Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Beer League (Injury) Blues

I have been injured for 8 weeks and have not played hockey in 6 weeks. I'm like a bear who has not been fed. Approach with caution.

Hockey players have a reputation across all sports as being the amongst the toughest athletes out there. They play with broken bones and torn ligaments, and only when an injury is severe do they agree to being stretchered off the ice. It's a point of pride with hockey players to leave the ice on their own two feet.

As someone who plays at the recreational level, I feel this same point of pride. The fighting spirit that pushed Hayley Wickenheiser to play through the 2014 Olympics with a broken foot and Meaghan Mikkelson to play with a broken hand exists in recreational players too. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have played through pain and discomfort too, but nothing like what I've been through with this latest injury. The whole process of being injured and missing hockey for the first time in 12 years has opened my eyes to what the process is like and it has definitely given me more respect for any athlete at any level who comes back from injury.

From a psychological standpoint, there are several stages of dealing with an injury. Once we get over our denial and admit that we actually are injured, we have to go through the process of determining what medical services we require, where to get them from, and how much they're going to cost. As rec leaguers, this stage varies vastly from the elite sports realm. In the world of Olympic, professional, and college sports, each team carries their own trainers who are available to examine and treat players as soon as an injury occurs. In the case of leagues like the NHL, players don't even have to wait for appointments with specialists or to get advanced scans like CT's or MRI's. Such is not the case when you're just an "Average Jane." No one cares that you're missing games and are desperate to get back to being with your team. No one cares that you're in pain severe enough that it's affecting your job and the rest of your life. You are about to join a long list of fellow Average Joes and Janes in waiting for the treatment you need. As someone who has recently been through this experience, here is some advice I would give to my fellow injured rec leaguers:

1) Get the treatment you need right away. Don't delay. I delayed because I was concerned about costs and was hesitant to go through so many time consuming appointments. Delaying treatment only made my injuries worse, and it actually made my healing time and the cost of my overall treatment much higher.

2) Google is not a doctor. Plugging your symptoms into WebMD and waiting for a computer-generated diagnosis doesn't make it an accurate diagnosis. I would suggest getting a proper diagnosis from a medical professional. Once your injury has a name you can always Google treatment ideas or suggestions for stretches/workouts you can do.

3) Find the right practitioner. You want someone who listens to you and treats you like a person not like a case. You also want someone who recognizes that you're an athlete. One of my chiropractors told me that she was going to put me on the same treatment plan as the 80-year old woman who she saw before me that day. Needless to say, I was offended.

4) Take accurate notes about all of your symptoms. Every sensation you feel that is not "normal", make note of it so that you can relay it to your practitioner(s). The more clues you give them, the easier it will be for them to nail down the source of your discomfort. It might even save you the need to get certain scans.

5) Be careful with self-treatment. Again, let a professional tell you what exercises to do. Don't formulate stretches and exercises yourself that you think might be helpful. They might actually be making things worse.

6) Be patient. The pro's have a team of people who have to sign off on the player before they return to game action. Us Average Janes don't have that. Several times during my 6 weeks without hockey, I considered going back and playing. At one point I found out that one of my teams lost their last game pretty badly and it made me want to forget my "plan of patience" and just get back out there. But then I thought how helpful I would be if I was playing at 50% health, and how much damage I might potentially do if I forced my body to do something it clearly wasn't ready to do? Think of the bigger picture and the long term goal. Don't rush your body.

I wish a safe and healthy hockey season to all, but sometimes injuries are inevitable. For those times, I wish my fellow Average Janes a speedy and more importantly, a successful recovery. In the meantime, feel free to come join me in cage of unfed bears!