How to Deal with an (ACL) Injury, Mindfully
It’s one of the injuries most athletes are afraid of — tearing the ACL. It comes with a long recovery and always a remaining higher chance of re-injuring it again. But shit happens, and I ripped mine including the meniscus, a few weeks ago at the Berlin Open Lacrosse tournament while playing for the German National Team Development Squad.
I jumped to intercept an outlet pass and while landing a knee bumped into mine, causing it to hyperextend to the left. Feeling a quick, sharp pain, I fell to the ground and immediately knew that something happened in my knee. Weirdly, it quickly stopped hurting when I put some ice on it, and surprisingly, I could also walk. But the team’s sports doc ruled me out from further play due to suspicion for some stretched or torn ligaments.
There I was watching my buddies trying out for the German National Team. And all I could do was to put my knee up so it wouldn’t become enormously big due to blood inflow.
The first day after that happened, I was quite angry with me. Thoughts were running through my head. Why did I jump and intercepted instead of checking the opponent expecting the ball? Why me? Why now?
Being reflective on the journey back home later that day, I realized something:
I couldn’t change the fact that I twisted my knee. All I could control now was to get a specific diagnosis through an MRT. And after that happened, I could focus on the best way to fully recover my knee.
Recovery starts with understanding you are injured. As simple as that.
So, the Monday I went to see my sports doctor, who then send me to an orthopedist. Funnily, both suspected an ACL injury for unlikely but were not 100% sure. I then got a quick MRT appointment scheduled for Thursday. With a knee brace and good hope that I would be clear about what happened by the end of the week, I kept working.
After all, biking felt fine. And one possible best-case diagnosis could still be a stretched tendon.
The MRT showed the truth: nothing left of my ACL, plus my Innermeniscus seemed to have ripped as well. I was bummed out. But then I tried to be mindful and focused on what I could control now: finding the best ACL/ Knee surgeon in my hometown.
That is what I did — shooting some messages into my network, looking for recommendations. Out of the two recommended hospitals, I chose the one where a Lacrosse teammate works as an assistant surgeon.
Now, I can entirely focus on the operation on Monday. Afterward, I will focus wholly on recovery, working closely with physiotherapists. At first, it will be focused on range-of-motion, later on gaining back strength while relearning coordination for the knee.
It will take time — but it will be alright.
So what are my takeaways from all this?
Mindfulness helps you deal better with an injury
I love the game of Lacrosse and burn for competing on and improving off the field. Being mindful of the fact that I ripped a tendon that is crucial to Lacrosse helps me accept it.
The key is to acknowledge how you feel about the injury but do not let the feeling consume you. Rather stay in the moment and focus on what you can control right now. Usually, that is visiting the doctor, planning the recovery, and executing it.
By focusing on what you can control, you will be able to deal better with any severe injury.
Don’t trust a preliminary diagnosis for the knee
Between doctor visits, I read a lot about the knee, ACL therapy, and popular operation tactics. I came to realize: the knee is a very complex joint in our body. I doubt one can say with 100% certainty what happened when you twisted your knee without looking inside.
So, wait for the MRT to get a clear picture. And then make plans according to that diagnosis.
After the injury, I told my girlfriend to wait for the MRT until we changed summer plans about going to Portugal. A stretched tendon would probably have meant 3–4 weeks until full recovery. Torn ACL means perhaps a good month since I can adequately walk again and then the real work begins in the form of physiotherapy.
Injuries reconnect you with your body
Once you are injured, you start to treat your body more careful. You begin to appreciate how you were able to move and do sports before the injury. While listening to your body, massaging the affected areas, you might even feel more. Maybe you realize you are generally inflexible as I did.
Inflexibility or missing stability, when paired with stiff muscles, is a recipe for injury. Suffering the injury now helps me to identify the areas that also need work. I know for sure now that I will also focus on muscle fiber massage and stretching in the recovery process to prevent future injuries.
I know this is easy to say. But hear me out — I am on the same journey. Being injured sucks, yes. But look at all the potential upsides: You will have a lot of time to spend. You can start reading more or even consider starting to write about your experiences.
Start a journal, meditate more, call your old friends, learn a new language. All the things that you usually put off, because you keep telling yourself that you don’t have the time.
Sure, you are physically limited. So, Lacrosse is off for a while. But, after some time you can start riding the bike or go swimming. Test that out and let increased blood flow aid your knee recovery.
After all, you control how you respond to your injury. Do you let it wear you down or do you choose to come back stronger?
“What stands in the way becomes the way.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Maybe the injury is a chance to work on other areas of your body and life. Ultimately, making you more resilient in the recovery process.
Accepting circumstances that you can not control and focusing on what you can is the best way of recovering from any injury. Rebalancing your muscles, tendons, and ligaments by physiotherapy, and informing yourself about the topic of your injury is what you can control. And, ultimately, positivity is what paves your way to a full recovery.