Dealing with Injuries

Dealing with Injuries
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As martial artists, we often incur minor injuries, especially as we learn new techniques or perform old ones in different ways. Hell, in Kung Fu, I remember learning basic massage and acupressure EARLY in training, specifically to improve recovery and control pain. (I was literally appalled that most other arts did not similarly teach healing as an integral part of their systems.) It’s natural, and really helps us to develop a strong mindset that applies equally to hardship in other areas of life.
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Back when I boxed, there were a number of times when I’d break bones in my hands or sprain my wrist. These weren’t times for taking a break from training, though. This was when we worked more on shadow-boxing, roadwork and any conditioning that didn’t stress the injured area.
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Seeing a wrapped wrist one day, my old sifu asked, “Hurt?” Then he SMILED… “Now, you work to perfect you art.”
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There are many ways to overcome injuries, and even more serious ailments, through your martial arts. I’ll likely forever be haunted by the needless deaths I’ve seen of people I cared for who simply failed to take good care of themselves, and the former MA training buddies tend to hurt me the most. We TEACH this stuff, preach it to students, so it’s so mind-boggling that we fail to apply it in our daily lives.
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I carry pain almost daily, walking many days like some old sailor on rough waters, hips tucked forward and toes out to deal with lower back pain. Despite years of wrestling and competition training, my first real back injury didn’t hit me till I was 34, after dealing with an Army knee injury for several years before that. Nonetheless, I still train, mainly by creating very short routines for self-care.
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My back care routine takes about 6-8 minutes, depending on how long I feel like working it. For the passed 6 years now, I’ve used a short series of 6 core poses (plus 3-4 others I toss in as the need/ feeling arises), specifically to stretch and loosen my back, hips and major joint areas. It was originally only a 3-minute routine, giving me NO EXCUSES for not doing it at least twice a day. Since then, obviously, I’ve added a few other movements and poses to the mix.
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Similarly, I start every workout and training session with some light movements to promote flow of synovial fluid around my joints. (Two masters, one 5th dan and the other 8th dan, in the last 4 months have both admitted that they’d never heard of “synovial fluid” or the thin synovial linings surrounding joints.) Using such methods, even a short 5-minute warmup can greatly reduce likelihood of injuries in most training programs, especially if you combine movements of multiple joints at the same time (called the “Matte Method” back when I was first formally introduced to the idea as a fitness trainer two decades ago).
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There are even specialized fitness training programs (and fitness certifications for those in the field) for injury recovery and “senior fitness.” Even if you’re not in the fitness industry, a short study of a book on such will provide an invaluable wealth of info applicable to the martial arts teacher. And for recovering from occasional injuries and unexplained stiffness or pain.
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The point here is to find ways to keep moving. Movement is its own strange kind of medicine.
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If you have trouble with standing and walking because of back pain, then lie down and SIMULATE walking while on a floor (or better, on an ottoman, bench or chair). Simply simulating the difficult motion will improve your ability to perform it. For instance, I used to do hundreds of push-ups both in boxing and the military — and can still do 100 nonstop — and would literally use a standing or lying simulation of the push-up motion to warmup, cooldown and for recovery between heavy training days.
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It can be hard to stick with training when you’re in pain. However, even simple modifications while sitting or lying down — short poses like those I use on the floor or bench — can help reduce the pain and its impact on your life. Sitting to watch TV, one can pass time with small rotating torso motions that both strengthen the core and increase mobility. Done occasionally each day, one can feel improvement in as little as 3-5 days.
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Dr. Jim Stoppani, famous for his part in the film “Generation Iron” suggests that one way to increase strength is to take any single exercise and do 50 reps twice a day, in the morning and at night. If using weights, start light and progressively work up in intensity by only 5-10% each week. Using no weights, work from no resistance to isometric and then to bodyweight. In the case of injury recovery, a short no-weights motion — even using another limb to help — will promote healing and a return to function.
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People, I have reversed contracted joints in patients just by doing progressive passive range-of-motion exercises with them. (It doesn’t seem very “passive” when you’re pulling and pushing on stiff joints, carefully trying to increase ROM for clients who often aren’t even mentally able to do it themselves.) But, it is so rewarding to have some silent bed-statue one day tell you from a chair — after months of never hearing a single word, and just months after they were unable to sit upright at all — that ”I don’t belong here, with these skeletons.”
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Movement is medicine.
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As long as you are able to move, do so within the limited comfortable range that you can. Likely without even realizing it, daily practice alone will help to increase that range and the comfort with which you move.
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“Bedrest” is now strongly discouraged, as any recent joint replacement or traumatic injury patient can tell you. We’ll have you up and walking the day after surgery, if not the day of, with a goal of discharging you within six days. We do the same thing with gunshot wounds and fractures, keeping people as active as we can with physical therapy.
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Because movement is medicine, healing or improving even systems that aren’t directly involved in your injury or ailment.
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As long as you’re able to move, do it… and keep training.
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