The Injury Cascade

The Injury Cascade

Posted by Matt Little on 3rd Aug 2023

“There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

Many years ago, I was at a party at a friend’s place and had a conversation that has stuck with me to this day. I was talking with another guest, a former infantry officer turned federal agent and years my senior, about staying fit as you age. He opined that what he feared most wasn’t the fight against gravity or aging metabolism, but instead he was terrified of what he called the “injury cascade.” His belief was that accumulating injuries, without sufficient time and opportunity between to rehab and heal, was the greatest threat to aging tactical athletes’ efforts to stay fit.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to share his opinion. I’ve watched as many people who were the epitome of fitness lose this battle. It’s easy to see how it happens. One serious injury leads to a period of rehab and effort to regain fitness, then as you’re working to come back from that another serious injury occurs, and so on, until it seems like despite your best efforts you’re losing ground faster than you can make it back up. I’ve seen people who were talented tactical athletes become old and broken as the injuries from a lifetime of training and conflict start to add up.

So how can we prevent the injury cascade and the havoc it wreaks on our fitness and quality of life as we age? There’s no simple answer to this, no magic prescription to guarantee that you can avoid it. But it isn’t inevitable, even with a lifetime’s accumulation of injuries. I’ve had multiple major surgeries, especially in the last few years, including one that went septic with infection. The aftermath of this left me fatter, weaker, slower, and less mobile than I ever imagined I would be.

I didn’t give in though, and although it has taken more time and effort than I believed it would, my fitness and athleticism are coming back. I’m prioritizing prehab and mobility over literally every other aspect of strength and conditioning training, and that’s bearing dividends for me. I’m regaining muscle, mobility and athleticism steadily now. As a matter of fact, if I could change one thing about how I trained as a younger man, I would change those priorities before the nagging and catastrophic injuries started to add up, not after.

It isn’t easy to stay motivated through lengthy recoveries and rehabilitation, but it can be done. And if we want to stay healthy and fit as we age, it has to be done. If you have old injuries, take charge of your rehab and prehab yourself. Research better ways to train for longevity and durability, not just strength and endurance. And if you’re young and/or lucky enough that you haven’t accumulated any serious injuries yet, don’t wait until you do. Start prioritizing training that will make you mobile and durable, not just strong and fast. Do these things while you can, and avoid a cascade of injuries you can’t recover from. Do them now so that you can enjoy not only a higher level of performance as you age, but also maintain a higher quality of life.