Staying Psyched While Injured

Getting injured can be one of the most disheartening things for a climber, medicine or any athlete for that matter.  Maintaining the mental psyche can be very difficult during a down time but it is extremely important.  I unfortunately know all about this experience.  I’ve dislocated both shoulders several times resulting in surgery on both shoulders:  the right one in ’05 and the left in ’08 (from whitewater kayaking).  While full recovery was nearly a sure thing, the recovery time was a solid six months for both cases.  I wanted to share some of my tips for maintaining motivation during a time of injury so you come back stronger and more pumped up than ever before!  I fortunately don’t have any experience with a catastrophic injury that would prevent me from returning to a sport, so my viewpoint is from an eventual return to your sport.

I think one of the most important thoughts to keep fresh in you mind is to not give up hope.  This sounds slightly cheesy and obvious, but it’s the most important aspect to maintaining the psyche.  If you mentally give up and think you will never climb again, you physical progression will surely come to a halt.  You MUST believe you will return stronger than ever.  When I was laid up, I was determined to come back stronger than I was before.

scope shoulder surgery dislocation repair

Staying psyched after my first post-op shower.

Another hugely important aspect to coming back strong and staying motivated is to do the prescribed physical therapy.  This must become a job, one that you do every day, pushing yourself towards recovery.  Depending on the injury, the physical therapy can be quite painful.  I remember when I first started gaining some motion in my shoulder, pushing it more and more in each session was sometimes excruciating.  It was quite mentally draining to know that each session would be as painful as the last.  Fortunately, this only lasted for the first month or so of recovery.  Once I gained more mobility and strength, my psyche brewed strong!  I would go to the gym in the morning to workout then go to therapy in the afternoon.  I had an almost maniacal devotion to becoming as strong as I could, as fast as I could, while still taking the proper time to heal.  Knowing you can do it is most of the battle.

Another tip for staying motivated while recovering is to visit your climbing friends and be apart of the climbing community.  When I was recovering from my shoulder injury in ’08, I would frequently visit my local climbing gym to see friends and just hang out.  This would keep me fueled to come back strong, and having supportive climbing friends always helps too.  When I was able to, I would go to the gym and belay.  I think staying involved in your local climbing culture is very important.

The last piece of advice I have to keep the mental fire burning is to consume as much climbing media as you can.  I love watching the newest climbing videos and reading the various magazines.  I made sure to keep this up when I was injured, and I even listened to a few climbing podcasts that were out there at that time.  Reading about other climber’s injuries and personal struggles in the magazines would remind me that I wasn’t alone in my quest.  I knew I would come back; it would just take moving that shoulder one inch at a time and lifting absurdly light weights to get moving.

So, if you are an injured climber out there, or have had injuries in the past, hopefully this will help you keep the psyche.  Believe you will come back strong and crush like never before.


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