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The Sports Injury Trip

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If an injured athlete can view his or her injury as an excuse to train more creatively and work around the injury while that part of the body heals, then he or she has the possibility of returning from injury in better shape than before. (Courtesy photo)
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Perseverate, verb: to repeat or prolong an action, thought or utterance, long after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased.

Perseveration is a repetitive focus on the same issue, a recycling through the mind of thoughts that won’t go away — memories that trap you in the pain or anger of some past event. So how can you break free? Here are some of the techniques we use after sports injuries get you down:

Sports injury depression may not seem to be in the same league at post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation or other severe depressive disorders. But it is far more common. We have all encountered that totally inopportune snow snake that grabs our ski at just the wrong moment, sends us flying and lands us in the emergency room — right at the beginning of the ski season. First, the sudden injury produces anger; then, sorrow, with the long recovery from surgery another type of anguish. But it’s the chronic injuries that leave you with pain of the worst type, as it seems your life will never be as good again.

In the pharmaceutical world, anti-depressants are often prescribed for this spiral, with widely varying results. In the sports world, those drugs decrease performance. But since most injured people were not depressed before they were hurt, they don’t see themselves as needing or wanting a “psychiatric” drug treatment.

In the experimental world, combining both science and recreation, the use of hallucinogens is teaching us interesting lessons.

In the late 1960s, when Timothy Leary lectured that a single LSD trip led to permanent improvement in some people’s outlook on life, he was right. Current studies are trying to understand the phenomenon of therapeutic, professionally guided “trips.” Results suggest that these therapies have the potential of curing PTSD and severe depression.

Once a person sees himself or herself floating in space, free of the rigid attachment to the trauma that holds them down, they recognize the person they could be — rather than the angry, depressed person they are. This experience of joy may clear the cobwebs or actually rewire the brain. It can be convincing enough to change the course of a person’s life.

After sports trauma or surgery, we seek the same release. We coach our patients to see themselves as athletes in training, not as patients in rehab. If the injured can view their injury as an excuse to train more creatively and work around their injury while that part of the body heals; if they can use the gift of downtime to rethink their approach and reduce the likelihood of future injuries, then they have the possibility of returning from their injury in better shape than they were before they were hurt. This requires letting go of anger about the injury, or about any previously failed surgeries, or about the person who may have caused the injury. It requires letting go of any of the objects we perseverate upon and envision a new, positive goal.

The tools we use to help athletes get to this point include coaching with hands-on physical therapy, where the touch and experience of a skillful therapist dramatically builds confidence while mobilizing stiff tissues. The daily sweat workouts are creatively designed to protect the injured part of the body while raising the heart rate. This muscle building releases pheromones, testosterone, adrenaline and dopamine, which enter the bloodstream and reset the competitive athletic spirit.

Combining a vision of who you can become with this level of coaching is a tremendously effective healing strategy.

You can become fitter, faster and stronger than you have been in years, no matter what point you are starting from and no matter where you have been. Let your injury launch you on a new journey, with your determination your ticket to fly.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.

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