This article discusses understanding your injuries and ways to assist the healing process, so you can continue safe training. This article has grown into something bigger than I had originally planned. It follows my own philosophies and strategies to injury management. It is not the only line of thinking that is out there, but it is my approach which I personally use for myself. I have not compared this article to other literature, and there are so many opinions in both medical, sports and natural heath journals. What follows is my thoughts based on working with the human body for over 10 years and competing in strength sports at a national and international level. Where I have had to quickly nurse my body back to health in as short a time as possible. I write it under the premise of "allow yourself to know, without knowing how you know". If it helps me, I do it again. If it doesn’t work, I don’t do it again and leave it behind. Take from it what works or applies to you and discard what doesn't.
The Language of Pain:
Pain is a form of communication; it is your body communicating to your brain that there is a problem. Just like an unknown foreign language you can learn to understand exactly what it is trying to say if you listen carefully. In the beginning as with any new language the majority of its words are totally alien. You do however understand the topic of a conversation to varying degrees through various signals. Tone of voice, facial expressions and body language are all clues. Even the odd similar word to your own language might be thrown in. I feel this is the level that most people are at with understanding their pain, or lack of understanding as the case might be.
You can see if a conversation is going well between two friends due to smiles and laughter with relaxed body language, this could be no pain. If we are continuing to build this analogy, if they were arguing there could be raised fists with elevated aggressive tones to their voice, this could be pain. But what exactly are they arguing about? Without knowledge of the language you will never fully understand. You could get clues from the surroundings, a spilt drink maybe in a bar would be a good indicator but you would never fully comprehend the true nature of the conversation.
However, pain is not as complex or as detailed as a language, it doesn't need to be. It would be closer to learning the cries of a baby. To someone who is not a parent all baby cries sound the same. As a new father myself, I know that to the parent the cry for food is very different from a tired baby cry even though the difference is subtle. Just like learning the cries of a baby I feel pain can be learnt in a similar way. Once you understand what your body is saying you can address it in different and more appropriate ways.
Pain can be described with many words, burning, sharp, dull, achy, and electrical. Some of these are easy to learn, we all know what burning feels like, toothache, or the quick sharp electrical quality of a pinched nerve. We can compare these pain sensations easily with other people and use them as comparisons to describe what we are feeling. Specific to arm wrestling is that deep bone pain which keeps us up at night or the inner elbow pain that is triggered just by washing your face and hair. Just like the baby’s cries these sensations are all indicating something different is happening. It is also important to recognize that pain is whatever you say it is and only you need to understand its subtle differences. Listen for minute variances in the sensations from your body, like anything you are aware of you automatically start to learn with little effort. All you need to do is bring your attention to it.
Cup of Tea Anyone?
How the body heals is still not fully understood so I am going to explain how I understand it with a very simple analogy - the making of a cup of tea. So the tea is the food, the tea bag is the cell walls and the water is the blood. The cup with all its contents would be the body. Blood is the transportation system which the body uses to get nutrients from the food to the cells once it has been broken down. How it is broken down is not important and there are other systems involved like Venus return but for the scope of this article we will keep it simple. You drop the tea bag in, let it sit for five minutes and the tea will flow through the bag into the water (The nutrients flowing through the cell wall), this is exactly how a body does it and does it very well. However, who wants to wait five minutes for their tea? How can we make the process faster? We can stir it, squash the teabag or use hotter water. It is the same with the body I feel that the process of healing can be helped or assisted. This is another important thing to recognize is that the body does all the rebuilding itself, we can only help or assist the process but not do the body’s job for itself. We can create a catalyst using external factors.
It’s All in the Blood.
The blood carries all the new building blocks to heal the body so the more blood flow you get to an area the more deliveries of raw materials it has
1. Keep the area moving -The heart is not the only source of energy to pump the blood, the circulatory system is filled with one way valves allowing the blood to move only one direction round the system. Simple muscle contraction anywhere in the body squeezes blood out of the area then when it releases it fills with new blood and the old stuff is forced along, for example when you walk your calves act like a second heart. So it’s fair to suggest that bodies are built for movement and keeping an area moving is essential to the healing process.
2. Manual Therapy - A second way is through manual therapies such as massage and soft tissue manipulation where an external force pushes the blood through. There are many other forms of bodywork which work well but this is beyond the scope of this article, you have to find the correct therapy/therapist for you!
Lack of Pain Equal Lack of Injury?
This is certainly not the case. I have been working with the human body for over 10 years now. Specifically working with every aspect of muscular skeletal dysfunction. On top of that I have been listening to, and learning the language of my pain in my own body for a similar length of time. I have gone past the stage were my body speaks to me in cries and can understand the pain as if it was speaking words. I know what action plan I need to take when I start to feel the different sensations in my body.
With arm wrestling, which I have been doing for many years, the pain sensations are different to anything I have felt before. In that time, I have learnt all the new sensations of what I feel, what they mean and what I have to do to get them to heal. I feel that the sensation of pain can stop before the injury has healed so it is important to figure out when to know when injuries are not a 100% better. Moreover, it’s not enough to just heal, if managed correctly your body should have also gotten stronger at site of injury. I don’t mean strength as in a muscle lifting more weight but the strength of the physical structure of the injured site, reinforcing the connective tissue as opposed to strengthening the muscle. So, in injury management, the getting stronger part is what’s key and also one of the more difficult aspects is learning when this has been achieved as that pain can leave before an area has gotten stronger. In arm wrestling if you continually get the same injury, let it heal and it blows again year after year, the injury is not being allowed to rebuild stronger. The problem is if there are no cries from your body how can you know if you have fully healed and gotten stronger? There is a way….
You are now armed with very basic idea of the language of pain, how the body heals and you know of the two ways of getting fresh blood to the area. Over time you will learn to understand what type of injury you have sustained; you will know this by the type of pain you are experiencing. So with this knowledge we now need to formulate a strategy to assist the rebuild effort. Key to this plan is to not get re injured; compounding injury on top of injury is a recipe for career ending disaster. It is very important to wait till long after an injury appears to have healed. It is this time that the rebuilding stronger phase happens. There is little scientific evidence that I can find to back up my next claims bar my own experience along with numerous sources I have read over the years. These will vary with individuals as bodies are very different along with people’s diets and how they live. So as we go through the healing process from injury to rebuild to strengthen the sensations or language the body speaks in will change. The different approaches to assisting the body will also add new lines of communication between your body and your brain. Learning this is imperative. Learning what specifically works for you and your body is essential. Different people get different results from different thing so try out new ideas remembering or even better writing down what helped and what didn't. You will slowly develop “go to” strategies for specific sensations and injuries.
The Strategic Approaches
1. Staying healthy and injury free. This is more important than gaining kilos on a lift or exercise. learn from previous mistakes and don’t enter situations that have led to injury. Be patient you will continue to get stringer if you are continuing to train.
2. Keeping the area of the body doing what it is meant to be doing. This is with regards to off the table application. Bodies will rebuild for the purpose they are being used for if it is continually used in a certain way. Push areas to their full range of motion to maintain mobility. You don’t have to stretch but have to reach the point of stretch.
3. Keep the areas moving through the full range of motion when working on the table. In arm wrestling the arm is put through enormous unnatural pressures and you should continue on the table putting those specific forces through the soft tissues thus assisting the body to rebuild for the purpose of arm wrestling.
4. Unless you have broken a bone, immobilization and total rest is not effective. Work around your injuries, continue to train in positions that are pain free.
5. If you are getting any type of severe pain in whatever form after your injury management work, your rebuild effort is not helping but hindering. It is your body explaining in very clear terms you are creating more damage. Any alarm bells in your head means something is probably not right and you should readjust your training. If you are not sure or the alarm bells are slight, I would air on the side of caution.
6. Slowly progressing through the stages of healing so you don’t push the injury site too hard. You slowly increase the work load all the time listening to what your body is explaining to you about what is happening.
7. Monitor the level of your pain - if it increases change your technique or approach. Do this with everything on and off the table even if you are using just a few grams of pressure, keep it so the pain level never goes above 1 out of 10. Work the sore angles do very small micro movements. Monitor through your training session, the next day and week how it is progressing
8. Regular warm-ups throughout the day. Not just when you are training. This can be very boring but very effective. Do a long light warm up and see if you feel better.
9. Some pain can be a good thing. The feeling you get after doing a new exercise at the gym and you get that deep sore to press pain. This shows that you have not caused an injury but trained just over your limits and your body is rebuilding happily
10. Continue training on the table. As this is what you intend to use your body for so it needs to rebuild with that intent of use
Help or Hinder
I learnt this exercise from Devon Larratt who also has a video out on this technique which I put in to practice is very high reps 500 to a 1000. I won’t go in to too much detail about it here but left the link for it below
My own personal experience with this technique is that it worked very well for my inner elbow injury. I know this because prior to this exercise I had had it for a month with little change. However, after doing this for a week every other day my hyper sensitive inner elbow dropped by 80%. Conversely it hindered an injury in my brachialis. When I applied the same technique to brachialis it increased the sensation of the injury that day and the next so I modified and I have found that massage helped enormously with brachialis. So in the future I will recognise the pain signals which felt very different and take similar approaches to remedy similar problems.
A Working Body Needs Body Work
So this leads me to massage and body work in general, l I regularly get work done of my whole body. The work I get is structural integration (Rolfing), osteopathy and to a lesser degree acupuncture. Not that it matters what type of work you get, what is important is getting the right modality for you, the right practitioner for you and lastly a good practitioner. The last two may sound similar but there is a difference and these three components are all intertwined as well. You have to have all three for it to work. You can go to a very experienced practitioner who you like but what they practice doesn't work for you. More common is a modality might work for you but you have a poor practitioner. So the moral of the story is try a few things by a few different people before you discredit it as not working. Don’t just go once and expect earth shattering changes either, sometimes things take time. Try using this rule of thumb go a minimum of 3 times or however many months you have had any injury, whichever is the highest. Use that as a guide to how many sessions you need. Again this is a learning curve and an expensive one at times. Try going to people who have been recommended, once you have found someone who is good you can reap untold benefits. I am at the point now that I can solve problems in 1 to 2 sessions by going to the right practitioner. I also do preemptive strikes if I start to feel things niggling.
I treat this cost like a gym membership or like a racket which has to be replaced over time, only difference is we are the piece of equipment.
Prevention Better than Cure
I had extensive conversations with many people about injury rehabilitation and it is what is prompting me to right this article. One of the big things I have heard is "don’t get injured" easier said than done…or is it?
There are a number of ways I have developed for myself based on my line of work and from various sources on how to train with your club on the table. Mainly from Keith Taylor at Preston Panthers, Devon Larratt and at my club training with the House of Pain in Melbourne (slightly ironic the name of my club and my views on training). Training “crazy hard” is not the same as training till you get injured. Talk to your team mates, and they are your team mates! They are vital to your success and you to them. Let them know your limits and learn the capabilities of theirs. Forget your ego, leave it at the door and for competitive matches. Treat table time as you would a gym session for example you wouldn't do 4 hours of continuous 1 rep max exercises at the gym so don’t do it on the table. Spend time on warming up, lots of it, don't worry that a guy you can normally beat you loses to because you have spent 15 min warming up. Spend time especially warming up those sore spots as described above. Warm up before you go to training as well as at training.
Strong guys should hold weaker guys and let them work. Repeatedly holding on to losing positions at full force is not productive and is not something you can do on a regular basis without running in to problems. Either is getting slammed to the pad repeatedly. Static holds and training in winning positions that are controlled is much safer. The stronger guy can put himself in to as compromising situation as he feels safe in, allowing the other guy to do his thing. Do not do anything fast or unexpected, I have had this done a lot to me by bigger stronger guys who start to get beat for whatever reason will quickly readjust or rapidly pull it back out of a bad situation. Don’t worry big guys your rep will stay intact we are only training, respecting the health of your training partner is paramount.
To be Injured or not to be Injured?
How do you know when your tissue is healthy or not healthy? For me it’s when I can walk up to a table grip up and know that I can go full force without risk of injury however - NEVER DO THIS! I don’t do it, but I just know the small differences in sensations or lack of sensation that I could go full tilt. I will still warm up slowly. You can do things like throw a ball pain free, something most arm wrestlers struggle with. We have all felt our strength diminish due to pain this is the brain switching off the power to avoid further damage. I look at getting healthy as more important than getting strong. In conclusion getting strong is a byproduct of being healthy and staying on the table training.