Injury Recovery: Tips for Coming Back From Injury

**Please welcome our friend and injury recovery expert, Lauren Martin, to the Sierra Social Hub.**

I am lucky enough to live in Colorado. Being active and going hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, skiing (etc.) isn't just a hobby around here- it's a way of life. In just over an hour, I can drive to over 10,000' elevation and stand knee-deep in snow during most months of the year. By the time I get back home, I can change into sandals and enjoy warm sunshine. Yup... it's pretty perfect here.


I first visited Colorado on a trip with my husband (then boyfriend), Greg in the summer of 2009. We drove out to Loveland Pass and hiked up to nearly 13,000' elevation on our second day here. The views and the altitude literally took my breath away- and from that moment I was hooked. We continued to visit Colorado each summer (and even got engaged during a bike/kayak trip in 2010) and dreamed of living here permanently one day. In the spring of 2013, we were able to make that dream a reality.

Blessed with jobs allowing flexible hours, Greg and I found ourselves hiking and mountain biking several times each week. We met new, adventurous friends, submitted 14ers, and pinched ourselves daily to make sure it wasn't all a dream. As the summer passed and the weather started to turn cooler, I thought about what I would do to stay active outside during the winter. I bought a pair of snowshoes and toyed with the idea of learning to ski. My husband has been skiing for 30+ years (and snowboarding for the last 10) and really wanted me to be able to join him on the slopes during the winter. I had taken one skiing lesson in my life (when we lived in Maryland) and hated it. But, I knew that skiing out here would be totally different, so I agreed to give it a shot.

I signed up for Eldora's Women's Days Program upon the recommendation of my aunt. The program met once a week for six weeks and I was grouped with two other (beginner level) women and an instructor. I figured that if I paid for the program in advance I'd actually show up each week. ;) The first day was awful. I couldn't figure out how to stop, fell down at least a dozen times and left incredibly frustrated. But, I went back the second week (which was much better!). Things clicked for me during the second lesson and just kept getting better week after week. I found myself looking forward to going skiing and letting go of the fears that held me back.

After the program ended, I found myself heading out to the slopes with my husband and improving my skills. I felt comfortable on most blue trails and even made it down a black diamond! We made plans to take weekend trips to different local resorts and had the time of our lives. And then, everything changed. April 4th was a beautiful, bluebird day at Vail resort and I was excited to ski there for the very first time. I got down a few runs, and made my way to the back bowls.

lauren vail

This photo was taken literally seconds before my big fall.

During my first run down the back bowls I carelessly went into a turn, crossed my skis and tumbled down the mountain. I felt a sharp pain in my leg and couldn't move. Ski patrol had to rescue me and take me all the way down to the base... it was not fun. Three days later, I was diagnosed with a full ACL tear. After an MRI and a few more doctor visits, I decided to schedule surgery for mid-May.

I didn't realize the magnitude of having ACL Reconstruction surgery prior to the operation. I thought that I'd have the surgery and be back on my feet in a few weeks. I was in good shape, had strong legs and thought I could push my way through anything! Unfortunately, ACL surgery doesn't work with that. Full recovery is said to take six months to year- sometimes even longer!

Here's a few of my recommendations for dealing with a major (ACL, in my case) injury:

#1. Be Realistic

Before getting surgery, get all of the facts. Ask your surgeon any questions you can think of and seek out articles about surgery and recovery in books and online. Know what you're getting yourself into and be prepared for what's going to happen during your recovery. I had pretty unrealistic expectations for recovery and just assumed I'd be back to normal in six weeks- boy was I wrong!

#2. Listen to your surgeon and don't try to do too much after surgery

For at least the first week following surgery, you're going to be pretty much doing nothing but sitting on your butt. Moving around is going to be tough, and you should really only move to use the bathroom. Sitting still is not easy for most people, but it's crucial during those first ten days.

#3. Be Diligent about Physical Therapy

Going to physical therapy several times each week gets expensive and takes up time. Practicing your exercises twice a day at home takes up even more time. Some days, it will even seem like your entire day is based around physical therapy! Devoting that much time to something may seem like a pain, but keep in mind that all of those exercises are going to help you get back on your feet and make your recovery much more successful. The stronger you can keep your quads, the less likely you are to re-injure your knee!

#4. Even when you start feeling "better," remember that you just had major surgery. You still need to take it easy.

There's a reason that re-injury is so common with ACL reconstruction. Around the 6-8 week post-op mark you start feeling somewhat normal again and may underestimate the magnitude of the surgery that you just had done. Even if you're feeling pretty good, remember that you've most likely experienced major atrophy in your quadriceps and your ACL itself isn't strong. Continue to take it easy and take extra precautions when doing any activities that might cause you to trip, slip or fall.

#5. Have a support system.

One of the things that's the most difficult about recovery is feeling like no one understands what you're going through. After a few weeks, you may appear normal and healthy- but you're still very limited as to what you can do. Having a support system of family and friends that you can talk honestly to and vent your frustrations helps- let it out!

#6. Try not to feel sorry for yourself

It really stinks that while everyone else is out there having fun, you're going to be stuck in recovery for the foreseeable future. You will have good and bad days- but try not to focus more on the bad. Think about what you can still do and make a list of goals for recovery. Celebrate any milestones in your recovery, no matter how small they are. Focus on how healthy you are in general- this is just a small bump in the road in the grand scheme of things.

#7. Do things that make you happy

Being active and going hiking or rock-climbing or mountain biking makes you feel pretty good. But- there are many other things that bring happiness to your life! Make a list of (safe) activities that you can do that make you happy and do them! If there's something that you've always wanted to try (but haven't had the time)- do it.

#8. When you're feeling stronger (and your doctor allows it) start getting back out there

Everyone's rate of recovery is different, and I started feeling really comfortable walking on various terrain around post-op week 6. My surgeon and PT advised me to start challenging myself in a smart way and start getting back out there. I started riding my mountain bike on dirt trails for ten minutes at a time, then fifteen and made my way to 45 minutes by post-op week 8. I also did easy, short hikes (walking slowly and carefully) and eventually worked my way up to hiking for 3+ hours on a moderate trail by post-op week 9. I definitely move slower than I did before my injury and can't do super challenging terrain, but am embracing everything that I can do at this point.

My husband and I climb a different 14er each year on our wedding anniversary. Since our anniversary fell less than two months after my surgery this year, I was definitely not ready for such a challenging hike. So, we drove up Mt. Evans and climbed the final quart mile to the summit instead.

evans summit

Technically, we still did a 14er. ;)

#9. See the light at the end of the tunnel

Even though it may feel like it, having ACL reconstruction is not a death sentence. When you're just starting your recovery, the road ahead can seem to go on forever and it's easy to get discouraged. Keeping yourself busy (while also taking care of yourself) makes the time go by faster (and makes it more enjoyable!). In a year you will hopefully feel 100% again- and a year can go by very quickly!


Lauren MartinLauren Martin is a Personal Trainer, Spinning and Body Pump Instructor and blogger. She loves good food, craft beer, fitness and her two crazy dogs. Learn more from Lauren about her ACL Injury Recovery, love of Colorado and other outdoor topics on her blog: Me & The Mountains
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Lauren Martin
As a member of #TeamSierra, Lauren Martin receives promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post. Lauren is a full-time Social and Digital Media Manager for a Colorado-based natural foods company and part-time Spinning and Bodypump Instructor. Her passions include hiking, biking, brewing kombucha, cooking healthy food (that doesn't taste healthy) and running around with her two Golden Retrievers. You can follow her on Instagram or on her blog, Me and the Mountains.
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