How to out-think an injury

Don’t let past injuries stop you getting back on the bike

When an injury strikes it can seem a devastating blow. But by understanding the psychology of injuries you can get back on the bike sooner than you may have thought.

While it may seem odd to talk about the mental effects of a physical injury, it is probably not that surprising that being prevented from doing something you enjoy – riding your bike – is likely to, at the very least, get you down a bit.

Five stages of injury recovery

Research into the effects of injuries on sportspeople has noted that they can often lead to a similar grief response to that felt by someone who is bereaved. Research often refers to the five stages that sportspeople go through when coming to terms with injuries:

  1. Denial: Initially the rider will often deny that there even is an injury and could even try to 'ride through it’. This is a dangerous stage as often more serious injuries occur if a rider isn’t prepared to face up to the relatively minor initial injury. It’s really important that you seek professional help as quickly as possible if you think there is something wrong rather than burying your head in the sand.
  2. Anger: As the injury will deny you the pleasure of riding for a while, anger and frustration are often felt when the full extent of injuries is understood. However, for the good of your recovery you have to get through this stage. Try to find other ways of dealing with this frustration. For some, keeping closely involved with teammates and competitions is a coping mechanism that helps them deal with the frustrations, while for others finding another way of letting off steam, which is not damaging to your injury, is what is required.
  3. Bargaining: This stage occurs when you try to 'negotiate’ with yourself in order to try to make yourself feel better.  “When I get better I will…” or “when I get better I’ll never…” are the normal phrases of the bargaining stage. However, whatever terms you set yourself, the injury will still be there. Instead, set goals around your recovery, focusing on things that you can control and that will see you back on the bike more quickly.
  4. Depression: Injuries, especially those which are longer term or prevent you from chasing a particularly important goal, will often lead to depression. While riders themselves will often know they are 'down’ because they haven’t gone out for a few weeks on the bike, I often find it is those around them who suffer the most from the rider’s depression but also find this stage very difficult to understand. If your partner isn’t a cyclist, appreciating the significant impact of a period off the bike can be difficult, so if you are injured, explain to those around you how it is making you feel and find common activities to make the most of the extra time you have.
  5. Acceptance: The final stage is acceptance of the injury. Research has clearly demonstrated that those sportspeople who accept their injury and are therefore resolved to deal with the situation are those who adhere to rehabilitation regimes best and recover fastest. Facing the reality of the injury and getting a support network around you are key factors in getting yourself right as quickly as possible.

'See' yourself better

If you are injured try using your mind to help you stride along the road to recovery:

  • Visualise yourself riding the bike and competing. This type of visualisation actually keeps the neural pathways associated with your cycling active, even though you are not actually making the physical movement. It has also been demonstrated to reduce the muscle wastage suffered by those riders not being able to use key muscle groups for long periods of time and can help fight the depression of the injury stages.
  • Picture your body healing. If you’ve broken the collarbone, picture the knitting together of the bones and the recovery of the soft tissues. Recent research on all kinds of illness is starting to demonstrate that imagery can significantly improve rehabilitation time and even fi ght disease if you actually imagine your body healing itself with your mind.

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