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Use your injury as an opportunity

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Water works: Building strength through pool exercises can speed your recovery from an injury.
  • Water works: Building strength through pool exercises can speed your recovery from an injury.

Have you injured yourself recently? How have you been feeling about it?

Sad: "What did I do to deserve this? It's all over."

Angry: No words. Just fury.

In denial: "Hopefully it will just get better on its own."

Motivated: "Yes, it's a bummer, but I'll use it as an opportunity to get better and stronger."

Depression, anger and denial are all natural reactions to an injury, but in my experience, patients who have managed to move through these responses and are able to answer "motivated" are the ones who do the best. Injury is a short-term setback, but I'd urge anybody who is hurt to see it as a long-term opportunity.

My job as a surgeon is not just to fix a joint, but to give my patients the encouragement and tools they need to speed up their recovery and leave my clinic better than they have been in years. I tell my patients to think of themselves as athletes in training and not patients in rehab.

Here's what I'd encourage anybody who's injured to do:

Learn about what caused your injury: Many of the injuries we see are caused by mental errors: being briefly distracted, losing focus, going too fast, landing off-balance. Think about what caused the injury and how it can be prevented next time; that way, you will become a smarter athlete and less likely to repeat the same mistakes.

Learn about your body: An injury is a perfect opportunity for an anatomy lesson. Read up on your injured body part. Ask your doctor and physical therapist about what it's for, how it operates and how it's interconnected with the rest of your body. Become an expert on your own body; it will help you in the long run.

Improve your nutrition: You'll recover faster if you eat the right food and drink enough water. All the tissues of the body work better with more hydration, including the brain and muscles. Most people are relatively dehydrated and drink too many high-calorie beverages. Drink a glass of water every hour. Think of how often you wash your hands each day. Drinking water is like washing out your insides. The water will cleanse the system, fill you up, decrease your caloric load and improve the function of all your tissues. Nutrients help to heal your body and build muscle. Focus on lean protein during the healing period. When reaching for a snack, reach for a nutritious protein bar or shake, and avoid carbohydrates and fats.

Build your strength: With almost every injury, you can start a fitness training program on Day 1. While resting the injured joint, the rest of the body can be trained with weight-lifting on a bench, single-leg squats, stationary cycling with one leg, core and trunk muscle workouts using a Pilates machine, pool exercises and more. The endorphins and testosterone generated from exercise speed muscle healing and focus the mind on fitness, not injury. Work with a physical therapist and conditioning coach or trainer to develop your own sport-specific drills.

Work on your mental attitude: Picture yourself strong, whole and better than fully recovered. Keep a check on how you're talking to yourself. Are you being self-critical and negative? Try to practice self-compassion and maintain a positive attitude. Never, ever exercise in front of a TV or while reading. You lose 50 percent of the benefit of the exercise by not hearing and feeling your heart rate, your sweat and the pain levels that need to be encountered in fitness training.

Yes, it's a bummer you're hurt, but use the injury to excel. Putting all of this into practice will not only help speed up your recovery; you'll end up being a sharper and more resilient athlete.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco. He pioneers advanced orthopedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to repair, regenerate and replace damaged cartilage and ligaments. For more info, visit www.stoneclinic.com.