3 tips for what to do about an unexpected injury

On January 1st, 2023, as I do every day, I took myself and my dog Sam out for our morning walk. The temperatures here in Minneapolis had been fluctuating and we’d gotten a lot of snow in a few days. The end result was that the sidewalks had frosted over and gotten VERY slippery. 

As I was walking, I wasn’t paying close attention to where I was walking. I had gotten overly confident about my ability to stay upright. I have been doing lots of core exercises, and for the first time in my life, I feel really comfortable in my body. That’s been hard earned. It feels good. 

The bummer is that physical confidence and core strength can’t protect against slippery ice every single time. 

Big ice slip

Before I knew it, I felt my new Sorel boots slip. Nothing I could do was going to stop me from falling all the way down to the ground. Luckily the training I got from Coach Nicole Freedman, Olympic cyclist and my first and only cycling coach, was ingrained in me. In a fraction of a second, my whole body relaxed. 

Where the tibia is located!

I hit the ground HARD. And as I hit, I didn’t tense up. I knew from the trauma training I’ve done, not to immediately get up. Instead, I stayed on my back on the ice and I yelled. I screamed at the top of my lungs all the swear words I could think of. I held my elbow above my body and I noticed that both my elbow and my knee area hurt. 

Relax as you fall – fewer breaks

A few years ago, I broke my left ankle, twice. One time I was out walking my dog. The next time, I was out doing an early spring run. Both times when I fell I knew immediately a bone had broken. I could feel it, and both times I heard a break.

On this New Year’s Day fall on the ice, as I allowed myself to lay on the ice, I was fairly certain nothing had broken. I let myself tune into my body and just feel. After almost five minutes I finally felt sure enough to attempt to stand up. 

Sam was still on the leash, and he had come over to see what was going on with me. He wasn’t too worried. He just waited for me to get going on the walk. He does love our twice a day walks. 

I slowly got up, being extra careful about the extensive slick sheet of ice covering at least 15 feet of sidewalk, edge to edge. As I made my way to standing, I berated myself for not noticing the expansive stretch of ice. I promised myself for the rest of this winter, I would pay close attention to the ice on the sidewalks when out walking. I’ve kept that promise, so far! Winter in Minnesota lasts a LONG time. 

Slowly up and moving again

I slowly started walking again and nothing creaked and no sharp pains. I figured I was likely okay. Sam and I finished our walk, albeit I forced us to move at a much more sedate pace.

Nothing swollen, keep moving

Upon our arrival home I checked my knee and elbow and given the many layers of clothing I was wearing, no skin had broken. Thankfully, nothing was swelling either. I made the decision to meet my friend Monica for our New Year’s Day cross country ski adventure.

We skied 5 miles, and while things ached a bit, nothing horrible. Then for the next two weeks, I kept running on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Plus I added a few HIIT, Chisel and Pumped classes at the YWCA, since I rejoined for the next few months. Of course, I kept walking Sam twice a day. 

More knee area pain

Then, on January 12th, at my regular Tuesday run, I noticed my knee area hurt for nearly the entire 4.75 mile run. Not enough that I complained out loud about it. I simply noticed it. My knee area still wasn’t swollen, which I figured was a good sign. I proceeded to run again on Thursday morning, just 3 miles at Interval Running. Again, the knee area really hurt. Still no swelling. I was a bit baffled. And WORRIED. 

Grandma’s Marathon in my future, what to do

I signed up, as in – I paid my money – for Grandma’s Marathon on June 17, 2023. This means LONG runs are in my future. I intend to finish the marathon in as close to five or five and a half hours as I possibly can. That means I need and want to run three to four days a week, plus continue to build my strength. Plus cross train with swimming and biking. 

My hope is to be physically able to do ALL that running with as little pain as possible. Additionally, I don’t want to tear any ligaments, tendons or tissues. I’ve never had knee issues, and I don’t want to start now. 

How to figure out what was wrong

On Friday, January 13th, I went in for a massage with my wonderful massage therapist Sarah Gannett, who knows quite a bit about athletes and sports injuries. I told her about my ice fall on January 1, and that I had gone a week and a half with nearly no pain and that over the past few days a slight bruise had begun to appear and my lower knee area was hurting during my recent runs and walks. 

Sarah probed around and her analysis was that when I fell I had bruised the top of my tibia bone. I didn’t know it was possible to bruise a bone. Turns out, yes indeed that is possible. 

She suspected that because I did not rest the bone, it took a while, but the bruised bone didn’t heal. Instead it got worse. She encouraged me to take at least a week off from running. The pounding on the pavement (or gym floor for intervals on Thursdays) wouldn’t allow the bone bruise to heal itself. She also strongly encouraged me to ice the area and elevate as much as possible. 

Ice and elevation

I canceled my upcoming runs. Instead of doing a long run the next day on Saturday, as I usually do on Saturdays, I went to the pool and swam. The next day I rode my bike trainer. Both these activities seemed not to invoke more knee pain. 

The emotions and uncertainty that hit me like a ton of bricks took me off guard. I knew that running had become important to me, but as is often the case, it’s not until something is taken away that we realize how central something has become in our life. 

Grateful I can still walk and feel my emotions as I walk. This snow bug helps!

Since I wasn’t running, I had time to reflect. 

Here are my 3 tips about what to do with an unexpected injury

  1. Feel the emotional feels 

I was surprised about the level of emotions that hit me when I needed to take a break from running. I was sad, angry, massively disappointed, worried, and panicked. The emotions hit me all at once and one by one. Emotions are like that, they jumble and seem to attack. 

I did lots and lots of deep breathing. I kept talking to myself. Reminding my younger selves that I was safe now as an adult, and feeling EVERY emotion was safe and allowed. I confess, I cried quite a few tears. As I continued to walk with Sam, I let myself, as I walked very carefully, feel the anger, the disappointment, whatever wanted to express, as I walked. A few times, I threw a snowball and yelled, quietly, so as not to startle nearby walkers. 

Letting the emotions have space, full space and expression, lets them clear out more quickly. As many wise people have stated, it’s much better to move through emotions, not avoid them. Avoiding and pushing aside big emotions like disappointment, anger, sadness, causes major health problems. The very last thing I need. 

It’s not easy to allow difficult emotions to have space. It’s taken a lot of therapy sessions for me to finally learn how to slow down and allow.

  1. Get help

There are several kinds of help to seek. For me, I for sure talked with my therapist about the emotions I was going through. 

Secondly, I reminded myself that I have excellent health insurance. Thank you University of Minnesota. I found the orthopedic surgeon who helped me when I broke my ankle the first time. I remembered that he had been a knee doctor first. I’ve scheduled an appointment with him for Tuesday the 24th of January. I’m going in to get verification that my knee is okay, that nothing is torn or fractured. I’m going to see if he has any suggestions for how to proceed. 

Third, I keep reminding myself that it’s okay to tell people what I’m going through. I can do that in a way that isn’t whining. I can allow people to support me. I can let myself feel the support and belonging. It catches me off guard to remember that I am connected and that people care how I’m doing. 

  1. Stay connected

I run with other people three times a week. I’ve been doing that for more than a year. What that means is that a huge amount of my social connectedness comes from the running community. When those three times a week connections go away due to a bruised tibia bone, my social connections went down the drain. 

As you know, I’m not married, I have no children, and I have nearly zero contact with my biological family, so social connections with friends matters to me. Having that go spinning down the drain is rough. 

I took lots of deep breaths and again talked to myself. “Mari, you have SO many friends. Reach out to them. Do other things. Set up pool walking with Monica. Go to the movies with Monica. Go to your Warrior Scribes writing group. Breath into ALL the connections you have.”

Friends make healing easier!

There you have it!

Since I stopped running, I can tell my knee area is healing. The continuous icing, the plant based diet I eat, along with taking The Great Mender Tea Pills I’ve been taking – all of it is helping my knee area to heal up. After all, I’m in it for the Long Run!

I won’t be doing a 10-mile run in January, and letting that goal go is difficult, and I can do it. There will be lots of 10-mile runs in my near future. 

Thanks for reading and have you survived an injury? How do you handle it? I really appreciate your comments and your shared storytelling. We can learn so much from one another. 

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5 thoughts on “3 tips for what to do about an unexpected injury”

  1. You have many friends Mari and more than a few view you as family so reach out always!! Second thing I know is nothing keeps you down or stops you from any recovery. You come back stronger with each setback. Third thing I know is you’ve been an inspiration to so many that you will get a plethora of pep talks from all. Fourth the love and compassion and heart with which you’ve reached so many will shine incredibly good karma on you.

    • Oh Larry, isn’t is fascinating how many of us need pep talks when the going gets tough. You’ve been in my thoughts with your recovery. You are a shining star to so many! Thank you for your reminders and super kind words!!!

  2. Hi Mari, Since 2019 I’ve had 5 knee surgeries and on Jan 3rd a hip surgery. I’ve run long distance since 2001 and completed over 100 marathons and ultras – its a huge mental health piece for me!!! Each time Im injured my attitude is “whatever it takes!” and “what can I do?” I read running books, complete daily PT exercises and follow the protocol from my orthopedic surgeon. I watch videos of races I look forward to. Call a friend or meet for coffee. Remember, running is always waiting and you have ample time to figure this out with your dr and prep for Grandma’s! Good Luck!

    • Kelly,
      HUGE thank you for telling me about your knee surgeries and recent hip surgery and all your successful recoveries!!! You just made my day! Plus I love, love, love your healing strategies. I love the idea of watching running movies/videos. Like you, I’m a very dedicated PT exerciser!You are totally right, running is waiting for me, as it waits for all of us!
      You’re awesome!!!

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