Health

The hidden gift of injury

January 27, 2022
Neck injury

POP…… immediate pain and something had gone wrong.

Back 10 years ago, I had found a lovely balance between training and working.

The gym was close to work, I could get there and back in 10 minutes which afforded me 45 minutes to beast myself at the weights rack.

At least it seemed brilliant, however, one day in my rush I held 2 x 45kg dumbells in my hand whilst sitting on an incline bench, I adjusted my position/weight by pivoting at the neck.

POP

Immediately I dropped the weight, a shooting pain went through my entire body, and I knew something was wrong.

I tried to stretch it out, I picked up some dumbells and tried stretching my neck, but nothing and I mean nothing was working, and then I ran out of time!

I headed back to work and sucked up the pain.

The next day in so much pain I went straight to the doctor.

Hide the pain and go away

I explained to the doctor what had happened.

His response:

“Take these and rest”

In hindsight, perhaps the Dr wasn’t the best shout, but, I took the painkillers and soldiered on.

A week in and the pain hadn’t subsided, every night I got the wife to walk on my back, this caused several clicking and popping noises in my spine, and a dry wretch from the wife as the vibration of the pop reverberated up her foot.

via GIPHY

Hiding the pain with pills wasn’t working.

After a week or so not only was I dealing with pain scratching my every nerve, but the side effect of the pills meant I had horrendous gut ache.

It wasn’t long before I couldn’t make it through the day on the allotted daily allowance.

The last straw was like a heroin addict looking for his next fix, I found myself asking the pharmacists for the strongest pain killer, and when they weren’t enough, I shouted “They’re going to do fuck all” and frantically texted my friend to drop off his stash of pain killers!

What the fuck was I doing?

I was only 3 weeks in and I had turned into an addict, unable to concentrate without the numbing pain of some pharmaceutical substance

The doctor just wanted to keep handing out the painkillers until I stopped rocking back and forth in his waiting room.

I had to do something,

Don’t follow my advice

Completely void of any hope my doctor, I decided to take things into my own hands.

I should add, during those 3 weeks, I had managed to get an appointment with two ‘ specialists’ they looked at my now atrophied tricep and pec and guessed I had most likely torn the muscle from the bone! But to be sure they requested a CAT scan, one which would take at least a further 3 months to arrive.

37 years old, and I had never torn or broken anything, and I was pretty sure, I hadn’t this time.

Unfortunately, my mental health was starting to be impacted, not only by the stress of the injury but because, I hadn’t been to the gym for a month!!!

I hadn’t missed a week off training in 20 years, I felt really low!

via GIPHY

So I formulated a plan, go back to training, wean myself off the wretched painkillers, and fix the problem myself.

YouTube Rehabilitation

Step 1 was to learn as much about neck rehabilitation!

My main resource back then of course was YouTube.

I would spend hours watching stretches, and even more, hours understanding the fundamentals of the neck itself.

The exercises that gave temporary relief would get added to my routine.

Eventually, I had an arsenal of 10-15 good stretches

Step 2 Intuition – One amazing side effect of training for so long, is you become attuned to your body, if you stop and listen to it, it speaks to you.

Mine said, grab some ankle weights and just hang!

Often I would be seen popping my spine hanging in the gym with a strange smile on my face.

Step 3. Go back to training. – this out of all of them was the easiest one. however, the atrophied muscles on my left side were weak!!

I remember the first day back in a month

I decided to start with the shoulder press, to test my left arm.

Prior to the pop, I could easily perform a shoulder press with a 45kg dumbbell

Now however I could barely get 4kg above my head!!!

That’s a 90% drop in 30 days

I was devastated.

Patience and being present

The testosterone, bodybuilder in me couldn’t quite grasp what the fuck was going on.

It’s quite humbling to go from someone who was strong and able to easily lift the full stack or largest dumbbell in the gym., to once again starting from the beginning.

I was basically 17 again.

Or to be precise my left side was.

What was needed from me now was patience & a plan

A back to basics, slow and steady plan.

Of course, the optimist in me thought 12 weeks and I could get back most of the strength.

And thus started my journey.

But, you may be wondering what I had done.

Computed Axial Tomography Scan

Early on in 2011 I finally had the long-awaited CAT scan.

The result.

I had a herniated disc on top of a slipped disc (C4 and C5)

In all my research I was looking for a solution to the pain, but with no reference to what herniated or slipped disc was, I just brushed it off.

The consultants however recommended fusing the bones.

My response:

“Fuck that”

Needless to say, I no longer had any confidence in the NHS, especially as I, myself had managed to get myself off the painkillers, back in the gym, and on the road to recovery.

Training continued, the 12-week plan turned into a 6-month plan, and then 6 months into 1 year, and before I knew it 8 years had gone by before I was back to pre-injury levels.

8 years!!!!

In that time I had truly got present with what my body could do, what it needed.

Blessing in disguise

The hidden gift of injury

The beauty of being injured led to a dramatic change in training.

It allowed me to play with different sets, reps, and weights.

I really honed in on my body’s requirements.

My training morphed from low rep, high weight strength-based sessions, to high rep, low weight sessions that worked on imbalances and restoring the mind-muscle connection that was lost, due to nerve damage.

Even now, 10 years on, I have little feeling in my left Lat, feeling any back exercise requires concentration to make sure I am hitting the lat and not just using the bicep to lift/move the weight.

I had gone from the old-school 3 sets 8 reps bodybuilder, to one who through injury, realised such regimented programs are not necessarily the only way to grow muscle and workout.

Now I like to play around with workouts.

I still have routines, I still have progressive overload, I still track my progress, but in a way that allows me to enjoy the process and keep the body guessing.

One thing I definitely don’t do now is rush!

My advice to anyone is:

  1. Take your time dont rush the workout, it is better to do 50% of the workout at 100% than 100% of the workout at 50% intensity
  2. Play around with reps, sets and routines, just because people do back and bi’s or chest and tri’s doesnt mean its the only option
  3. Have fun, mix it up.
  4. Track your progress, we often think of progressive overload as 3×8 with a certain weight for x weeks, then increase the weight, but it can also take the form of increasing the reps/sets not the weight
  5. Listen to your body, great bodybuilders will deload, take proper rest days, feed and replenish the body, become present to what it’s needs are, it can be a great teacher!

And finally, if you ever have a herniated disc, perhaps don’t ask your loved one to walk across your back!

If you too have had an injury and come back, I’d love to know:

What happened
What worked for you
How long did the recovery take
and what did it teach you?

Love, light & reps

James

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