Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Training with injuries....

Do you train when you are injured? Should you train when you are injured? Of course it depends to some extent on the nature of the injury and whether surgery or other medical intervention is required to correct it.

I had an e-mail from someone who had fairly recently taken up martial arts but had sustained a shoulder injury requiring surgery and her doctor had advised her to stop doing martial arts. She was asking me what I thought about this advice and whether I had sustained injuries doing martial arts.

Well, who hasn’t sustained some kind of injury doing martial arts? Anything from bumps, bruises, sprains or pulls to ACL tears, rotator cuff injuries, fractured ribs or noses – you name it, it will have happened to someone.  It is almost inconceivable that you will never sustain some kind of injury when you train in martial arts – it’s an occupational hazard!

Surely if we gave up a physical activity every time we were injured we would soon become a world of couch potatoes. Being prepared to risk physical injury and endure the pain of it whilst training on is part of the mental and spiritual development that martial arts are known for.

I had a chronic ‘quad’ injury last year when preparing for my black belt training. I could barely lift my knee up let alone kick with that leg. It didn’t occur to me to stop training until it healed! However I was highly motivated to speed up the healing process (6 weeks from grading) and eventually got relief from a deep tissue massage. Now I have a chronic shoulder injury. I have had a course of physiotherapy which has brought about some minor improvement and I’m planning to try another deep tissue massage to my shoulder, neck and back. However, I have continued to train throughout, putting up with the discomfort and pain afterwards.

My husband continues to train with a chronic hip problem – he literally hobbles home sometimes. My husband is a doctor; if he were his own patient he would probably advise himself to stop doing martial arts. However, this advice would only help his hip (or maybe not – it might get worse with no exercise!) but it wouldn’t help him – he is a whole person, not just a hip. He would be miserable if he couldn’t carry on with training – he’d rather put up with the pain!

How far should we be prepared to go training with a chronic injury? I am always impressed with the courage and fortitude of people who fight back to fitness after a serious injury so they can continue enjoying the activity they love. Michele fought back from her ACL tear a few years ago and has now just been awarded her 6th dan. Likewise, Middle-AgedMartial Artist tore his ACL during his black belt test but fought back to re-take the test a couple of years later. Tiger Lady is fighting back following a brain injury caused by boxing. I’m sure you can all name someone who didn’t give up their martial art because of an injury and fought back to fitness, probably in spite of their doctor’s advice.

Of course there are things we can do to minimise our chance of injury. Injuries often happen because muscles are not strong enough to stabilise joints, or our posture is bad or our technique is incorrect. Keeping our bodies in tip-top condition is a necessary part of martial arts training. Good posture, muscle tone, flexibility, general body movement, as well as good technique – particularly for throwing where you need to bear the full weight of your partner- will help to reduce the chances of injury and help to speed up recovery if it happens.

In my opinion (and I’m not a doctor) unless it is actually fractured, dislocated, sprained to the point you can’t weight bear, bleeding heavily, just been operated on or has rendered you unconscious there is no need to stop training. Grin and bear the discomfort and train on. If it’s bad enough to put you out of action for a while then phase your return as you build up your fitness again – but don’t give up all together.

Remember!  You are more than the sum of your parts. You are certainly more than your injury so don’t be defined by it. What’s best advice for your injury isn’t necessarily best advice for your whole person – you just have to be more sensible about the way you train in future. There are people out there training from wheelchairs, now that’s to be admired!

If you are determined to succeed you will find a way …

Happy training!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor so don't take this post as advice on whether you can train with your injury. It's your injury so it's your call....

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Charles James said...

In our excitement and strong desire to do well we sometimes assume our bodies will do something it won't.

I constantly observe newbies with constant reminders that they need to allow time for the body to make some adjustments.

In this particular case I would have suggested a second opinion from a doctor who specializes in sport medicine and injuries.

They have a better feel for what can be done related to the injuries than a normal doctor or even a doctor who specializes but not in the sport arena.

Even better is a doctor who is a sport injury specialist but one who also is a martial artist.

But, in the best of worlds right?

The Strongest Karate said...

Great post Sue!

I don't mind training while injured; at that point it becomes more mental or spirit training than physical. The one exception is when I am sick. I don't go to class when I am sick simply because I refuse to spread it to my dojomates.

At times like those I'll do my training at home and usually focus on my flexibility.


Kamil said...

Hard karate training is supposed to teach us humility. To my mind, nothing teaches that humility faster than the bumps and bruises that you get from practice. You begin to realize how fragile the human body can be, how much maintenance it requires, how easily we take our health for granted. Great post, Sue. I feel deeply that our training has to find balance between intensity and recuperation. In karate we can't go hard all the time. So many stories of lingering aches that we never addressed properly turning into real disabilities. Managing injury and pain is yet another way karate challenges us to know ourselves.

Felicia said...

Too many typos in the last reply, so let me try again...

Thankfully, I haven't had any serious injuries that have kept me from training, but surgeries often have. It is one of the hardest things in the world for an active person to sit still and let the body heal when all she/he wants to do is get up and move. That's probably why so many athletes and martial artists keep on keeping on when injured: It's just so daggone hard to sit still!

I've had broken toes, severely strained ligaments (lower back), dislocations, achilles issues, joint pain, etc., but I just heated/iced, taped, wrapped, Tiger Balmed, Dit da Jow'ed or whatever and kept going - maybe not as hard or as long while healing, but I did/do keep going. I think the trick is to train differently when injured - like on the bike or in the pool for lower joint/large muscle injuries for example. I see it like this: if my left elbow is smarting, there's no real need for my cardio-vascular system to rest, too, y'know?

Come to think of it, training differently also comes with aging. There are some exercises/activities that I "usta could" do back in the day but now cannot without some soreness catching up with me a few days after - but not anymore. Modification is key, I think. Just because you can't do THIS/THAT doesn't mean you can't do ANYTHING.

See a doc, get her/his advice, but know your body and act accordingly, I say. *Removing ice pack from shin now so I can go and train*

Rick Matz said...

Back in the late 70's when I was training in Aikido, I had the misfortune to have a white belt apply hiji-shime (sort of a standing elbow lock) to me a little too enthusiastically. I've been carrying that with me ever since.

I can go for years without feeling a thing, but when it acts up, it stays with me for months.

I've learned to try and avoid activities that tend to aggravate it. I've also learned that when I am regular in my taijiquan and xingyiquan training, it tends to hurt a lot less and I have a mostly normal range of motion.

When it is acting up and at it's worst, I find ways to work around it. It's that simple.

It is what it is. I don't have any pixie dust to make my elbow better, so I just make do.

Sue C said...

Hi Charles, it's true that some newbies need to learn their limits and probably shouldn't be pushed past them until their fitness and ability improve - this is where an instructor has a duty of care to his/her students.

However with regards to doctor's opinions we shouldn't get to hung up on them! A doctor is duty bound to give you 'best advice' for your injury which will always be 'don't do that sport any more' -he/she has to cover his/her back in case he/she gets sued! We should consider his/her advice and then make our own decision (taking responsibility for the consequences)which will include taking into account what is good for our whole person (mental and physical) and not just the injury. People learn how to work around their injuries. Life's about taking risks!

Brett, there's always something that can be done even when you are injured or sick - even if it's just reading! You're right to point out that you should stay away from the dojo if you are infectious - it's not fair to other people.

Kamil, That's a good point about humility. Martial arts films and action movies in general tend to give the idea that the human body is indestructible and we can just soak up punches and kicks without any consequences. Getting injured during training brings us back to the real world!

Felicia, my brother's partner is currently going through chemo following breast cancer. At 45 she is still a competitive heptathlon entering 'veteran' events in Europe and the Uk. She is finding it really hard not to train at the moment. A situation I'm sure you can empathise with...

However, that's a little different to the usual knocks, bumps and sprains of training, which like you say can be trained through. Knowing your own body is key...

Rick, those chronic injuries are the worse - but like you say, you find ways to work around them when you need to. Here's hoping someone discovers the pixie dust soon...

Charles James said...

Sue, good point. Look at the other doctor advice as gathering the knowledge to make an informed decision his/her self.

Unknown said...

As I've moved into my 40s, it's become very important to train smart and listen to my body. There is a difference between being hurt and being injured. If I waited until nothing hurts, I'm never going to get to train, but I try to be aware of injuries and respect them so that they can heal.

In BJJ, we spar a lot, and it's not uncommon to have a partner tell you before you roll, "Hey, this shoulder's banged up. Let's take it easy today." No problem.

For me, it's been interesting because I've struggled with a herniated disc and chronic back issues most of my adult life. So, BJJ can sometimes aggravate this, but at the same time, the core strength and stability that I gain from training in BJJ is very good for my back. It's a give and take.

I do like the comment about not training sick. That's smart and just downright courteous to one's training partners. I don't know how many times over the years I've come down with a cold or flu after training with someone who has "allergies." :)

Sue C said...

Steve, that's a good distinction between 'hurting' and being injured. And like you say it we people of a certain age stopped training every time we hurt we'd have to stop altogether!


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