Tag Archives: Nadal

Wrist injury

Wrist injury for Nadal

Wrist injuryThe wrist injury for Nadal has been heavily reported in the media. This must be immeasurably disappointing for Nadal, who has suffered with a catalogue of problems over the years, as he seeks to overcome the pain and injury.

Playing sport at this level means that your body is your business. I am going to qualify the term ‘body’ for it is important to consider the body as part of the whole and is in no way separate from the concept of mind — we are our mind; we are our body; the unification has no beginning or end, just emerging as ‘me’, the self.

As we know, to play top flight sport requires immense fitness that necessitates training that blends with that of technique. Nadal has always played an extremely physical game, which is his style, his tennis character or persona. From the first step onto court until the final stroke, physicality predominates but the notion of physicality is not only in the muscular frame, but emerging from the man himself. We can see his body move, but it is he, the man who moves and lives that experience. The point here is that a body does not move in isolation from who we are, what we think and feel emotionally. This factor starts to provide some insight into how we must approach recovery from injury, especially when there are a string of injuries that can appear to be unrelated. I would argue against this, suggesting that there is a commonality in the way we respond to injury and how this governs the recovery.

The way we respond to injury and pain (the two are unreliably related) is individual and dependent upon our beliefs and what we think according to what has happened before. If I believe that pain is related to tissue damage, still the predominant thinking, then I will act in a particular way, and if I know that pain is a normal part of a protective response related to the level of predicted and perceived threat, I will act in another. This highlights the importance of the person understanding their pain to get the best outcome.

When an athlete or a non-athlete suffers on-going injuries or repeated injuries, even in different body locations, one must consider why this is happening and why they are not fully recovering despite their apparent health. One could also ponder on the question of whether they are as healthy as they can be? Chronic stress, where the person consistently perceives threat thereby feeling anxious and tense, changes our chemistry as we operate in survive mode. This does not allow for the most effective healing process as our resources are diverted elsewhere. The athlete in a stressed mode who then sustains an injury will have a different response to the athlete who feels empowered, who is in control and has a high level of resilience at the moment of injury. This is why looking at the whole context of the injury is so vital as important influences and vulnerabilities can be overlooked. Understanding these means that the person and the team can fully address the problem.

Priming or kindling is a good way to think about persistent injuries or the string of injuries scenario. An initial sensitisation is a learning experience for the systems that protect us, meaning that it has a bearing upon the next injury or pain and so on. A string of injuries suggests that a vulnerability has arisen, often due to the prior recoveries not reaching full resolution; i.e./ there remains a perceived threat and on-going protection. In this situation, a further injury, either actual or potential, creates a context for the body systems that protect us to kick in, emerging as pain, altered body sense and movement, a story that we tell ourselves, all unifying to create a change in the sense of self, and not one that is congruent with desired performance outcomes.

The story of a player or athlete being plagued by on-going problems is common in sport as they patch up one area after another. Investigations, treatments, injections etc etc., yet not fully shifting from protect mode to health mode. This must be at the heart of a rehabilitation and recovery programme — the person must get better as a unified experience. I must feel myself again, which means that I am the performance, I am the shot I play rather than over-thinking to anticipating or focusing on another factor that interferes and distracts me from what I am doing.

In summary, completeness of recovery is key and this begins with understanding pain and its poor relationship with injury before creating the right conditions in thought and action. The programme must include threat reducing experiences including the way we think, how we attribute sensations, what we tell ourselves, redefining precise body sense (where I am in space and how I move in relation to the environment) and movements to say the least. Maintaining the desired outcome in mind, remembering that you are your mind (it is not just behind your eyes) and that some of your thinking is done with your body and its movements, both motivates and allows one to question if you are heading towards this or being distracted. Learn and take every opportunity to be on the path of change towards this desired outcome, persevere and dare to be great at what you are doing.

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Greatness, smoothness & injury

In response to @simonrbriggs excellent article in the Telegraph (see here) contrasting Federer and Nadal in respect of their physical longevity on the court, I wanted to agree with Simon’s subsequent tweet about the many factors involved with an injury — the line I frequently quote being: ‘no injury happens in isolation’. Whilst I am no tennis expert, I understand that these two masters have very different approaches on the court that define their games. The wicket is more familiar territory, and I would equate this observation to the games of Tendulkar versus Gilchrist. Both masters of the willow, yet styles that illustrate very different means and modes of dominating the ball. 

Sport enthusiasts and pundits alike gush with awe at the ease with which a stroke player caresses the ball. The expert appears to have all the time in the world to position themselves in perfect balance, to be able to effortlessly time the touch, and send the ball at a speed that is vastly out of proportion to the effort applied. Federer fits this mould, and whilst he undoubtedly trains to be fit and strong, he has a technique that is so efficient and so thoughtless that he can focus entirely upon the whole game as if viewing from a point up above. And to take nothing away from the skill of Nadal, his explosive force delivers excitement as he thunderously strides across the court in Zeus-like fashion. As Simon points out, if Nadal were to maintain a physical wellness, his dominance would surely prevail. Who you would most like to be conqueror would then be down to a preferred style, and we love to talk about style.

Returning to the construct of injury that is always embedded within a context and never in isolation to a range of factors that create a situation — no injury happens in isolation. The meaning of an injury is tantamount, and certainly impacts upon the intensity of pain. Cast your memory back to Messi believing that his career was over after he collided with the goalkeeper. He had merely bruised his knee yet the pain was so intense he had to be carried from the field of play in hushed silence.  A violinist who cuts his left index finger will suffer more pain than if I slice the skin on my same digit. There is a different meaning attached to his finger, even with a paper cut. 

Whilst both Federer and Nadal will be accustomed to the pain of hard training and playing, the pain of injury is different. The way we think about the pain at the time of injury sets up the on-going responses and how we chose to behave — it is not the injury itself, but the way we think that counts. Spraining an ankle usually means limping, and this is a sensible behaviour as partial weight-bearing reduces the strain through healing tissues, and is more comfortable. When we know that all is well, in other words that the injury is healing normally (and this is meant to hurt, however unpleasant or inconvenient), there is an acceptance of the necessary steps back to normal movement and activities. The early messages after an injury then, are vital to set up a positive route forward. Excessive fear, anxiety and incorrect messages at the start can set up a pathway of obstacles to recovery. 

Drawing together the smoothness of action that interweaves with other characteristics that construe the greatness of Federer: the technical self-efficacy, rehearsed movements that require no conscious processing and a baseline of fitness and mobility, all of which create a context that minimises the risk of injury. The sublime control, gliding easily across the surface and a ‘oneness’ with the occasion offers only the smallest opportunity for breakdown that most can only dream of, including Nadal whose vigorous assault upon ball and opponents opens the door for stress and strain to emerge, persist and potentially dominate.

Whilst we can swoon over the masters of any game, the vast majority of us play amateur sport. At the level of the masses, I always feel that the risks of injury are outweighed by the benefits of participation — physical fitness, the offsetting of cardiovascular disease, the cathartic outlay against stress and of course the social element (after the game: the 19th, the clubhouse, the curry house…). Equally, whilst the professionals are honing their skills and prowess, amateurs spend a great deal of time around their occupations and families to improve on the fields and courts, imagining achievements on the great meadows of Lords and Wimbledon. I too dream and envision, but returning to diminishing the risk of injury, as the principle is the same whether pro or amateur. And there is no reason why the latter should not acquire the same knowledge and receive the same principled care.

One of the first actions I take is to ensure that the injured person’s knowledge and thinking are in alignment with what we know about pain and healing, and that their choices of behaviour always take them toward and not away from recovery, no matter the start point.  My fundamental belief in our ability to change pain drives my over-arching mission to deliver pain education to all. Understanding pain will inform positive and healthy actions across the board from professional athletes to children to stakeholders (more on this in subsequent blogs). 

Recovering from an injury is straight forward. Most of the problems arise from the wrong early messages and a desire to move on faster than the healing process, thereby disrupting mechanisms that have inherent intelligence. We literally get in the way of our own recovery. We are the problem, yet the injury is blamed. Know the injury, know the pain, know the time line and know the action to take. Simple. One of the issues that Nadal may suffer, as do many professionals, is the rapid return after injury without full recovery, or a lack of time for the body to adapt. This latter problem disrupts the balance of breakdown and rebuild that is constant in the body. Tipping towards breakdown, inflammation persists and causes persistent sensitivity, even at a low level. This manifests as the on-going niggles, gradually becoming more widespread as time progresses and often without an obvious injury. Familiar? Perfectly solvable when you know how and respect the time lines of healing and recovery. Time is money some may argue, but then stepping back and thinking about the longevity of a career provides a different perspective. Deal with this bout of aches and pains completely and create the opportunity for more years of competing as opposed to the stop-start, partial recovery that affects performance and confidence, the two being utterly related. Over-thinking movement and lacking confidence both affect quality of movement — manifesting as the yips in some cases. Is Nadal smashing his way through because he fears that one day he will finally breakdown? Only he knows. Feeder on the other hand as we have seen, has a smooth style that glides him across the courts of the world. 

In summary, to look at the differing styles of play that define Federer and Nadal, it is clear that the smooth approach taken by the former has played a role in his longevity in terms of fitness (lack of injury) and success, the two being related. Simply, the more games you are able to play without a physical hinderance or even the thought that you may have a physical hinderance, for mere thinking affects the way we move, the greater the opportunity for winning titles. So surely, the planning of any athlete’s training and career must consider the ways in which maximum participation can be balanced with time required to adapt and recover. This is the same for both the professional and the amateur athlete, beginning by understanding pain and injury.