Working Out: Don't take it for granted
Exercise is key to enjoying a healthy lifestyle. However, exercising incorrectly, or overworking various parts of the body, can lead to serious injury. As a college athlete, I know about this all too well. I have learned the hard way that I need to listen to my body and take care of small aches and pains before they become serious problems.
On the first day of my college freshman year volleyball preseason, I tore my labrum in my right hip as a result of overuse and not properly treating previous, less severe, injuries. Surgery was required to reattach the labrum, which meant nearly 8 months of non-strenuous physical activity post surgery! This is torture for someone who works out daily. On the upside, it was eye opening. I confronted what not exercising can do to one's brain and behavior. I'm not sure which was worse, the physical or mental challenge of being benched.
Exercise is more than a physical release.
I've always understood that exercising regularly reduces the risk for developing many dangerous diseases including heart disease and diabetes.
What I didn't realize is that aerobic exercise plays a large role in the improvement of one’s overall mood and cognitive function (van Praag et al., 2014). There are various circuits in our brains that affect the way we focus, regulate our emotions, and even in the way we carry ourselves on a daily basis. Exercising allows for the proper functioning of these circuits in the brain, and can stave off emotional disorders like depression. Exercise can even improve cognitive function. Working out doesn’t just make you look good; it makes you feel good. Not exercising and/or not being able to exercise because of an injury diminish focus and even dampen one's mood, among many other effects. It did for me, big time.
Wrong turns on the injury road. My story.
I have been playing volleyball for ten years. As I walked onto the field for my first day of preseason play during my freshman year of college, I immediately felt my nagging hip injury. I have a history of injuries. I have sprained my right ankle more times than I can count, pulled my right quad three times, tore my quad once, and pulled my right hip flexor twice. The most recent hip flexor pull was a mere two weeks before the first day of my college career. And now I had to acknowledge that I wasn't fully healed. Day #1 of preseason always begins with a sprint test. After about five of the sixteen sprints, I felt a pop in my hip right just as I crossed the line to get back into my starting position. I ignored it and completed the sixteen sprints. Mistake. I discovered later that I had fully torn my hip labrum and that I would need surgery if I planned on playing ball in college.
The labrum is a ring of cartilage
that surrounds the rim of the hip socket, which aids in keeping the thighbone in the proper position within the hip socket. In my case, the labral tear was due to overuse and an abnormally shaped thighbone
. Instead of being shaped like a ball, the top of my thighbone was shaped like a square. Overuse led to the corners of my bone eventually grinding down the majority of my cartilage. My surgery was less invasive than a full hip replacement
. The surgeon repaired my cartilage within my hip socket and performed a femoroplasty (reshaping of the hip bone). However, the recovery time for my surgery was about as long as a full replacement, and MUCH longer than I would have liked.
Healing isn't easy. It's a mental battle.
Even once I was healed, I had to avoid any sort of high intensity exercise for about 8 months. I was totally unprepared for what I experienced mentally during this time. Until this point, I was ignorant as to how much of an effect exercise had on my personality and mood. I went from loud and happy-go-lucky to reserved and often quiet. In addition to these changes, I experienced a loss of focus, minor bouts of depression, and often, emotional dysregulation especially during stressful academic periods. Those around me noticed that something was "off."
Once the 8 months passed and I was able to enjoy my sport and fully participate in all activities, I suddenly began to feel like myself. My focus and drive both improved as measured by an increase in my GPA. It took me several months to understand the impact this injury had on my life -- beyond the sweat. Exercise, movement, sports and the like--these are important to my mental wellbeing...I'd say even necessary.
Take it from me
The moral of this story? LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If something hurts, take care of it early with physical therapy, rest, or any other remedy that will prevent further injury. Your body never lies! It is also important to strengthen the muscles that surround areas that have been injured in the past to prevent future injuries in either the same spot or other areas. Take preventative measures. Be smart about workouts. I made changes and they made a difference.
There are no "do overs"
I often wonder if there was any way I could have prevented my injury. Overuse and my abnormally shaped thighbone were the official causes. However, I know for a fact that if I had listened to my body early on and taken better care of my hip flexor in the weeks leading up to the first day of my preseason, I most likely would not have suffered as severe of an injury. Today, I am running, jumping, lifting, and playing volleyball at almost 80% of the way I was before my injury. Miles and miles of progress have been covered, but I still have a few more miles to go! This hip injury was the biggest learning experience of my college career and it has taught me the importance of maintaining physical health in order to maintain my mental health.
Editor's Note: Michaela Dews wrote this piece while interning for Athletic-Minded Traveler. Michaela continues to maintain an extremely active lifestyle while pursuing her lifelong dream of joining the medical field.
SOURCES: Van Praag, Henriette, Monika Fleshner, Michael W Schwartz, and Mark P Mattson. "Exercise, Energy Intake, Glucose Homeostasis, and the Brain." The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 34.46 (2014): 15139-49. Print.