Building confidence after injury


Last weekend was my first outdoor climb of the year; we found ourselves with a free Saturday and some dry weather, so we headed down to Wyndcliffe Quarry to get a few routes in.

When I haven't climbed outdoors for a while, it always takes me a bit of time to get used to the feel of the rock again. This time round, though, it was definitely taking me longer to get to grips with it (pun intended).

In one of my last outings last year, I had a fairly big fall when a foot slipped unexpectedly. No real damage done - that's what the rope is for - but it shook me up more than I wanted to admit, and since then I've been a bit jittery. In particular, I've had a hard time trusting my footwork. The trouble is, when you don't trust your feet, you don't commit your weight. You tense everything up, your movement becomes static and awkward instead of relaxed and fluid, and you get tired faster. As a result, you're even more likely to slip.

This reminds me of the process that people often go through after an injury. When you've had a bad experience with a particular movement in the past, it's natural to try to avoid it in future - at least at a subconscious level. After a sports injury, an athlete might become stiff and tense when they try to repeat the action which caused the injury; or they may find themselves unable to perform the technique correctly at all. If you've hurt your back picking up shopping bags, then you might be worried about lifting anything in future, to the point that even carrying something light feels awkward and uncomfortable. Every so often, I'll have a visit from a frustrated sportsperson who had an injury a long time ago, and ever since then hasn't been able to play the same way as before. The damage from the injury has long since healed, but their movement patterns still reflect the anxiety that they felt about it.

Building confidence after an injury can take time and patience. As I discussed in a previous blog, it's about taking small steps to get from where you are to where you want to be. The building blocks are the mini-victories you accumulate along the way; the collection of experiences that let you know movement is not something to fear. Whether my goal is to get someone lifting safely after a back injury, or running comfortably after an ankle injury, or climbing confidently after a fall, the principle is the same.

Back on the rock - after a day spent going back to basics on some easier routes, and practising some controlled falls, I was starting to feel at home out there again. It's going to take a bit more time, but it's a lot easier when you understand the process. I'm looking forward to going out again and doing some more.

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