By Dr. Lonna Denny, DC
Deconditioning syndrome is a term used to describe the series of physical and emotional events following an injury or psychological trauma that causes you to stop exercising. I think at one time or another every athlete has experienced this cascade of events. You get an injury which leads to time that you have to rest, repair, and recover. This period of time may be a couple of weeks at minimum or last a year plus. During this time you are unable to do your regular workout and you’re also dealing with the pain and the loss of mobility this injury has caused. You gain weight, lose muscle tone, and possibly even feel depressed.
Several years ago I tore my ACL in a sparring competition and had to have it repaired. The subsequent surgery left my body weak and stressed out. It was amazing how after years of being an athlete and in great shape, deconditioning syndrome set in. I was losing muscle I had worked hard to build and the white noise of pain was constantly in the background of my mind.
Being in constant discomfort after surgery caused my personality to change, and not for the better. Most people are aware that stress in the mind causes ailments in the body. Less recognized is that physical pain sets a constant background of stress for the mind. It is a vicious feedback loop. That first three months after surgery was one of the most mentally challenging times I have experienced. It taught me compassion for my patients experiencing deconditioning syndrome and those that have been dealing with chronic pain for years. Over time we have developed a strategy for helping patients get out of this syndrome. Here are a few steps:
Get off the pain meds as soon as you can. The most commonly prescribed Vicodin and other opiate based prescriptions will make you constipated, lethargic, and are highly addictive.
Make an exercise plan based around your injury. For example one of my patients was having bunion surgery which would leave her unable to walk for weeks. We made a plan for core workouts and arm workouts she could do non-weight bearing.
Accelerate your healing process and decrease your pain levels with chiropractic care and acupuncture. After my knee surgery, my back hurt from limping around in a cast and all of that bed rest. My chiropractor restored mobility to my back and hips through adjusting the spine. He also used a cold laser on my knee which literally over night reduced the bruising and inflammation from surgery. A few weeks later I saw an acupuncturist whose treatment reduced the tension and pressure in the knee. These two healers got me back on my feet and decreased the pain so I could get back to my life. Worth every penny.
Lastly, be aware that you are going to deal with deconditioning syndrome on some level after a serious injury or trauma. Make a plan, get help, and most of all, be patient with yourself. This is a transitory state, but how long you stay there is up to you.
Injury isn’t ever ideal or expected, but it can provide you with an opportunity to reflect and plan for how you’ll come back stronger. As with any stress, the right mindset can make a huge difference in the healing process and beyond.