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How to Deal with Injuries and Setbacks

Posted on 02 May 2017

How to Deal with Injuries and Setbacks

Whether you are a competitive athlete or weekend warrior fitting in exercise around a busy lifestyle to stay fit and healthy, there will be a time you will face up against a setback. This could be an injury, illness, stress or personal loss and it will have a tremendous impact on your training. In this article I will share what I learnt by having to face up to one such setback.

To put this in context, a year ago I had a freak accident during a workout – I fell from a 10ft bar whilst doing some gymnastics and in a split second my world had changed. My priorities shifted. I went from enjoying training hard in the gym working on the tail end of a cutting phase for my first weightlifting competition and working hard at my job on an exciting new project to relying on my family and friends to help me do the simplest of tasks. From getting dressed to cutting up my food I needed help due to a dislocated knuckle and an injury that caused me nerve pain.

This was my first experience of a serious injury. The knuckle of my index finger of my left hand had ended up on the other side of my hand causing a deep cut on my palm. The top pictures show the dislocation injury. The muscles in my lower back on the left side seized up as it took the brunt of the impact from the fall. The bottom pictures show the lean this caused to my posture as the muscles had spasmed and contracted. I’m not just standing in a slouched position! I’ve added a blue line in the pictures to show the lean. The muscles seized up to protect my body but it was so severe it compressed on a nerve which was agonising and limited my range of movement.  I had an amazing Osteopath to help with the recovery of my back.


However, my hand had difficulties recovering from the cut as an over granulation lump started to grow out of it – I named it Ripley as it looked like an alien!! This was a very frustrating time as I tried several times to get help and support for this lump but help was not very forthcoming! I was told by professionals more than once that I might now have a lump on my hand for the rest of my life! Thoughts crossed my mind “How am I supposed to hold a barbell or hold onto the bar for gymnastic ever again?!” It was a rollercoaster ride for sure with times of celebration in my recovery and scary moments too. I am pleased to say that after 3 months I was able to return to full training although I had to build back up slowly. Despite missing so many months of full training at the level of fitness I was at before injury, I qualified for and competed at the English Weightlifting Championships and achieved PBs for both my Clean and Jerk and Snatch during training post injury. I’ve wanted to get into weightlifting for a while, so having to pull out of my first competition which was only a matter of weeks after my accident was difficult. But then I made a comeback post injury and far exceeded my own expectations! It just proves that even in the face of adversity you can come out stronger in so many ways and in ways you didn’t think would be possible.

Images: Finger dislocation | Hand the next day | 10 days later visible misalignment caused by injury in lower back.

This wasn’t the only challenge me and my family faced at that time. There were personal stresses and the loss of a loved one to deal with as well. I have learnt a lot by overcoming injury and other difficulties during the past year and I have some key learning points that may help you to overcome your tough times too:

1.  The Modern Day ‘Fight or Flight?‘

The most basic human instinct is survival. This means that when we are threatened our brain will focus on the danger affecting us, magnifying it and blocking out everything else. This is largely due to what you may know as the ‘flight or fight’ response. The body’s automatic nervous system has two opposing states, sympathetic and parasympathetic. The parasympathetic system is what controls the normal operating of the body. The sympathetic nervous system is more commonly known as the ‘flight or fight’ response. In this state the body releases hormones and prepares for imminent danger. In the days of primal man/woman this might have been fleeing a giant beast! The body was prepared via hormonal responses to be able to either run away very fast or stay and fight. Although we don’t have those same primal dangers today, our bodies still respond to stressors with the same response. Today this response can evoke feelings and symptoms of anxiety and worry. The trouble is that once the danger is over and this response kicks in it may well have no rational rhyme or reason for being there. It means that even something that isn’t life-threatening can still evoke this primal response.  When you’re going through difficulties it’s hard to think about anything else. Try and overcome this by reminding yourself of the positives around you, like those who are offering you kindness and support in your time of need. Work on positives thoughts and find ways to ward off the ‘flight or fight’ response if it feels like you might be getting unnecessarily anxious.

2. It’s Temporary

Linking with the first point, when you are going through a struggle time seems to slow down and it can feel like an eternity. It took me 3 months to get back to full fitness and 6 months to truly feel confident in my sport again. But what is 3 or even 6 months in comparison to your whole life! It’s nothing really!!

Being positive is really important but those 3 months really did test me. I wasn’t always smiling but you know what, you dry your tears and keep going knowing that it is temporary. Just keep going knowing better days are coming. You have to feel the lows to appreciate the highs even more when they come and they are coming!

Image: In the Oesto waiting room– very apt quote on the wall


  1. Focus on the “Cans” not the “Cant’s”

    When your circumstances change its time to reevaluate your priorities. I get a great sense of achievement from training so when I couldn’t train as before I found new ways to stay motivated. It’s hard when it feels like everyone around you is smashing workouts and PBs meanwhile you’re pulling out of competitions you’ve been working all year to take part in.

    I found myself getting my sense of achievement from somewhere else, PBs on my recovery journey. The first time I was able to get myself up unassisted, the first time I lifted an empty barbell and the first time I was able to hold onto the rig and do a pull up were all big milestones and I celebrated each one of them! It’s so important to focus on what you can do. Not what you can’t or what you are missing out on. It is what it is, and focusing on the negative isn’t going to help.

    Set yourselves some short-term goals to work to towards. Don’t give yourself a hard time, try not to judge from where you were and give yourself credit every time you progress in the right direction.

    4. Not Everyone Will Get it

    The support from my friends and family was amazing. But I did realise something during this time. Not everyone will understand what you are going through. It’s hard to put into words what it is like when times are tough and even harder to imagine what it’s like to go through if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Not in a million years would I have known what it would have been like to have my injuries until they actually happened to me. So you can’t expect everyone else to know what it’s like. Everyone’s unique and deals with things differently also. So even if someone has experienced something similar they may well deal with it very differently to you.

    The fact is, it doesn’t matter if someone understands or not. Appreciate every little thing that the people around you do, the message they send to see how you’re getting on, the small gesture that helps you on your recovery and the things that just make you smile. The people around you will have their own challenges going on that you might not understand or even know about so learn to expect nothing and appreciate everything.

    5. Opportunity for Growth

I was extremely lucky to not have more serious injuries and took this as a bit of a wake up call to not take anything for granted. It gave me some perspective on what is important. Positives and opportunities that came out of my injuries:


  • I found it was a good time to do the things I never have time for, find new hobbies and reconnect with friends.
  • Bad training days didn’t seem all that bad anymore because at least I could train. I appreciated my health and fitness more than ever before.
  • When I was up to it I could spend more time mastering the basics of my training, focusing on my movement and efficiency rather than the weight or the volume, which has had a positive impact on my performance.
  • A reminder that life can change in an instant. Following the difficulties my husband and I booked that dream holiday we always talked about – time is not guaranteed so make the most of it while you can!


Life happens and it’s not always going to go your way. But that’s not to say you can’t make the best of it. When it’s hard to see the positives, be persistent and use the experiences to appreciate the good and focus your attention to creating your own positives.  

Milestones from my journey (order left to right).

Top left - Day 1 of the accident
Bottom right- @repitoutUK where I truly felt like I was back!

Written by Stephanie Knapp


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