In September 2020 I broke my tibia and fibula in a really stupid accident in a car park. It was a right mess, and it took a good few hours of surgery and a load of metal to put it all back together again. For a few months I was in quite a bit of pain, but luckily (or not) I‘m used to injuries and by poor body was once again able to recover. I soon got back on my feet and put it all behind me. And it was a good job because I had a busy 2021; loads of racing including some British Championship MX, an International Rally and a 24 hour endurance race. Oh, and then a marathon to top it off.
I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet as I didn’t really think anything of it at the time but a few people have said they’ve been impressed with the speed of my recovery. When I do think of it, I suppose they’re probably right. As it happens, I’ve had plenty of injuries that haven’t hindered me for anywhere near as long as the doctors promised they would.
And I don’t think it’s luck. I don’t think I’ve been blessed with a body that can magically heal itself. But I have learnt some tricks after being in and out of hospital with various broken limbs. In fact, they’re not really tricks, they’re just common sense really, but I’m convinced they’ve helped me get back on my feet, back on my bike and living life to the full in double time.
I’m obviously not a doctor so please don’t mistake this for ‘medical advice’, but here are a handful of things that helped me recover from injuries fairly quickly, and they might help you too.
Be fit and healthy to start with.
This one’s difficult to do if you’re already a fatty and you’ve just broken your leg. But if you are planning on breaking your leg, arm, or damaging anything really, best to try and get fit first. I’m absolutely convinced that one of the reasons that I’ve been able to enjoy reasonably snappy recovery times (if you’ll pardon the pun), is because I’ve always had an alright level of fitness. As it happens, I broke two vertebra in my back when I was about 20, but at the time I was mega fit. After a couple of nights banged up in hospital, they let me out just in time to get down to Brands Hatch for the last round of the British Superstock Championship.
Being fit doesn’t just help you recover from injuries faster either. It can, in some instances, prevent some crashes causing such bad injuries; it certainly has for me in the past. If your body is in really good shape, your bones are strong and your muscles are flexible, you’ll find things (bones and soft tissue) will have a little give before things start snapping.
Eat right when you’re recovering.
Whether you had a healthy lifestyle before the injury or not, make sure you have one whilst your trying to recover from any injuries. You’re probably not going to be getting anywhere near enough exercise, so it’s doubly important that you eat right now. I’ll be honest, I don’t know exactly how much of a difference this makes, but it’s something I’ve always tried to do when I’ve been laid up, and I’m sure it helps. It definitely can’t hurt.
I’m not going to tell you how to eat healthily, because firstly I’m not a nutritionist and secondly, everybody with a brain knows how to eat healthily. It’s not difficult… it’s just not as tasty as Mars bars and pizzas.
Do your physio. A lot.
Again, I’m not going to tell you how to do your physio, or what physio to do because firstly I’m not a physiotherapist and secondly every injury is different and so requires a different approach, physio-wise. But I am telling you to do it. As much as you can.
I’ve had a few injuries which I’ve been genuinely worried about. My main concerns tend to be surrounding the range of movement that I’ll be left with. When I broke my leg in 2020, it also tore my ankle to bits, and by the time they’d been in with their knives, forks and screwdrivers, my ankle was just one big solid ball of broken bone, metal and scar tissue. When the cast came off a couple of months after the op, the joint was as good as locked. Zero movement.
It really worried me, but because of that I put the time and effort into putting it right. I’d spend about four or five hours a day gently pushing and pulling my toes up and down working the movement back into the joint. I know that sounds like a long time, but I didn’t want to be left with a leg I couldn’t walk on. And besides, what else was I going to do with my time?
With any lower limb injury, as soon as they’ve given me the go-ahead to weight-bare, I’ve been on it. The best way to build strength up in a limb, is to use it, so that’s what I’ve always done. It’s easy to be lazy when you’re carrying an injury, because you’ve got an excuse. And I know everything is more difficult when you’re injured, but if you put the effort in, it’ll pay dividends.
Don’t try and be brave, pain relief is your friend.
If something hurts, there’s nothing clever about gritting your teeth and bearing it when the hospital have given you a bag full of pain killers. Particularly when you consider the fact that some pain killers, like ibuprofen have anti-inflammatory capabilities, so they’re not just taking some of the pain away, they’re helping your injuries recover.
There is absolutely no point in being in pain if you don’t need to. And don’t take any notice of anyone who tells you they want to ‘feel the pain’ to stop them over-doing it and causing themselves more damage; if you can forget you’ve got a broken leg and start playing football on it, you must be on something a bit stronger than paracetamol.
So how can taking pain relief help you recover. Well first of all, it’ll help you sleep. If you’re in a load of pain, you won’t be able to get comfortable and you’ll get a rubbish night’s sleep. You’re body needs sleep just to do all the normal stuff it does, never mind repair itself after being broken.
And secondly, physio. I know we talked about physio before, but if your hurting before you start gently working on your damaged body, you’re going to be in a lot more pain by the time you finish. And if it hurts, you’re likely to give up half way through, and not put the time needed in.
So if you think you’re being hard as nails by not taking any pain killers, you’re not. You’re just being daft.
Listen to your body.
I know this is a bit cliché, and makes me sound like one of them cringey American personal trainers you see on those ‘I’m Really Fat and I Need to Lose Weight or I’ll Die’ TV programs, but it’s true. Everyone’s body heals differently after an injury, for so many reasons; there are hundreds of variables. The doctors might tell you that it’ll be exactly six weeks before you will be able to walk (or do whatever), but that’s just an educated guess based on the average healing time for most people. And then a bit added on for safety.
Doctors are really clever, but you know your body better than anyone. If something isn’t right, and you’re in agony when you try and weight-bare after the six weeks that they’ve said it’ll take, give it some more time.
At the same time, if you feel like your ready to do some physio before the docs have referred you, speak to them. Or arrange an appointment with a physiotherapist. It’s never too early to start doing some sort of exercise to help keep things mobile and strong.
Let me stress again that I am NOT a doctor. In fact, aside from the odd first aid cause where they make you snog one of them dummies in front of a room full of people, I have never had any medical training in my life. But I have had a lot of injuries, and so I’ve learnt some things which have really, really helped me recover.
These five things aren’t ‘instead’ of proper medical attention. If you’re injured, you should always see a medical professional. Obviously. But once the doctors have patched you up, and sent you home, try your best to stay fit, eat right, do your physio, take your tablets if you need them and listen to your body. And get well soon.