A long post, but something I wanted to talk about..
Let’s be real here, injuries are a part of the game. If we’re being honest with ourselves, most of us will sustain a major injury at some point. Not all will require surgery, but the potential for catastrophe is there. I’m talking about injuries that take you out of tricking, or most physical activity, for months at a time. As a community, we tend to talk about the physical tolls this takes, but that’s just surface level.. it’s obvious, and easy to deal with. What happens to us internally when we sustain a major injury is far more complex and difficult. Because it’s rarely talked about openly, I thought I’d share my story, so everyone might have an idea of what an injury and recovery can be like.
Long story short, I sprained my knee last July. It swelled up a lot, and I couldn’t bend it past about 90* for months. I never had my injury diagnosed, so I can’t say exactly what was damaged, but I’m guessing some trauma to the LCL, at the very least. I’m fortunate that the major red flags for surgery were not there: I didn’t lose strength in the knee, I didn’t hear a pop, it never clicked or caught when walking, and there was never bruising. I couldn’t train for about 3 months, and like an idiot, I didn’t do anything proactive to restrengthen the joint. Eventually I eased back into tricks, and was feeling somewhat strong again, when I reinjured it at the beginning of December. This time, the injury was much more painful, for much longer. Again, none of the major red flags, but I’m guessing some damage to the cartilage in the knee, as well as pain in the LCL. This time, I rested until the new year, then began a rehab regiment.
I don’t want to talk too much about the physical recovery, but I do want to mention a few things. First day in the gym, in January, my leg was substantially weaker than the other. On the leg extension machine, my injured leg wasn’t even able to lift the bar by itself, with no added weight. Over the past few months, I’ve made a lot of progress, and the strength is almost equal to the other leg (though it still looks quite a bit smaller). In February, I couldn’t even cartwheel onto the injured knee without feeling it (not really painful, just a not-so-subtle reminder that that knee was injured). I’ve worked my tricks back up, at a glacial pace, and I can now full-swipe onto the injured leg. I still can’t do everything I could in July, and I have little stamina, but progress is happening.
What I’ve learned is it’s not the pain, or physical recovery that’s hard, it’s coping mentally and emotionally.. Everyday is different. Some days I feel strong, and I’m ready to hit the gym, and put some weight through my legs; some days, I feel like I’ll never be back to where I was even a few years ago, or I’ll never be able to do this type of skill, or that type of skill again. Some days I almost forget it was hurt, then others, the muscles at the top of my calf are so tight that it’s hard to completely straighten the leg, which can be uncomfortable, or even painful; some days the quads get so tight that the patellar tendon hurts. This is all fixable with some effort, but it’s taxing.. it requires energy, both physical and mental, to deal with. If I trick, these symptoms are exacerbated.
What’s most frustrating though, is I don’t really know what to expect. There’s surprisingly little literature online about what the experience of healing an injury is actually like. It’s tough to know if this little wiggle I feel over here, or that little pop, or the tension I feel in this spot is normal, or signs of something more. That uncertainty, for me, is really frustrating, and doesn’t help me feel optimistic about my situation. While I’m grateful I don’t appear to need surgery, at least if I did, I’d have someone to tell me what I’m going through is normal (at least physically).
The mental challenges are more than just the immediate knee issues, unfortunately. There’s a chemical change when you’re forced to abruptly stop tricking. It’s even worse when you’re not even able to hit the gym yet. Suddenly those endorphins, adrenaline, etc, you’ve come to depend on for basic mental health are stripped from you, and it can be depressing. Couple that with the introspection that should occur with a major injury (what if I never trick again? what if I need surgery? what if I can’t afford it? what if I can trick again, but I’ll never be able to do anything hard or fun? do I even want to go through all this / is it worth it?) and your emotional state can become extremely fragile and chaotic.
Despite all of this, I go on.. I show up to session every opportunity I have. I go to the gym often, and keep plugging away at my rehab. I know from talking to people that I’m not alone in these feelings. I know what I’m going through is probably normal. I know I’m making progress. I know that eventually I’ll get through it. I also know that I’ll never be a carefree tricker again.. I know that I’ll always be mindful of my situation, and the potential risks. I was always aware, but actually experiencing it has obviously changed it from an abstract idea to an intimate understanding. That’s life; it’s easier to grasp the things you’ve been through. I love tricking, and I hope that some day I won’t have 90% garbage sessions, filled with frustration, fear, pain, and general uneasiness. I believe I’ll get there though, and I’m willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen.
If you have a major injury, I hope you make it to the other side. If you’ve had one, and are back in the game 100%, I applaud you; you are a strong person. If you’ve never had one, be thankful, and keep that streak alive. Losing a few months to the injury itself is nothing compared to the time afterwards you must spend breaking down walls, and rehabbing your body. Avoid injury, train smart.