovers overnight and is able to climb back onto their bikes a week after they crash. At the same time, you likely won’t be off your bike forever, and an extra month spent in therapy is way better than missing a season because you tore the ligament you had stretched earlier in the year. If you listen to the pros and take your time while coming back from injury and provided you (and those around you) can deal with the boredom that goes along with not biking, you should be back in the saddle quickly.

Anybody out there have any other thoughts? I’m fairly certain I didn’t cover every single facet of the recovery phase and some of you have different opinions. Call it as you see it.

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