Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Physical trauma almost always comes out of the blue. It is rarely something that we expect and therefore something most of us are ill prepared for, both physically and mentally. On the sporting field it could be a significant joint injury or a nasty accident at work. What is true from the people we see with significant traumatic injury, is that lifelong and consistent management is the key. It's at this realisation that ongoing management is a habit that allows people to rebuild their bodies and their minds.
Here are the key habits for managing traumatic injury.
Regular physical activity
Regular physical activity is probably the number one thing you can do to manage an old chronic injury. Some of the latest pain research is discovering how exercise and movement changes how your brain interprets and responds to pain. A simple way to put it, is that regular exercise literally re-wires your brain and body to feel less pain. That's pretty cool if you ask me! You can also expect all the normal benefits from exercise too, like pumping blood and lymph fluid around the body, anti-inflamation, increasing strength and mobility of joints, raising endorphins and boosting natural opioids.
Now I can hear what you are saying; but I can't do x,y or z. This is understood. There may very well be things that are not possible considering the history of trauma. What is more important is to find activities and exercise options that you CAN do rather than feeling down about things you can't and give up all together.
Yes, this one is a cliche'. But cliche's exist for a reason. Being grateful breads optimism, happiness and a positive mindset. These traits make for a strong minded and resilient person to overcome adversity. Gratitude can come from the smallest acts, like saying "thank you" to your friends, family and supporters. On another level, being thankful for the health and physical function that you do have right in this moment is going to be far more productive than focussing on your limitations and the feelings of frustration they can produce.
Focus on function and not on pain
Pain is a very strong motivator. It will shape our behaviour and if we are not carful, it will shape our minds. In practice as an exercise physiologist, I can say that having a mindset of "It hurt's here, I want it to go away" is rarely productive. On the other hand, if you choose the mindset of "I'm going to focus on my ability to do (insert activity)" then our thoughts and behaviours are far more conducive to the actions that actually produce results.
Hobbies have this unique ability to put us in a positive frame of mind and can bring joy into out lives. There is no right or wrong way to do this. You can go fishing, tinker on a car, paint a picture or give your dog a perm! Do what makes your heart sing and there is a good chance you will feel less pain.
There is a large amount of research into the benefits of meditation for people who suffer chronic pain. The conclusion? Meditation is associated with small reduction in pain, but certainly not a silver bullet that can magically make it all go away. Results will generally vary between individuals based on many factors. What can be taken from these studies and experience treating chronic injury, is that regular meditation can affect other factors like mood, feelings of general wellbeing and quality of life.
Healthy eating is so important but not often talked about when managing chronic or traumatic injuries. Incorporating healthy eating into your plan is important for weight management, anti-inflammation, rebuilding tissues and general health.
Physical trauma can have lifelong consequences and having a whole lifestyle plan in place involves many different factors but can compound on each other to give you want, a better quality of life.