We don't always like to admit it, but cycling does come with risks. For the thrill seekers out there, danger is what makes riding a bike so appealing but for many of us it's a major inhibitor.
From time to time everyone falls and injures themselves, that comes with the territory of riding - be that road, mountain bike or commuting. Without proper attention, physical and mental injuries can be lasting and seriously hinder our progress, or even willingness to ride again.
It's often said: "There is nothing to fear, but fear itself", but fear is a slippery shadow that creeps into the mind and can turn our courage into doubt. So, how can we beat this?
Physical Injury: Breaks, Tears, Strains
How we cope with injury, whether it's physical or mental, seriously impacts our recovery from it. Firstly - any physical injury should be checked out, and treated accordingly by a healthcare professional.
Even if you aren't sure whether you have a sprain or a fracture, it's best to get a doctor's opinion so that no further damage can be done. If your injury requires physiotherapy, rehabilitation or even just time off the bike, it's important to listen to the advice given, and also listen to your body. Being told you can't ride is crushing, and it feels like someone has taken away your freedom but it's for a good reason.
Prevention: Wear Protection
There are some things you can do to help prevent serious injuries though, the most obvious being to WEAR PROTECTION!
It doesn't matter if you feel stupid, or your helmet ruins your hair, we always advise you wear a helmet whilst out on the bike. For mountain bikers, there's still more - elbow pads, knee pads, chest and back protection which can seriously reduce the risk of injury if you come off the bike.
Other than wearing adequate protection, another thing that can help reduce injury is simply stretching before and after a ride. It takes a few minutes, and may not seem important, but it really is. Stretch all your muscles to loosen them up, get the blood flowing and oxygen circulating around the body. Damage to tendons, muscles, ligaments can be just as bad as breaking a bone. It's important to take care of your body before and in-between rides, rather than starting to do it after you've hurt yourself.
Mental Injury: Anxiety, Stress and Mr. Fear
We've briefly looked at physical injury, taking care of your body and ways to minimise damage if you do have an accident. But what about the mental injuries we suffer after a fall?
Even if the fall wasn't big, or there was no physical injury, we can still have our confidence knocked, and it can impact our performance and recovery. Immediately after a fall, it’s common to feel angry with ourselves and frustrated at the situation… even embarrassed! After the dust settles, we can be left with an imprint with manifests into anxiety, stress and fear.
There are some common outcomes from suffering a mental biking injury:
- Over dramatizing the experience: building it up in your head to being worse than it really was
- Once feeling the harsh reality of physical pain, we’ll try and escape from it and avoid situations where pain is anticipated
- Mental blocks go up and tunnel vision sets in, unable for you to take attention away from the accident and consequential fear
These outcomes can lead to a multitude of problems which affect your ability to recover, such as anxiety and stress. It’s easy to lose confidence after an accident and to compensate you may find yourself riding slower, braking more often and even avoiding features or situations you used to be comfortable with.
If you had an accident involving a vehicle, you can become more nervous around traffic, which in turn can often exacerbate the problem. Research shows that drivers actually give less room when overtaking cyclists who ride close to the curb, and your nerves could also make you less decisive and confident in your movements.
If your crash was with another rider, you might find you lose the confidence to sit close to another cyclists wheel to benefit from the draft, or that you start riding more and more on your own when really you'd rather have company.
These are all natural reactions, but it’s important to be aware of them so we know how to tackle them.
Fight or Flight?
Everyone has the same two options available to them when recovering from an injury or fall, and that is to take flight of it all: avoid features, risk and even biking altogether, or you fight. Confront that beast of burden, hop back on the saddle and fight the fear. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but here are some tips for getting the control back:
- What are you afraid of, and why? Ask yourself this. Understand what your fear is, and why you feel this way. If it’s a particular feature you fell on, then study it. Watch other people do it. If it's a particular junction on the road, try riding it with a confident friend and follow their movements. Dissect the fear into pieces so that it doesn’t feel as big and suffocating.
- Positive mental attitude. Believe it or not, changing your outlook to a more positive one can make all the difference. You have to WANT to get back on the bike and beat your fear. You have to visualise yourself doing it, and believe in yourself.
- Listen to your body Learn some breathing techniques to relax your body, muscles and mind. If you feel yourself getting too anxious while riding, then take a breather to regain control of your body. Effective meditation links in with having a more positive outlook on your riding performance and will be the driving force behind recovery.
- Baby steps. Take it easy, getting back to your old daredevil self will take time. Ease yourself back on the bike, pick up speed and attack some smaller features which you can build up from. Sometimes you need to go backwards to go forwards again, and there’s nothing wrong with this.
Take it slow...
Sadly, there is no set rule for fighting fear and recovering from a mental injury, but these guidelines will help you to break it down into manageable chunks. Always remember to wear a helmet while out on the bike, be cautious and aware of your limits, but have fun as well.
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