Are you hurt or are you injured?
There is a difference but it is not always easy to discern. Playing hurt is part of being an athlete. Aches, pains, and soreness are all part of being a division 1 athlete. When camp starts my teammates and I feel great, but as the season progresses we are constantly managing nagging pain. From lingering knots in the calves to unbearably tight hamstrings, the mental aspect of pushing through the next practice or next lift challenges us every day.
We are six games into the season and there has been some strong pushback from my body recently. Given I have been hunched over a field hockey stick for nearly 12 years of my life, I suppose it’s no surprise. For as long as I have been playing field hockey, I’ve had a lingering pain in my upper right back. I had always thought it was simply a knot or tightness resulting from playing my sport. Sometimes the pain would be so sharp it would shoot up my neck. From a young age I was taught to walk things off, to “take ibuprofen and ice it”. For the past four years playing division 1 field hockey, I have done my best to manage the aches and pains – from asking my dad to massage the spot to even digging my field hockey stick into it as hard as I could. After some discomfort during camp this fall, I decided to finally get it checked out by a trainer. Recent discovery: my sixth rib in the right of my back is out of place. The news was really interesting; I was shocked and relieved simultaneously. I finally had an answer for this nagging pain and I could begin to manage it. The muscles in the area were compensating for the misplaced rib, causing the tissue to be extremely tight. Recent treatments with the team’s athletic trainer include muscle energy exercises, manipulations, and cupping – all of which are extremely painful. The rib is being understandably stubborn, as it had found a new home and been there for years.
The point is this – I have felt this pain for most of my field hockey career and I've found ways to block it out or manage it. I have never once stopped playing, practicing or working out because of pain. It is important to know your body and understand the difference between pain and injury. The trainer asked me if it hurts when I play and my answer was simple – after the play is over I notice it, but while I am playing, and in the moment, I feel nothing. Only a few things matter: the ball, my team and the game. Once you understand that something just simply hurts, you can block out the pain and the accompanying reaction to stop. The desire to compete and play the sport I love has always masked any pain I felt. It is important to know your body as I do not recommend pushing through an injury, but I do believe in being tough. Playing with nagging aches and pains, running on fatigued legs, and lifting with sore muscles is part of being a collegiate athlete. Trust the trainers – they are working hard to do everything they can to keep you on the field. Girls on my team are in the training room every day doing rehab and getting treatment. We are all in it together; we are holding each other’s hands during dry needling, trading calf massages for back massages, and cheering each other on when we are hurting the most.