As a former wrestler and commercial fisherman, and now a forty-something jiu jitsu competitor and weight lifter I have had many opportunities to wreck my body. Somehow I avoided injuries that could side line me for more than a couple weeks for the past 10 years. Except for moderate to minor rib cage and ligamentous injuries, I have been pushing my body fairly hard despite my age and the much younger age of my competitors and training partners.
Unfortunately, in September 2017 I suffered a superior labrum tear in my right shoulder. This type of injury stopped me dead in my tracks, or at least, it should have. It makes it very painful and difficult to move the shoulder higher than chest level. Yet instead of curling up into a ball and nursing my shoulder for several weeks and avoiding activity, I went immediately to active rehab. Not only did I instantly (as in: the very next day) begin to perform rehabilitation exercises, I also continued to practice jiu jitsu. In order to protect my shoulder, I tucked my arm under my belt and did the best I could without risking further injury. This allowed me to work on different aspects of my jiu jitsu game and stay in shape mentally and physically. I sincerely believe, from my own experience with my body and the nearly 2 decades of clinical interaction with patients, that even in the midst of significant injury, a patient should mimick their pre-injury lifestyle as much as is reasonable, safe and possible. I am definitely more “cowboy” with my own body then I ever would be with my patients. I essentially experiment on my own body to see what is possible. I am much more careful with my patients. As a result of my careful yet courageous approach is that I do not require surgery and by January 2018 I was at least 90% recovered.
Tragedy struck again and in October 2017 my left hand went numb. Further, my arm felt funny and I discovered I was unable to lift a 5 pound dumbbell with my left tricep! I knew instantly what this meant: I had a C6 and C7 nerve entrapment in my cervical spine. Yet I needed to know if the discs were fully herniated or just bulging. The very next week I underwent a neck MRI and thankfully, I simply had some large disc bulges. At this junction I had both a right shoulder injury and a neck and left arm injury. My problems were compounding fast. Now my competitive future was in jeopardy. It is also demoralizing to be in top form and become essentially handicapped. To add insult to injury I had a scary staph infection on my left knee that did not respond to oral anti-biotics and grew overnight from a toonie-sized circle to most of my lower leg. I had to do 3 days of intravenous antibiotics in the emergency room before the infection began receding. It is not impossible for such infections to turn either deadly or result in amputation. It appears true that tragedy strikes in three’s!
Now, the most interesting thing about disc injuries is that most people get very down cast by them. To have the arm strength of an 80 year old and numbness that turns almost painful every time you manipulate your clothing, your fork, type on the keyboard and do any household tasks, is very demoralizing. Yet again — after a pity party of course — I dove into the solution. I bought a very inexpensive home neck traction unit (about $25.00!) and used it 30 minutes per day and at such an intensity that I actually broke it. I did it 5 days per week for a month.
I also hung my head off the edge of my bed while facing the ceiling. Disc bulges are created when you bend forward, so to have the weight of my head hanging off the bed in this position not only stretches and decompresses your spine and discs, it puts your spine in the opposite position that caused the bulging in the first place, essentially correcting the mechanical bulging caused by flexion. I would do this daily for about 10 to 15 minutes. I also avoided neck flexion while typing on the computer or laptops and especially when using my mobile phone. I avoided flexing the neck when I read in bed. I also performed rehab exercises. After avoiding jiu jitsu for a full week, I also returned to this activity but was exceptionally careful. I warned my partners to not touch my neck but continued to keep my body moving using jiu jitsu. This allowed me to truly delve into techniques that I had avoided in the past, actually growing my capacity as a grappler. Again, I do not necessarily recommend this to patients with neck injuries! I am simply detailing my journey.
The proof is in the pudding. By December 2017 the numbness in my left hand had disappeared. By January 2018 I could do 10 repetitions of overhead tricep extensions with a 25 pound dumbbell (as opposed to NOT being able to do 1 rep with 5 lbs!). I would rate my recovery at about 80%. My neck feels solid enough to perform jiu jitsu at near full intensity, though I am still weary. I will most likely be able to avoid surgery and am on my way to what appears to be full recovery.
The point of this story is to show that I too am human and can relate to my patients. I am aware of the fear a significant injury can cause. Yet I also know what it takes to get back in the saddle intelligently but courageously and to have faith in the body’s ability to recover from injury.
Contact me if you are “behind the eight ball” with an injury. I will tell you what the best next step should be!
Be courageous and be hopeful!