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Resilience is one of those new buzzwords. It’s defined as the ability to get up when knocked down – to recover after a defeat and then to come back even stronger. Along with grit, another buzzword, resilience has been shown to be a critical factor in succeeding in work, academics, athletics, and life.
Much of the reason that resilience is felt to be so important is that nothing worthwhile can be done without some difficulty. Things that are important are hard. There will always be challenges, setbacks and costs – financial, time, angst and effort. And to overcome these difficulties, you will need to keep going when the “going gets tough.” We all have heard that “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” The corollary to this is that it is over if you let the fat lady sing. Your resiliency can prevent her from even picking up the mike, let alone belting out a tune.
Why do I mention this on a blog dedicated to sports medicine? Well, because recovering from sports medicine injuries is often challenging. The injuries are painful. If surgery is needed, it will frequently be painful as well. Either way, the recovery is commonly long and difficult. Your injury will likely prevent you from participating in some of your leisure activities for some time. You may not be able to return to work initially. This can impact, not only your financial well-being, but it may also challenge your whole sense of self-worth. There will be periods of doubt, as rarely an injury recovery is a straight and simple path. All of this will test you and will require resiliency to succeed.
Those with greater resilience do better after injuries (as noted here and here) and after devastating diagnoses. This is also true after musculoskeletal surgery. This effect can be dramatic. One study observed seventy patients following their shoulder replacement. The results showed that at two years after surgery when asked how normal their shoulders were, those who were classified before surgery as low resilient, rated their shoulders forty points lower (on a 100 point scale) than those who had been determined to be highly resilient. Specifically, those who were low resilient rated their shoulders as 52% of normal. Whereas, those who were highly resilient believed that their shoulders were 92% of normal. The low resilient’s shoulder surgery had “failed,” whereas the high resilient’s surgery had not only been successful but had restored their shoulders to nearly perfect.
So, it’s not just an old wive’s tale; your attitude can impact your health….and your recovery. Most surgeons know this. Many of us who have been doing this for a while can often sense how well our patients will do before we even treat them. By the way they react to their diagnosis and the outlined plan, we get an idea who has the capability to battle through the inevitable challenges and who does not. We surely see this after surgery by observing who fights and who folds.
Just keeping a positive mindset can have dramatic beneficial effects. I try to stress this to my patients. Conversely, negativity can often be self-fulfilling.
Recovering from orthopedic surgery is often like swimming against the current. Stop swimming and you drown. Many patients believe that if they just wait long enough, the pain will pass and their course will be easier. Unfortunately, this rarely is the case. With time, your limb gets weaker, and your joints stiffen. As a result, more effort is required, and the pain is often worse…and longer-lasting. If you don’t fight early…and then continue to do so, the hole you’re in usually gets deeper and the climb out much tougher.
Fortunately, if you are not yet resilient, you can become so. Yes, you can strengthen your resilience muscle. And even if you don’t have the time to become resilient, you can still use some tricks to “fake” it. I try to make sure that my patients don’t isolate themselves, that they don’t focus on the problem but rather on the solution and that they note the small and sometimes gradual improvements while remaining positive and continuing to put one foot in front of the other. In the long run, these are skills that can change your path…not only following your injury or surgery…but also for your lifetime.
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