Injuries happen to all of us – and very often the best way to get better quickly is to rest – usually coupled with ice, compression, and elevation – plus some anti-inflammatory drugs if you're ok with taking them.
[related_articles]It’s not easy, though – especially if you’ve set yourself season goals and desperately want to be seeking them on two wheels.
Common worries are that you’ll lose fitness and gain weight in the time you’re resting. Add to that not wanting to DNS actual events and missing our favourite pastime – it’s not a good mix.
Very often these concerns are exaggerated – months or years of training don’t simply disappear overnight – but we usually only remember that once the rest period is over.
To help ease your mind if you’re struggling with injury, I've documented my own time off the bike...
Day One - Monday – Good Intentions
First I need to explain why I’m doing something so unpleasant as spending 14 days off my bike.
Sciatica is something I’ve had before. Pain down the back of one leg is caused by a nerve being compressed in my lower back (something to do with running mechanics, and how my back is formed - I won't bore you). Once it’s irritated, experience tells me that it won’t get better unless I stop cycling and running.
So - the experiment begins. Day one is not so bad - I’ve got some good training behind me, a couple of early season events under my belt, so I accept what’s to come, but I know it’s going to become more difficult.
Day Two – Tuesday - Keeping Busy
Wake up… feel full of nervous energy and not quite sure what to do with myself, what to eat for breakfast…
However, with the day underway, and the portion of the morning usually devoted to a swim, ride or run already passed, it's not so bad. The evening involves a 4 hour journey to Manchester, as I’ll be at the National Cycling Centre for some interviews tomorrow.
Reaching the hotel, I pour myself a hot bath with muscle relaxing bubbles, and crash out on bed. At least I have lots to keep my mind occupied. Oh, and there’s totally a Tassimo coffee machine in the hotel room.
Day Three – Wednesday - Keeping Even More Busy
A good day. But mainly because I get to interview Jess Varnish and Sir Chris Hoy today. A happy career is a healthy distraction. Get the work done, then reach home at around 8.30pm having picked up a Sushi dinner.
Three days is effectively a ‘healthy break’ - the sort of period I might take following a race, or tapering before one – mentally this is not so bad to deal with and I’m kind of in an ok place.
Day Four – Thursday - Non-exercise induced groggy
Feeling rather groggy by this point. Normally active people get an injection of adrenaline and endorphins every day from a burst of heart pumping activity. Take that away and it's like some sort of strange come-down where somehow all the 'tired' catches up on you.
Regardless - today I get to see the physio. He suggests that running is the culprit, and that I’m probably ok to try cycling – I’m excited to have a go, and pretty happy since cycling is by far my favourite sport. I tend to divorce running pretty quickly in the event it stops my cycling - our relationship isn't too stable.
The thought of a ride tomorrow gets me through the rest of Day 4 - along with much coffee and an early night.
Day Five – Friday - Test Ride: Failed
Planned: 60 minute, easy spin.
Actual: 70 minute ride, with lots of hills.
Oops - this isn't entirely my fault, I live in a valley – effectively you cannot get anywhere without a hill. The fact that I get excited and loop around, up, over, up, over the hills is irrelevant (maybe). So effectively I crumbled as soon as I swung my leg over the top tube. It was a glorious ride – but it kind of hurt, and was much worse afterwards. Probably not worth it, I’ll admit.
I’m signed up for a race on Saturday, but resign myself to the unavoidable and email the organiser with my DNS sob story and multiple apologies.
Day Six – Saturday – Non-Race Day
I really hope this story has a happy ending.
Race day is here, and I so wanted to be donning my pointy helmet and testing myself against the clock. Instead, I accepted that no running or cycling will be happening, but decided swimming might well be ‘ok’ now – so I knock out a 5k swim. It feels glorious to be moving without pain down the back of my leg.
Day Seven – Sunday - Does a swimming career await me?
Swimming seems to have had no adverse effects, so I go for another one – this time shorter, with some harder efforts. I start checking out the 400m, 100m and 50m times achieved by women at the local swimming club...
Somewhere in my brain a very clever mechanism has realised focusing on swimming might well be a good way of staying sane – the easily influenced other part of my brain is now wondering if maybe I should switch my attention to swimming for the time being?
Lunch with the Mothership (my mum) means the afternoon goes by in a whirl of cream tea and catch up time.
Day Eight - Monday – Sitting is the position of the devil
So swimming is fine – sitting is SO not – since the nerve runs right under my bum, a day sitting on my bum at my computer after a weekend of being off it sets me right back.
I consider a stand up desk... exercise ball...
On the plus side, even though Friday’s ride was a fairly unsuccessful one, knowing I’ve got three days with some sort of activity behind me makes doing not a lot today feel better.
Day Nine - Tuesday - Still resisting
Decide to swim in the morning, and squeeze in a wee upper body gym session in the evening.
I feel a few pangs of pain and question intelligence of this session... - it's pretty hard to lift weights without putting any pressure on your lower back and I probably didn't succeed.
Day Ten – Wednesday – Strapped to the bed (not in a good way)
It’s been 10 days, the pain is still there and I decide it might be time to go to the doctor. I get some pretty strong anti-inflammatories, and consider being a bit more disciplined with this whole 'rest' concept.
Up until now, my idea of nothing has still involved swimming, guilty little gym trips – it's not working so I decide to give in and go for full on nothing. Hardly moving, in bed, surrounded by fluffy pillows.
Since I’m working from home, I can comfy myself on the sofa and stay there just as long as I like.
With ten days of very little activity already gone by, this is a pretty hard pill to swallow – in fact, by this point, I know it’s ridiculous and rather selfish in a world where some people can’t walk and others have to travel miles on foot for water, but I’m feeling pretty down. Have a long What’sApp convo with a good friend and try not to be such a mopey idiot...
Day 11 – Thursday – No change
I spend Thursday, as planned, in a similar state to Wednesday – stuck between feeling selfish for being so miserable about something so insignificant, and accepting that I feel a bit miserable and can’t really help that.
Other than that, get on with work and generally keeping busy. There's A LOT more to life than riding a bike (but it helps).
Day 12 – Friday – Onwards and Upwards
By the end of day three of ACTUAL REST, I’m starting to notice the nerve is loosening its grasp on my leg and calming down.
I go for a tiny little wonder around the estate and note that it feels a lot more 'normal'. The hint of activity is refreshing, too.
It’s been almost two weeks without riding, excluding one 'oops' loss of resolve, and I’m contemplating the idea of a bike ride. I resist the temptation to try it today, and spend the evening conversing with google over any bike fit solutions that might help alleviate some of the issues (and book a professional bike fit, too).
Day 13 – Saturday – A little excursion
The three days of GENUINE PROPER rest seem to have done their job and the body feels significantly more mobile. I set the bike up on the turbo trainer, in front of the mirror, and tweaked the fit by lowering the saddle a little. The injury comes from running but pressure on my lower back on the bike certainly won't help.
A little nervous, I kit up (in some older, non-zooty looking gear) and tentatively take to the road. The first few minutes feel ok – and I hardly feel any little twangs or twinges in my muscles.
Ok - I promised 14 days off the bike - but now the body is feeling more normal, how about just 12?
The planned ride is one steady, easy hour – this time I'm 100% sure I'm going to stick to it.
Except when a guy on a hybrid overtakes me at the start of a hill I know to be rather long -when we reach the steeper section I give him a little nod as I pass and he comments: “gets steep, doesn’t it." I desperately try not to get carried away, and roll my way home.
The ride is followed by some time chilling out with some frozen peas, and an afternoon spent listening to my body for any possible niggles as a result of the ride.
Day 14 - Sunday - A longer excursion
Gingerly turn myself out of bed this morning, tip toe downstairs, trying not to disturb any dormant nerves that might suddenly wake up after yesterday's ride and cause the injury to flare up. No such occurrence!
Typically, it's raining - but I don't care.
I pump my tyres, don kit, plus a packable rain jacket - and disappear out the door. There's still no pain - and riding my bike feels just like flying.
I don't feel particularly less fit than I did before the enforced rest, nor have I gained any weight. I've missed one race - but it was one of many. The earth is still in place and nothing bad has come of taking some time off the bike.
I've missed riding - I've missed the swish,swish,swish of wheel on tarmac, the exhilaration of cornering at speed and the freedom of bicycle + me = anywhere - but it was real, genuine proper rest that made it possible.
The moral of the story?
All injuries are different, and all people are different - there is no definitive answer as to how long you should rest for when injury strikes, or how much you can 'get away' with doing.
However, the temptation for most of us is to ignore the warning signs in the first place, avoiding rest and prolonging the injury.
It's also common to try to get back on the bike too soon (as per my '70 minute hill ride'), to squeeze in little bits of training that we shouldn't (lifting weights with a dodgy lower back) and to blow the whole situation out of proportion.
The best advice we can offer, that applies to everyone is:
- See a physiotherapist for the 'why' and a doctor if you need to. It might be that the pain is in one area, the the cause is elsewhere, and a professional will help determine the root of your problem
- Get a bike fit unless you know the cause isn't cycling/fit
- Rest - and don't worry about losing fitness, you won't get anywhere fast injured
- Ice, compression, elevation - and anti-inflammatory drugs (or foods)
- Keep busy, the rest period will pass, and you'll be back on your bike before you know it!
The truth is that a little rest will likely result in a well recovered, fresher cyclist, who is even more in love with riding. A little rest never harmed anyone - so take it when you need to.
Liked this? You might also like 'How to: Cope With Injury'.