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Those Inner Voices Could Be Saying You're Injured

September 14, 1998|CAROL KRUCOFF

When running down a bumpy hill landed me in the emergency room with a severe ankle sprain several years ago, I vowed to do everything possible to avoid getting injured again. Exercise is my daily sanity break--a moving meditation that boosts my mood and strengthens my body--so being injured has all the appeal of prison.

For three years, I stayed injury-free through prevention techniques such as switching from running daily to alternating running with other activities. And when I hit the Big 4-0 in 1994, I became careful to warm up, cool down and stretch. Later that year, I got pneumonia.

It started with a sinus infection that I ignored because I was scheduled to test for my brown belt in karate. I trained hard, passed the strenuous three-hour test, took just one day off, then resumed my regular workouts. My infection got worse, so I started on antibiotics but continued exercising because by then it was Thanksgiving when I look forward to running with a dear friend whom I see just once a year. I couldn't skip that, could I?

By December, I developed a cough that sounded like I needed a lung transplant. I dragged to work, pushed myself to karate class, plodded through my runs.

But my compulsion for exercise led me to mistake my body's pleas for rest as the grumblings of sloth demons. The body, however, doesn't like being ignored. The pneumonia slammed me horizontal, so it took Herculean effort to brush my teeth. My body, no longer whispering, was screaming: Rest!

And I did. Two full weeks of no physical activity. When I began to feel better, I allowed myself just mild exercise--a little yoga, a short walk. A full month later, I finally felt my energy return. Over the ensuing years, I've developed these insights learned through injury:

1. Don't mistake ordinary aches and fatigue with the serious signals of impending injury or illness.

"Never plow through sharp pain or a severe feeling of lethargy," says physical therapist Perry Esterson of Vienna, Va.

2. Pain isn't punishment; it's information. Paying attention to discomfort is the beginning of healing, since you can't solve a problem until you're aware of it.

"Illness can be the big stick that gets our attention, like the one the Zen meditation teacher uses to rap his students with on the back or head when their attention starts to wander," writes physician Dean Ornish in his book "Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease" (Random House, 1990).

3. Let injury or illness be your teacher. Seek medical help to rehabilitate properly and uncover the role your habits or technique played in getting hurt.

4. Respect rest as a critical part of training and healing. Treat yourself with gentleness, and if you become injured or ill, let the experience give you a renewed appreciation for that precious gift we too often take for granted: good health.

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Fitness runs Monday in Health.

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