Coping Strategies for Acute and Chronic Injuries


I herniated a disc in my lower spine when I was 18. My back has never been the same since. Looking back, it has been one of the most challenging aspects of my life, and yet, possibly one of the most beneficial to me.

Mentally, it matured me through a sudden loss of youth (having the back of an 80-year-old will do that) and has given me a deep humility and sense of appreciation for my health and sense of comfort.

We take comfort for granted. Comfort is the lack of interjecting pain – it's that leisurely feeling of lying on the couch in a state of pure relaxation and dozing off into an afternoon nap.

Comfort is usually only noticed when it is lost. That loss, and the disruption to work or other aspects of your life, is one of the most challenging things we can face as humans.

The negative side of an injury

  1. Pain – obviously, an injury can cause sensations of pain that have to be managed.
  2. Anxiety – will anyone accept me? Will I ever be able to live a normal life?
  3. Loss of habits – I won't be able to play a certain sport or do a certain hobby anymore.
  4. May lead to bad habits – can make other bad habits that you're trying to quit easier crutches. Whether that's quitting smoking or drinking less, it's easy to fall into an old habit to temporarily distract from your injury.

The positive

  • Humility – accept you're mortal, not superman, will have injuries, weaknesses, etc. At some point in their life, everyone will have to face their own mortality. We are human, we are born, we will die, and in between will deteriorate. Just acknowledging that can be depressing – but it doesn't have to be.
  • Pride – on the flip side of humility is the pride of overcoming your weaknesses and knowing your mettle.
  • Self-love
  • Adjusted habits
  • Make you more disciplined
  • Make you more mature

How to live with an injury

Even after having a chronic injury for year, and feeling a bit like a veteran, it's still challening to face new setbacks. But like anything, you get better with practice.

  • Immediately find a positive trajectory – After an injury it's important to immediately set yourself on a positive path. Identify one thing that will move you incrementally forward, and then keep stacking those small things.
  • Learn how to think about the past – Don't dwell on what happened or what you could have done differently. I have a saying I like to repeat: "the past is irrevocable". In other words, it cannot be changed and it's pointless to think that way. So only think about the past if there is a specific lesson or purpose to doing so. Don't beat yourself up, or have regrets, or constantly imagine other scenarios that could have occurred. Accept the present moment and move forward.
  • Focus on the slope, not the amount – Is the slope positive? Meaning, are you improving a little week by week? Don't worry so much about where you're at, but rather maintaining an upward climb.
  • Err on the side of caution – don't do that extra set, don't climb that additional route. This applies in moments where you have an intuition that something might be wrong, a "spidey sense" that you're approaching a worsening of your injury.
  • Accept it as a challenge – you're a unique human being. How are you going to get past this roadblock?
  • Immediately remove harmful habits
  • Immeditely introduce beneficial habits
  • Pay for expertise

Stages of grief

  1. Anger at person who caused it. Anger at yourself for letting it happen.
  2. Depression, not really optimizing your time.
  3. Apathy. I have this injury and I can't do stuff.
  4. Acceptance. This is a challenge that I'm going to approach like an olympic athlete.

The trick is to move as quickly as possible from stage one to stage four.

Final thoughts

Accepting an injury is a period of time where you can step back and go into strategy/executive mode. Practice mindfulness, self-love, and humility. The path back to health can build pride and a deep sense of gratitude for life.