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Just days ago, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement from the NFL. His reason for departing was reportedly a cycle of constant injuries and rehabilitation that have held him back from living his best life and loving the game of football, too.
On the subject of his retirement, Luck was quoted saying, "I haven't been able to live the life I want to live. It's taken the joy out of this game ... the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football.”
For a professional athlete, a career-ending decision such as this one comes with both a physical and emotional toll.
Luck has said, "It's been four years of this pain, rehab cycle. It's a myriad of issues -- calf strain, posterior ankle impingement, high ankle sprain. Part of my journey going forward will be figuring out how to feel better.''
The truth is that whether you’re a pro athlete, weekend player or high school all-star, injuries can be a major setback to your whole health.
You may first come to a physical therapist like Sheila Klausner for treatment of a physical ailment, like a strained muscle or torn ligament. But Klausner quickly makes it clear she’s treating you as a whole person, not a knee or an ankle.
“I try to engage with them about things that are important to them, whether it’s participating in sports, completing a full workday or being able to pick up their children,” says Klausner, a physical therapist at AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab. “You want them to know as quickly as possible that they’re being treated as a whole patient.”
She uses what she’s learned later on, both to guide day-to-day physical therapy sessions and to set long-term treatment goals.
Physical therapists help their patients heal from physical trauma, but they also know how an injury can affect every part of a person’s life. That could include a loss of independence, mood changes and even challenges to a person’s basic identity.
“A lot of times people don’t realize a simple injury can have such a profound impact on total quality of life,” she says. “The most important point is that we treat the whole person, in body, mind and spirit.”
Finding New Outlets
Though an injury can take you out of your game, it doesn’t mean you have to stay on the sidelines. A physical therapist’s toolkit is uniquely suited to addressing pain caused by injuries with a whole-person approach.
Staying active is both a stress management tool and a way to help your body heal.
“I brainstorm with patients to find alternative outlets for stress management,” Klausner says. “A person with a leg injury can use an arm bike, and someone with an arm injury can walk more.”
Often, reducing or eliminating pain is a key goal of treatment.
“Exercise is our first approach because the body can trigger its own natural endorphins,” she says. Proper nutrition can fortify the body and mind, too, and spirituality can help us gain perspective and keep a positive frame of mind.
Klausner can refer patients to another provider, like a nutritionist or a stress counselor, to help address other aspects of their health.
She prefers these three domains — exercise, nutrition and spirituality — but medication is appropriate in some cases. (To read about how exercise can reduce stress, check out our post.)
It’s also important to keep up our connections with friends. Missing out on the camaraderie that comes with being on a team or having a running group can be painful. But it’s possible to meet these needs for human connection in other ways, such as by hanging out with the team after a game.
Other coping strategies such as prayer, meditation and journaling can help people stay in the present instead of worrying about the future, Klausner says.
Getting Back on Track
It sometimes takes an injury to remind people how central physical activity is to other parts of their life.
“Many patients tell me they don’t sleep or think as well and they’re just so out of the groove of their normal activities,” Klausner says.
One reason it’s so important to maintain a healthy attitude after an injury is that recovery comes faster when people are goal-oriented.
“Goal setting, both short-term and long-term, is very helpful,” she says. Active participation in one’s own recovery, especially through repetition of movement, is another crucial requirement.
“We’re retraining the brain, and given time and repetition it will re-learn movements, strength and function,” Klausner says.
As she repeatedly sees a patient, Klausner builds the trust needed to work through the sometimes painful process of recovery.
“I find that when I can establish a trusting relationship with my patients, they’re going to put their guard down and I can stretch them easier and help them strengthen more,” she says. “We always respect everyone’s boundaries and tolerance for pain.”
Ultimately, that trust helps the patient meet their rehab goals more quickly.
What these goals look like specifically varies from person to person. Klausner collaborates with patients to decide what recovery means to each person based on their quality of life.
In other words, she asks, “Are you back to doing what you want to do and need to do?” she says.
At AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab, a multidisciplinary team supports you physically, emotionally and spiritually in the journey of recovery. With 19 locations throughout Central Florida, a physical therapist is never far from home.