THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: COMING BACK FROM A MAJOR INJURY
If you are an athlete, or have been strength training, you are no stranger to injuries. More than likely, you or someone you know has gotten hurt. The best remedy is usually a short layoff from physical activities, with attention given to strengthening imbalances and improving mobility. In other words, don’t go to the gym or play ball into you feel better and the pain is gone. And when you do come back, avoid going heavy on exercises and movements that might cause any pain or discomfort. Make sure to warm up, cool down, stretch, and work on figuring out why you got hurt in the first place.
But what if it’s more than a minor tweak? What if it’s more serious than that?
My neck was straight. Your neck is not supposed to be straight.
HOW BAD IS YOUR PAIN?
I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep from constant pain over the past two and a half months, or that the Doctor just calmly said I needed Tri-Level Neck Fusion, but I suddenly found it very difficult to concentrate. 30% loss in neck movement, pressure on my spinal cord, severe never damage, 75% success rate, etc. And now I had to decide if I wanted the next available surgery opening, almost two and a half weeks away (I had one of the top Neuro/ Spine surgeons in the country, at a teaching hospital). When it sank in that my pain wasn’t going away on its own, I said yes to the surgery opening, and went home with a list of pre-op instructions.
When I finally regained consciousness, I was lying in a portable hospital bed, with a brace around my neck. Funniest thing, I remember two people talking about adjusting my brace, and knowing that a man put it around my neck, however I don’t have any visual memory of the experience. Very strange. But most importantly, my pain was gone! The tingling in my fingers wasn’t there anymore. The burning/ tingling in my shoulder and upper arm was also gone. So was the general tightness, and muscle pain in my upper neck, back, and behind my left shoulder blade.
Anyways, I walked out of the hospital, on my own, the next day. On the way home, we stopped by Jimmy Johns, and I had one of the best subs of my life. Unfortunately, I was unaware that eating was going to be much slower than usual for the next several weeks. Swallowing was going to be difficult for a while.
Oh, and I was required to wear a Miami J neck brace 24/7 for the next six weeks. The Miami J prevented my head from moving. In any direction. I only took it off for five minutes a day, after my shower, to change the pads and let the brace dry. A nurse told me to get an extra set of pads, and to wear the Miami J while I showered. The soap from the shower cleaned the brace and pads, and I didn’t have to deal with wearing the uncomfortable, shower neck brace they also gave me.
After about 10 days of doing nothing but catching up on movies I hadn’t seen over the past couple of years, and destroying everything chocolate in the house, I got that itch. The pain was so unbearable that I hadn’t had the desire to exercise since early November. It was the beginning of February. It had been long enough. Since I wasn’t allowed to lift anything more than 10lbs, strength training was not an option. Instead, I began using an exercise bike (Peloton). I started doing three H.I.I.T. rides a week.
My six-week follow up appointment had to be changed. My Doctor had to go to a conference out of town (again, she is one of the top Neuro/ Spine surgeons in the country, at a teaching hospital). I rescheduled for a week earlier, and was free of the Miami J at 5 weeks. 6 weeks later, and after a second set of X-Rays, the only thing standing between me and complete freedom was a PT evaluation. I outscored my PT Therapist (he was very fit, knowledgeable, and awesome). I was completely cleared. So, I went home, played some basketball, missed a couple of close dunks, ate a nice dinner, and went to bed.
TIME TO HIT THE WEIGHTS.
The next day, I went upstairs and realized that I wasn’t happy with the way I was training. I was bored, and lacked any passion for throwing the weights around. I was done trying to lift like a traditional body builder. Instead, I decided to go back to the basic compound lifts, squats, deadlifts, bench, etc., and add a metabolic H.I.T. finisher to every workout. Heck, even Joe Rogan proclaims that H.I.T. training is the best way to get ripped, and in shape. Well guess what, he was right.
ONE DAY AT A TIME.
Six months feels like a long time. You can’t even see the scar on my neck. Unless I point it out. I feel great. I’m 12 pounds heavier, with the same bodyfat %, that I was before the pain and loss of strength in my left arm began. I can now do five strict pull-ups (I couldn’t do any before my surgery. My nerves were severely damaged.), and am squatting around 405lbs comfortably (not straining). My endurance still isn’t what it used to be, but that could partially be because I’m running around with 212lbs on a 5’11” frame. The best advice I can give anyone that is going through something similar, is to take it one day at a time. Don’t look six months, one year down the road. Look at what you must do that day to get a good workout, and to improve in some way. One thing a day adds up to 365 things in a year. Just saying.
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