Pain and Its Discontents — The Evolving Tale of Dealing with an Injury

I am in pain most of the time these days, and I am trying to come to grips with what this might mean for my athletic aspirations and general health.

When you mess up a movement and injure yourself, you have a moment to blame—a few seconds when your form slipped, your leg twisted the wrong way, or you put on too much weight on the bar for your abilities. Unfortunately, I did not get that. Instead, a sudden, swift, and consuming pain crippled my right leg emanating from the hip as I stood up from my desk. This pain has been haunting me for the past three years.

But, why?! I asked myself and began micro-analysing every movement I made at the gym. I am a certified personal trainer capable of teaching others how to do the very things I was doing. So the question became, am I good enough to do this when I seem to be hurting myself?

I watched, questioned, and analysed, but I could see nothing wrong. I was hitting some personal bests with my lifts and I was so happy. Why was this hip getting in the way and making me doubt myself? Anger fuelled my workouts, I had something to prove. I stretched, worked on recovery, and made sure my warm-ups were all-encompassing. In my mind, this was just a fluke, it was caused by my inactive hours at the office or at home rather than my lifting sessions. My thoughts were all geared in that direction, and it kept me going. Despite the pain and discomfort, I did not stop.

At first, the pain’s recurrence was spaced out. It would give me a few weeks or even months of reprieve after some rest and anti-inflammatories, and I took full advantage of those times to work harder and get better. I had never mentioned this to anyone, but the truth is that I had aspirations to compete, even at a low level, in powerlifting competitions. Little did I know that my body was not on the same page.

As the pandemic overtook the globe, gyms closed, and my focus shifted to home workouts that would help me maintain decent muscle mass and stamina. Moving and sweating once or twice a day became the norm. My mat and I saw many a crazy bodyweight workouts in the months when gyms were unavailable. Sometimes I could not even believe the number of repetitions I was performing out of sheer determination not to lose the progress I had made. My hip was calm, with small twinges every now and then but, all in all, very manageable.

Then gyms reopened. A moment that I had awaited for almost a year. In my excitement to be back, I decided to do running intervals on a treadmill to celebrate my ability to run, which had not been accessible to me where I lived. The feeling of triumph from that hour lasted until the evening, when my hip seized up and I could no longer walk on that leg. Walking, sleeping, turning all became impossible. I went from an unbelievable endorphin high to a crushing realisation—the pain I had ignored for months was now back with a vengeance, and could be neglected no longer.

In the past 6 months, it has been a constant companion. What is worse, is that the problem seems to exist in both hips and the left one has begun making itself known in the past couple of months.

It has been established through multiple doctors’ visits and imagery that I have hip impingements, resulting from extra bone growth on my femurs that are grating against the hip bones. This is a morphological problem that many people have, although it remains asymptomatic for some.

Due to my activity levels, this abnormality has become quite apparent and there is no going back now. There are some theories about how this comes about, including how certain forms of physical activity that are done when one is a child, such as dancing or martial arts, can lead to extra bone growth. I did Karate when I was ten years old and my practice lasted five years, and there I found my “moment” to blame.

I found it, but there is no way to address it. My first reaction was to attempt to find something to do to fix it. How do I get better? How do I get back to 100 percent? How am I supposed to deal with the fact that some days I have to limp around just to walk to the kitchen?

Working hard to build my health and body up only to watch it all crumble before my eyes, sledgehammered by the very thing I was building, is so devastating that it knocked the breath out of me. Exercise is my safe haven. It brings me happiness and peace, clears my head of anxiety, and keeps the depression at bay. So what do I do now?

First, I told myself that I have face the facts and accept my reality—I am injured and have to live accordingly. Limit exercise, seek experts’ opinions, and get on the path to healing no matter how long it is.

Second, refocus my efforts on other hobbies that had been neglected, like writing and painting. They can be just as liberating as exercise and they help keep the increasing darkness at bay.

Third, and most importantly, I need to keep screaming in my head: Give yourself a break!

In everything I do I go all in. Such is my nature and it has served me well over the years, but in this case, “all in” can be a dangerous mantra. Sometimes I need to be “all out”. I need the time to do nothing and feel nothing. When the pain takes over, no movement, thought, or healing effort will get me anywhere. Waiting and letting it subside is the way to go. Saying that I cannot and will not move off the bed today is okay. I can still write and knit, but I will not put in any other effort because I simply cannot, and pushing myself will only make things worse.

This has been a learning process, and I am not out of the woods yet, but I am getting myself there. One limping step at a time.

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