Written By Reza Mashkoori
The purpose of this article is to help guide athletes into making a successful comeback to CrossFit after being out of the game as a result of a surgery or an injury. Disclaimer: This article is in no way meant to provide healthcare or treatment recommendations and is only an account of my own experiences.
Approximately a year and half ago, I received the news that I had torn the labrum in my left hip and that if I wanted to continue CrossFitting I would require surgery. Initially, I was pretty bummed about missing the 2016 Open and my shot at going back to Regionals, but I eventually convinced myself that it was for the better and booked my surgery date. I wanted to share my experience to hopefully help anyone that is going through something similar.
Once you have determined that you need to get surgery, you will have an appointment with your surgeon. This is a very valuable appointment! They will likely answer any questions you may have about the surgery. Just incase, write down a series of questions covering the entire procedure, that you would like to know. Include questions about pre-op, the surgery and recovery. Knowing exactly what to expect will significantly help you feel comfortable and prepared for the process.
Once you’ve met your surgeon and asked him/her everything you can think of, know your surgery. Research exactly what happens in your surgery. There is lots of content available online regarding common sports surgeries. Knowing what to expect will provide you with valuable information on how to prepare for the surgery and also how to recover from it. I even recommend seeking out a physiotherapist before the surgery and asking them if there is any type of prehab that can be done to help recovery.
There is not much you can do before surgery that is in your control but there are a few things you can focus on:
Keep your joints healthy. Talk to your physiotherapist or surgeon and see what movements you can perform without aggravating the injury. Work within your boundaries before the surgery.
Dial in your nutrition. If you have not already dialed in your nutrition, now is the time to do so! You are likely training less therefore have more time to devote to a nutrition protocol. I recommend the CrossFit prescription of meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar. But if you want to get really serious, the Zone Diet by Dr Barry Sears is an excellent way to keep track of intake (1,2). Not only will dialing in your nutrition help you pre surgery but it can also help your recovery. Further, it can help create better nutrition habits that you can follow for the rest of your life!
Keep your hands clean. The stress of the surgery is likely to put your immune system in a vulnerable state so make sure you are washing your hands! The last thing you want before surgery is to catch a cold or some sort of virus.
Keep your routine. Most athletes often wonder when they should stop training. My surgeon told me I could train right up until the day before surgery but I stopped a few days before my surgery as I wanted my body recovered going into surgery. The last thing I wanted was to be sore post operation.
Prepare your home for surgery. Depending on the surgery, there is a good chance you will be immobile. Make sure you set everything up nice and close. Preparing meals might even help you be less active.
DAY OF SURGERY
Although it may be hard, try to get a good night's rest. Follow any protocols set in place by your surgeon (no food or drinks).
This part is out of your hands, you’ve done everything within your power. At this point, let the medical team do their thing!
The first couple of days will be the hardest. Make sure you are eating well, and staying hydrated. If you were prescribed a cooling unit or medication, use it and take them! You are not a hero if you opt out of taking these meds and deal with the pain. They have been prescribed by a medical professional.
Ask for help. Don’t be stubborn. I remember I was having a hard time getting my sock on at one point and kept trying and it just wasn’t happening. It took me swallowing every ounce of pride I had to ask my wife to help me put them on. Expect this! Especially for the first week.
Use your health team. As soon as you are cleared to see a physiotherapist, go! Most physios will give you several exercises to perform and this list will grow as you get better. Dial in these exercises. If you are like me and have friends who are physiotherapists, have them coach you through the movements as some of the movements are geared towards targeting very specific muscles and it is very helpful to have someone who works in the field watching. If this is not the case for you, make sure you take advantage of your appointments with your physiotherapist. Like surgery, make sure you keep a notebook handy and write your questions down as they come to you and ask your physio everytime you meet with him or her.
Follow CrossFit's charter to intensity. As the days, weeks, and months pass, you will be cleared for increasingly more activity. First dial in the mechanics of your movement, then develop some consistency in your execution, and leave intensity for much later as your start to increase your capacity. Use this charter for everything you do moving forward. Listen to your body and be patient. Listening to your coach and knowing scalable options for movements is also very important. Remember, CrossFit is universally scalable! Take advantage of this unique aspect of the program.
Finally, be prepared to start fresh. Get a new log book and track your progress. Set realistic goals. You will not return to the athlete you were prior to the injury/surgery overnight. It will take lots of time, patience and hardwork. There will be struggles along the way, and it will by no means be easy.
It has been over a year since my surgery and I can safely say I am very close to the athlete I was prior to my injury. My last little bit of advice is be smart, follow your plan and respect it. Be patient and don’t rush back into things, don’t get discouraged, keep your head up, and remind yourself that you will return to the level of fitness you were once at!
Reza is a Co-Owner and Coach at CrossFit NCR in Ottawa, Ontario. He went to the CrossFit Games in 2012 on a team and has qualified for Regionals as an individual every year since. Last year his surgery put him on hiatus from competition – 2018 is his comeback. He is a Certified CrossFit Trainer (CF-L3). He enjoys fishing on his spare time.