In Russia, we only go to see the doctor when we start bleeding from the ears. It means that our culture teaches us to push through pain and discomfort to its very limit. This is a kind of a thing that can be good in some cases, or make you broken for the rest of your life. As for me, I always had a mix of both hypochondria and fatalism when it comes to physical pain or sickness. If the first kept me in constant state of light panic, the second always prevailed anyway. This attitude led to me ignoring pain in my left shoulder for 3 years. It started with a slight discomfort to a growing pinching sensation until finally, the glenohumeral joint just got blocked because my body decided that it was enough for it. I can thank my nervous system for stopping me, because after an MRI scan I found out that more than 50% of my supraspinatus tendon was ruptured and if I continued at the same pace it would end up being a complete tear, the only remedy for which would be invasive surgery.
Frustration is a very mild description of my condition at this moment. Being always naturally strong, it was extremely difficult to admit that I have to give up most of the strength I have been so proud of. I went from doing multiple freestanding handstand push ups, acrobatics and archer pull ups to not being able to simply hang or hold my weight on that hand in plank position. In the first couple of weeks the pain was excruciating, the range of motion was extremely limited and strength was fading away daily. Moving into winter didn’t help – the pain wouldn’t let me sleep at night, I’d have to wake up multiple times to put warming cream on the area just to be able to fall asleep again. Not an uplifting picture, especially for someone who identifies themselves with a high level of physical ability.
I was angry at myself for not paying more attention to it before it got to such a horrible state. Slowly my physical practice was reshaping itself, because every day I would discover a new limit: ouch, I cannot do this move on the floor because if I turn my hand like this I see stars; shit, I cannot do arm waves because my arm won’t lift at this angle and so on and so forth. I was determined not to stop moving, but every day it was extremely hard to motivate myself to start. I would sit aside rolling a tennis ball on my rotator cuff for almost an hour postponing beginning of the session. It made me pissed at myself. I dedicated my life to physical practice and now it felt like someone was taking my identity away from me, and the worst thing is that there was no one to blame but myself.
And once in the moment of enlightment I looked at myself from a distance and was disgusted by what a pussy I had become. As a person who always took pride in being able to overcome circumstances, I was whining way too much for such little damage. The first step towards turning things around was realizing that there is actually way more that I can do than I cannot. The beauty of movement practice is that there is always a direction to evolve, with any kind of limitations you might have. I started spending more time on things like singing lessons, learning how to play guitar, juggling, spinal motion, movement qualities etc. etc. treating it all just as seriously as I would treat the most elaborate trick. And this was probably the most important shift in the way I have started to perceive physical practice nowadays.
Being so concerned with keeping my shiny skills and big muscles, I was on an ego trip. It is amazing to be able to feel the power within your body, but it is also important to understand early on, that in any case, it will deteriorate with time. Being partially disabled opened my eyes to better understand what movement practice means, it helped me widen and deepen it and redirect it into a better riverbed. I figured that there is always so much more that we do not know, and even more of that we do not even know we don’t know. So looking at things from a movement perspective opens you to infinite possibilities for growth. It is a craftsman’s way to become a better human. All directions are open, you just need to put your foot in the door and start the journey. It is funny to think now, that what it took to truly shift the paradigm for me was hurting myself, a very Russian thing indeed.
My current practice consists of 70% rehab oriented stuff, which are sometimes things that would give your physiotherapist a panic attack. I find ways to move that do not hurt, and trust me there are many, regardless of the injury you might have. After a couple of months, I did resort to additional therapy and had a stem cell shot which made a huge difference, but my main priority now is fixing the mechanics of the joint so it won’t get screwed again as soon as I start using it full on.
On the practical side my advice would be:
Moving through injury is the best possible solution. If there is no bone sticking out of the surface of your skin – immobilization of the injured limb in most cases will not support healing as fast as keeping it active. Disuse of a muscle creates all kind of metabolic processes in it that do not favoring healing and the longer it is deprived of movement, the harder it is to reverse these processes. (E.I. Glover, S.M. Philips, B.R. Oates et al, 2008)
Find a specialist that can help. Make sure they are not bullshitting you into paying them money while not helping, though – they should give you homework and you should see the difference between each session. If they only treat you with weird machines and half ass massages trying to sell an unlimited amount of sessions – maybe you should look somewhere else. Good therapists shouldn’t have a desire to see you too often.
Educate yourself on anatomy and physiology, on how movement affects your systems and what the strategies are in your particular case to move through the Injury. It will make your bullshit detector while finding a good therapist better, too. (I wrote a little article on the nature of injury here).
Another important part of recovery from injury is nutrition and supplementation. I am no expert on this but I did my bit of research in order to provide my body with proper support for recovery from the inside and it seemed to work. I was taking a lot of collagen, vitamins C and D (N. DePhilippo, Z. Aman, et al, 2018; K.A. Dougherthy, M.F. Delisio, D.K. Agraval, 2016); I was making sure to have some protein after each training session and made sure I had enough of it (to facilitate the building of new tissue and avoid muscle atrophy) and carbs (you can’t be low on energy when your body is recovering) in my meals in general. I also added an essential amino acids supplement right before going to bed. And of course, I made sure not to eat any processed food and as little simple sugar as possible.
In the first few days after an injury occurs it is not recommended to reduce inflammatory processes because they are a natural response of the body to damage and are necessary to start a proper healing process. (L.Galland, 2010) However, prolonged inflammation can further damage the tissue so after acute period passed I started using anti-inflammatory oils and creams at night. If it was getting really bad I’d take a curcumin supplement or even ibuprofen at times (make sure your stomach is fit for that).
My practice looks different now and what I see is there is a constant space for it to grow and reshape itself. I will come back to acrobatics and strength work when it is fully fixed, but I will look at it, for sure, from a completely different angle.
Movement culture is a beautiful phenomenon and I am very happy to witness its rise. It is an eye opener to our nature and the best guide to the way we interact with the world. In the times when internal growth does not seem to be valued anymore, it is a breath of fresh air. It pushes you to the limit of your mental and physical capacity, showing you that there is always a little bit more that can be improved on. It makes it the catalyst of change within oneself – the only way to make the world a better place.