Meet Maia Ignatz - Staying Strong Through Injury

Aug. 13, 2017

On July 9th, while racing XTERRA Victoria, pro athlete, Maia Ignatz, was running and navigating a large, rock surface. Her right ankle started to roll so she planted her left leg to steady herself. As the weight drove into her leg, her knee locked and her femur smashed into her tibia, resulting in a tibial plateau impaction fracture and a full thickness tear of her medial meniscus.

Ignatz was a runner first, and didn't start mountain biking and swimming until 2008, when her husband Ryan recognized her potential. She competed in her first XTERRA in 2009, and in 2016, she finished the XTERRA Pan Am Championship - her favorite course - just three minutes behind fellow pro, Julie Baker.

Ignatz is also a renowned massage therapist in Boulder, Colorado. She has a degree in Integrative Physiology from CU Boulder and graduated with honors from the Boulder College of Massage Therapy. She currently has her own practice at Massage Boulder.

Ignatz is a firm believer in the body's ability to heal. She uses her own experience to share how she stays positive, prepares for surgery, and stays strong mentally and physically.

Q. It's common for athletes of all levels to become depressed when injured. How are you coping with this? 
A. I have found that it is crucial to stay active and continue to do the things that bring you joy. While training is not the same when you are injured, it is important to get out and do what you can. I find that staying active and involved prevents me from feeling depressed.

I also think it is very important to allow yourself to feel the frustrations, sadness, and anger that come along with being injured and unable to do the things you wish you could be doing. But do not let yourself dwell on these feelings - acknowledge them and return to doing the things that you can do, and be grateful for what you can still do. Do your best to keep “training” with your community. Show up and do what it is that you can do or make modifications.

With my knee injury, I have not been able to ride or run. I can hardly walk and I can hardly swim. But I have continued to go to the masters swim workouts that I typically go to, and I have been going to the gym to do some strength training. I find that showing up and being the best “athlete” that I can currently be keeps me positive most of the time.

I think that one of the most challenging aspects of serious injury is the unknown longterm outcome. In my case, with this knee injury, the bone will heal. Fortunately, I do not require surgery to plate my tibia. But, with a soft tissue injury like a torn meniscus, the recovery from repair will be long and slow, and there are no guarantees. I will be unable to use my left leg and have to stay completely non-weight bearing for at least 6 weeks after surgery. Then it could be anywhere from three to ten months before I work my way very slowly back to cycling and eventually running. But, I have found a great surgeon, I will put all of my effort into being the best self-healer that I can be, I will keep showing up to “train”, and I will eventually get my left leg as strong as my right leg. There is still a lot to be positive about.

Everyday, I spend some time to think about it, write it down, and acknowledge all of the good that there is in my life, despite my injury.

Q. When is the best time to use massage, bodywork, acupuncture etc? 
After some rest, ice, compression, and elevation, if you can be comfortable, pain free, and it’s safe for your injury, I recommend getting right into massage, bodywork, acupuncture, and physical therapy. I had a 90 minute massage two days after my injury. The massage therapist worked on everything but my knee, and I did some retrograde lymph style massage myself to help manage the swelling and decrease effusion.

I had acupuncture four days after my injury and would have gone sooner if I could. Let pain be your guide and listen to your doctors, but I believe that the sooner you can start promoting health and wellbeing for your injured body, the sooner it will respond with healing.

Q. How important is the mental side of injury recovery? Can positive thinking impact healing?
Our minds are very powerful - we know this as endurance athletes. Staying positive is as important for your mental wellbeing as it is for your physical wellbeing. You cannot separate the mind and body - they are integrated and one has a huge impact on the other. 

Running is one of my greatest joys in life and I will do everything that I can to recover and rehab to the best of my ability, and this definitely includes thinking positively. It is my goal to return to my pre-injury, elite level performance.

Maintaining a positive mindset is crucial to achieving both short-term and long-term goals. I spend time everyday using imagery to “train" my left leg and send it healing thoughts. I try to be gentle and kind to myself and my knee. Never underestimate the power of your nervous system and the mind body connection. Sitting around, feeling sorry for myself is not an option. 

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