The Importance of Learning to Relax and Let Injuries Heal

So, relaxing isn’t really something I’m good at.  Which is a really bad trait to have when I’m injured.  I hurt my ankle in October and what likely would have been a quick healing injury has turned into something much worse and long-lasting because I didn’t give it the chance to heal properly.

I twisted my ankle while trail running in October.  I stopped for a minute, moved my ankle around a little, then finished my run.  My ankle was probably just sprained at this point, and a few weeks of RICE would have done the trick.  But of course I couldn’t make it that easy.  I kept running and hiking.  The pain gradually got worse, but I have a high pain tolerance and it wasn’t unbearable, so continued to ignore it.

In April, I was at Mount Rainier with a couple of friends.  They left earlier than I did, so I had a day to hike on my own.  I asked one of the park rangers for recommendations.  He mentioned one hike that was still covered in snow, difficult to navigate, on a trail covered with fallen trees.  I asked more about that hike and he warned me not to do it if I didn’t have experience navigating unmarked trails and warned me a girl had gotten lost on the trail the day before and had to be rescued.  Naturally, I chose that hike.  He was right about it being difficult to navigate…the combination of trees everywhere and a few feet of snow on the ground made distinguishing the trail quite confusing.  It had been miles since I had seen another hiker when I came across yet another fallen tree in the trail.  I stepped over the tree, but I landed on my ankle wrong.  It gave out and I fell.  For a minute, it was too painful for me to stand up or put any weight on it.  I started to think about how I might need to crawl the last few miles of the hike.  How would I know whether I’m staying on the trail while crawling?!  A few minutes of panic ensued.  Finally, I was able to put weight on my ankle again and I limped through the rest of the hike.  While that experience gave me a bit of a scare, everything ended up being fine, so it wasn’t enough for me to go see a doctor.

Two months later, I hiked a volcano in Bali.  It was a pretty steep hike, and my ankle was definitely feeling it, but of course I ignored the pain and kept hiking. The next day, I flew to South Korea.  When I got off of the plane, one of my toes and part of the bottom of my foot were numb.  At first, I thought the numbness was probably related to my long flight.  I was slightly concerned I had DVT (thanks, Google).  A week later, I realized that numbness can also be caused by sprained ankles.  And that is when I decided to see a doctor.

My doctor told me that I had a stress fracture, tendonitis, and a sprain.  Ugh.   He put me on steroids and anti-inflammatories and told me to wear a boot on my right foot for a month.  Great.  I had several hiking trips planned.  How was I going to hike with that boot??  I was going to Colorado the next day and had plans to climb a 14er.  My initial plan was to just start wearing the boot after the weekend.  I mean, I had already been running and hiking on it for 8 months, what was one more weekend going to do?  I guess it was a stroke of luck when I called my friend and she told me that the hike had to be rescheduled to the day I was flying in because of weather.  I wore the boot that weekend and did quite a bit of hiking.

I continued to hike with the boot.  I wasn’t running anymore, but I certainly wasn’t relaxing either.  When I went to the doctor a month later, the stress fracture had healed, but the sprain and tendonitis had not.  I got frustrated and tried running a few miles.  The next couple of weeks, my ankle hurt.  A lot.  It was like I had never even worn the boot in the first place.  I finally realized that I need to let my ankle heal.  I stopped running, and don’t plan on starting again for at least 6 months.  I wear an ankle brace at all times and ice my ankle regularly.  If I start to feel pain in my ankle, I stop whatever is causing the pain instead of just pushing through it.

Because I didn’t listen to my body and let my ankle heal properly, I’ve spent the last 10 months dealing with an injury that likely could have healed in a month.  So please, no matter how active you are or how difficult it is for you to sit still, if you have an injury, just let it heal.  Don’t make my mistake.