Last July I was three weeks out from my first national figure competition. Diet was on point. Workouts were intense. My body and muscle conditioning was at its best. It was about that time that I began to experience a profound fatigue unlike anything I had ever felt during contest prep. It was like having the flu times ten. My doctor ordered blood tests and discovered markers in my blood for inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis. I was referred to a rheumatologist who confirmed the diagnosis through x-rays and more extensive blood tests. RA is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks its own healthy joint tissue. It can cause ligaments and tendons to weaken to such a degree that they can no longer hold joints in shape and can result in joints being totally destroyed.
I managed to make it to the stage and to place top 3 nationally despite being in the middle of a major rheumatoid flare up. Everything hurt and the fatigue left me feeling like I had been hit by a train. When I returned home I began treatment for the symptoms and continued to hit the weights hard in the hopes of returning to the stage for nationals in 2017.
All this came to a screeching halt in early September. I had just completed an upper body workout and felt great. My husband and I took a 30 minute sauna and I headed for the shower. Suddenly I had an excruciating pain radiating from my lower back down my left leg. I knew something was terribly wrong. The pain continued to grow worse over the next few days and by the fourth day I was unable to walk without collapsing in pain. That night I was in the hospital.
The next 10 days were a living nightmare spent in bed with nerve pain that did not respond to pain killers. The MRI showed stenosis and a bulging disc. I had an epidural and began numerous physical therapy sessions. However, I attribute the progress I have made thus far to the nerve decompression treatments I have had with Gabe at 3H Fitness. It was really the only therapy that was helping me with the pain.
Two months later I am on the road to recovery. Although I am so much better, I am not able to endure intense training sessions or lifting heavy weights. “Beast mode” is on hold. My body needs time to fully heal. At this point I am uncertain what my training or goals will be like going forward into the future. I can tell you that I am determined to be the healthiest I can be at each stage of life.
So, what can you do when an injury derails your training? Here are 5 things that have helped me:
1. Focus on what you *CAN* do. If you begin each day thinking about all the things you cannot do, you will find yourself feeling defeated. This was and still is the most difficult step for me. I have had days where I can’t walk the dog. On other days I find myself staring at someone at the gym who is doing all the activities I used to do. When I fall into that trap, negativity sets in, and I feel lost. So I start creating a list in my mind of every activity I was able to accomplish that day-wash the dishes, walk to the mailbox, drive the car, ride the recumbent bike, take a yoga class, go to church.
2. Seek alternative exercises. Find the exercises you are able to do without pain. For me, I have found that some very light dumbbell exercises or certain machines are safe for me to do. Something that helped me was to journal my activities and note which ones were causing me back pain either in the moment or hours later. As a result, I am far more precise and creative with my workouts than before.
3. Create a support network. Talk to friends and family. If you have a chronic illness such as RA, do research and search for resources and groups in your community. Seek out other people who have encountered the same problems and have overcome them. It helps to learn that you are not alone in your challenges.
4. Plan to the best of your ability. It’s important to still set goals, even small ones. This week you ride the recumbent bike for 10 minutes and next week aim for 15. You were able to do 3 sets of 10 reps with 4 lb weights and next week you try for 12 reps or 4 sets. Slow progress is still progress, and perfection is overrated.
5. Remember to be kind to yourself. Set goals as best you can, but be flexible and forgiving. When you are recovering from an injury or dealing with a chronic condition, you will have days that are difficult. You may need to rest or lighten your activity. When you have been an active person, it is hard to take days off. I have found myself actually feeling guilty for not going to the gym even though I was experiencing pain. Look at the rest time as an opportunity to be stronger the next day and in the coming weeks.