Stuck on the Sideline

adult athlete cramps field

What do you do when your life is disrupted by illness or injury? The first thing is to accept the fact that you’ve been “sidelined.” That you are so hurt or sick that you are unable to sustain the healthy lifestyle you’re used to. Along with that, you also need to accept the reality that your daily routine will need to be radically adjusted. Attempts at continuing to be active or to exercise often result in additional injuries and an even longer recovery period.

I found this out the hard way when I was sidelined with a hairline fracture in my left foot. My initial treatment plan involved the classic RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. For compression, I used a walking boot called an Aircast. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it, but unfortunately it has a tendency to throw your stride out of whack. So when I finally took off the boot, my hip and lower back had been negatively impacted.

bootfoot
Boots like this can make it easier to get around, but at what cost?

Don’t get me wrong; a walking boot is a great replacement for the traditional plaster cast. You can take it off to shower, to ice your foot, and eventually even when you sleep. The biggest problem is that your gait is considerably different due to one foot being raised. In my case, it ended up throwing my hips out of line and injuring a disc in my back. All told I spent ten weeks not being able to walk, sit, or stand comfortably. Lying on a hard floor was the only thing I could tolerate.

I did lose weight because I wasn’t moving, and so I wasn’t very hungry. My muscles became completely deconditioned even though I tried to maintain a light exercise program. Luckily, after a couple of months I was able to move around without too much pain. I started taking short walks, doing a little Pilates, and even tried some mild weightlifting. Unfortunately, deconditioning happens a lot quicker than reconditioning does, so it was slow going.

Just when I was starting to feel like myself again, I had a minor accident while walking my 100+ lb. dog that resulted in a hamstring tear. Once again, I was unable to walk, sit, or stand comfortably. Back on the floor I went. After receiving injections for nerve pain, some muscle relaxers, and a little prednisone, I started feeling better. Two more months have passed and I’m finally back to stretching, Pilates, and I’m almost ready to restart my cardio regimen.

maddie_bigfoot
Maddie is a gentle giant, but even the gentle ones can shred your hammy.

There were times during this difficult period when I was in Level 10 pain (something I’ve never felt before). I now know how pain can feel overwhelming and debilitating. I now understand first hand how the crisis of opioid addiction is about managing pain, and that pain pills are far too easy to get. During my injury, every single healthcare professional I talked to offered me a prescription for opiates. I declined, but there were definitely days when I regretted that decision. I’m not anti-drug necessarily; I just have a hard time with the side effects of those types of medications. So I stuck with ibuprofen, which tends to work well for me.

Another good lesson: I was told that I couldn’t take ibuprofen during my weeklong prednisone regimen. I immediately realized that I needed to find an alternative since ibuprofen was my go-to pain reliever. It turns out the solution was pretty easy. A quick internet search led me to some foods with anti-inflammatory properties, like broccoli and blueberries. I had many of those foods in my kitchen already and they definitely helped to manage the pain.

bloobs_or_ibu
Which would you rather put in YOUR body?

The bottom line is, if you find yourself sidelined due to injury or illness, you are going to need to make some major adjustments to your lifestyle. Don’t ignore the pain and just blindly soldier on. Be proactive. Focus on self-care. Think about ways to modify your exercise routine as well as your diet so you can stay as healthy as possible and shorten the recovery time. Try to use natural remedies first, rather than jumping straight to the pharmaceutical options.

Of course, go slowly at first. As my story proves, it’s easy to make things worse. If you have a fitness trainer, massage therapist, or a dietician, get them engaged as soon as possible. They will be great resources toward your recovery process. Don’t be reluctant to see a physician, but choose serious pain meds or surgery only as a last resort. Natural remedies, along with time to rest and recover, are often the best way to go. Take a lesson from me: when you finally get off the sideline and back in the game, you’ll never take your health for granted again.

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