In January, I fooled myself into believing I was ready to try something I wasn’t.
I had been dealing with tendinopathy in the right hip for quite some time (close to two years). Believing my body was younger and stronger than it was, I waited way too long to start PT.
I kept thinking the pain would get better on its own. When it improved a smidge, I dove into an advanced pose in yoga that I had no business trying. Immediately I felt the pop - like a rubber band that has been stretched too far. And I knew I had seriously messed up.
(I wouldn’t know just how much I had screwed up until several months later when it hit me how long and hard recovery would be.)
Even though the surgery did what it was supposed to do – repair the tendon attachment and remove the bursa – I won’t know until several more months if it actually did what it was supposed to do.
As my surgeon said, “A tear is a tear, and you have to rebuild, and it takes a long time.” Right now, the muscle is simply still too weak and sore to know the final outcome yet.
Below are seven important truths I have been reminded of as a result of this surgery, though. They’re important enough to make me grateful that I’ve gone through this process, so keep reading if you want to know them, too.
Skating Injuries are Harder to Heal at 50 Than at 15
This was my first (and hopefully last) orthopedic surgery, and I naively thought recovery would be a piece of cake.
But I'm not 15 anymore.
Perimenopause means tissues heal more slowly, less estrogen means you have less strength (which is what led to this in the first place).
At 50 you have less energy, and the anesthesia affects you for longer.
Plus, the stress of missing work (especially when you’re self-employed) makes healing harder, too! When pushing yourself to try something, you should ask, “Can I afford to do this?” This is a wise question from my yoga teachers, and I didn’t ask it the day I injured myself. This is especially true for adult skaters!
Learn to take care of your body at 15 so you’re better equipped to handle the injuries that may come your way. Learn to listen to the signals your body sends you, practice smart training habits, hydrate well, eat well, and practice good recovery habits.
When you stop training, don’t stop being active. And if you choose to start training after a break, don’t do too much too soon.
A Skating Body is Smart - Let it Do the Work
The human body is amazing. It knows how to heal, and it knows how to adapt.
Why do skaters use their upper body to throw themselves into jumps? Often it’s because the right muscles aren’t firing at the right time.
Learning proper jump technique is a lot like retraining the body after an injury. You have to wake up the muscles with targeted exercises, and then work on the harder stuff. Physical therapy is crucial in both processes, imho.
And to allow the body to do its thing, a little work goes a long way.
If you’re recovering from an injury, follow the doctor’s and PT’s protocols, do the exercises the right amount of times (more is not better), and allow yourself time to rest and rewire itself in between.
Curiosity is Key for Injury Recovery
It’s really easy to lose perspective when you’re staring at the same four walls for weeks on end, and when you know a return to the ice is still 6 months away.
My advice when facing an injury is to lean into curiosity about the situation. Observe the workings of the human body with wonder. Marvel at the gift of life.
As I heard the great poet Andrea Gibson say in a recent interview, “The best way to know is to unknow.”
Acknowledge that you are a living being inhabiting a human body.
Observe the healing process taking place in your body.
Acknowledge that you are living in this exact moment for the first and last time ever.
Know When and What to Let Go
Coaches always advise to focus on what you can control. This is just as important in recovery as it is during training and performing.
After the first miserable week, I had a hard time with this. My brain was running wild–thinking of all the work I needed to be doing and chores I was used to controlling.
Retraining the muscles to work after surgery is physically exhausting, but I was not prepared for the mental fatigue.
So while my brain was running wild, I couldn’t think clearly enough to accomplish anything.
No amount of breathing calmed the anxiety. I had too much screen time, but I also couldn’t really move on my own, so my body became increasingly agitated, which made my mind more agitated.
The more time passed, though, I realized that the only thing I could control was how I responded to my body’s needs and whom I asked for help.
Recovery involved letting go of nearly everything EXCEPT recovery.
Ask the Skating Community for Help
Adequate help and support is crucial to recovery of any kind.
In my particular case, I couldn’t go to the bathroom or get dressed on my own for over a week. I used a walker for several more weeks, and wasn’t able to drive for even longer.
I needed help fixing food, carrying a glass of water, going up and down stairs, reaching things off the floor, putting on the requisite compression socks, and on and on.
I’m usually the one taking care of others, and I knew it was necessary, so I didn’t feel bad asking for help.
Through this experience, I realized that while people are busy, they generally want to help, so let them know how they can.
Community is how we, as a species, have survived through history.
This is why so many people become so invested in sports–for the community.
If you are going through it, ask your community for help.
Side note here–I had so much amazing help, and if you are one of my amazing helpers and are reading this, please know that I am incredibly grateful for you… even if I continue to procrastinate on the thank-you notes... remember the mental fatigue I mentioned?
Social Media Use is Not Free
This one is tough for us to remember, no matter how many times we hear it.
Social media is not free.
While it can be an effective way to disseminate information and trends, we are the product being sold on social media. Our attention, our ideas, or data–it’s all being manipulated by the algorithms.
I had figured this out, but for a couple of weeks during my time in bed, I lost sight of that truth again.
The less time I spend online, the happier I am. I have more space in my head and in my schedule. I listen better, I think more deliberately, and I can observe and be creative.
Time and energy are better spent in person with loved ones, enjoying my hobbies, reading, and exercising my brain and my soul than scrolling mindlessly. .
Plus, if you have a personality type like mine that tends to obsess (like many skaters), it’s very easy to get caught up in an image, a lifestyle, a goal, or even an idea portrayed online.
Be deliberate and intentional with your screen time and social media use. Set a time limit for yourself and stick to it.
Even if you’re not paying $$ for TikTok or IG, you’re paying with your attention and your energy.
"Where attention goes, energy flows."
If You Don't Give Yourself a Break, Your Body Will Do It For You
We all need day off, and sometimes even a couple weeks off.
It’s hard to say how much of a break is the right amount, because every individual is different. This is where noticing yourself is key.
Like doing a reset of a computer, a break can reset our nervous system and allow us to operate in the world more intentionally and effectively.
Every time I take a break, whether it’s for a daily savasana or a longer vacation, my mind and body resist at first. They want to hang on–the brain is afraid of losing control.
But as time passes and I get serious about giving myself a break, I begin to relax and let things go. Time marches one, and what is essential will still be there when I get back.
"Let come what comes, let go what goes.
Before the surgery, I was very dedicated to putting these posts out for the community weekly, pouring over every word, and letting it eat up way too much of my time.
I’ve had several people ask when I’ll get back to writing, saying they miss my posts and the inspiration and perspective they offer the skating community.
I’m happy to be writing again after a couple of months off.
I’m also happy to say that I’m going to follow own advice and try to make these posts shorter than my usual.
I need time to take care of myself and do other things that I enjoy besides just talk about skating. And at the time of writing this, I still have several months of recovery ahead of me.
In the end, letting go a little will help me be of much better service to this beautiful skating yogi community.
Need some tricks for handling the nerves so you can perform your best? Get my FREE GUIDE: Anti-Anxiety Tools for Skaters.
Author // the skating yogi
My name is Sarah Neal. I have been immersed in the world of figure skating for over four decades. I have seen firsthand the abuse that happens at the higher levels of our sport and experienced how that trickles down into unhealthy training practices and habits at the grassroots. I have seen this play out in the operations of the very institutions that control our sport. Whether for a profession or hobby, pursuing skating should be a joyful, rewarding process, an opportunity for athletic and personal growth, and a place to build lasting friendships.