When your professional and everyday life as a climber is threatened by a long-term injury the road to recovery can be a tough one. If you haven't heard much about Lucy Creamer in the news over the past few years it's because she's been clawing her way back from a shoulder injury, that in the end needed surgery. She'd admit that at times it's been difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel but it looks like those days are finally behind her with a recent 8a onsight in Kalymnos. Before heading out to the Greek sport climbing idyll, Lucy wrote a few words for us about getting through that period of rehabilitation.
"As a climber, it is almost unheard of not to get injured at some point in your climbing-life. Whether it’s a broken bone or some kind of soft tissue problem, these things inevitably happen.
I've certainly had my fair share of injuries over my 25 years of climbing and they have been annoying, baffling, frustrating but also to flip the coin, they have also been a chance for my body to rest. Sometimes I’d look back and think, why did I get injured? I warmed up properly, I did all the things you are supposed to do. So I think, maybe the body just needed to stop for a bit and so something went SNAP!
With the correct rehab, you always bounce back from these injuries, however frustrating it feels at the time and on you go. Sometimes it feels like you are starting back at square one again and you have a metaphorical mountain to climb just to get back to where you were; but somehow you manage it and the injury becomes a thing of the past.
I find this a useful thing to remember. I have gone through this process quite a few times and yes, it is a slog but if the motivation is still there, it is possible to get back to it and make improvements. And the bonus is the whole muscle memory thing. If you’ve already put the hard work in over the years, you don’t have to go through that whole process again, it’s quicker to get back to where you were.
In the last five years, I have been through my most drawn out and frustrating injury period to date. I detected a problem with my left shoulder when I was on a winter trip to Spain in 2009, it took me until 2012 to get a correct diagnosis. In the interim, I tried a lot of different practitioners to ‘make’ me better but failed to address the fact that I didn’t actually know what I was dealing with. And in terms of my climbing, it just slowly went downhill.
I couldn’t really train like I wanted to because of the pain and this obviously affected my motivation levels and so I entered this cycle of feeling a bit rubbish about myself, frustrated with life and wondering where it was all going. I was stuck in a place where I couldn’t progress, in fact had gone significantly backwards.
So the moral of that long-winded and expensive episode, is that the NHS is a very useful and beneficial service and they have these clever machines called MRI scanners and they see things that no one else can. They see injuries in shoulders and tell surgeons which bits to sew back together!
It turned out I had something called a SLAP (superior labral tear from anterior to posterior) lesion/tear. These are quite the ‘in’ thing at the moment, so if you have had a dodgy shoulder for a while and nothing seems to be helping, get it checked out. It turns out these things can’t heal themselves and if they are severe enough, the labrum needs to be sewn back into the shoulder socket.
So at the start of the summer two years ago, I had the op and for the past few months I have really started to feel like a climber again. Don’t get me wrong, it was an inevitable slog. My body has completely changed shape over the last few years, I have lost significant amounts of muscle and the mental side has been hard to deal with too, a feeling of a loss of identity and wondering who I was.
But with a little patience and distraction tactics, i.e. How do I occupy my mind when I can’t climb? Well I did a variety of things... I was very lucky to be chosen to feature in a 15 part BBC 2 TV series called Climbing Great Buildings in 2010, that few months certainly helped. But other things included a furniture making course, dog fostering, harmony singing groups, yoga, trying (but failing) to learn Spanish, even extreme weeding in the garden and so the list goes on.
But it’s all coming together now. I feel my shoulder is as good as it’s going to get and I can move forward as a climber and see where I can take things. With a couple of F8a’s under my belt already, climbing harder doesn’t seem an impossibility. Turning 40 and breaking my leg quite badly during this process didn’t help matters but in a way it’s exciting... what can a woman in her near mid-40’s achieve in climbing, well I’ve no idea but I’m keen to find out!"