Andreas, one of our regulars, puts a positive spin on injury.
Things started going properly south on a Monday afternoon in September 2013. I was going through a painful break-up and had been waiting over the weekend for what I knew was going to be bad news. My solution to this torturous wait was simple: go to the gym and hurt myself to forget. After doing intense sessions on the Saturday and Sunday, I decided to polish myself off with a series of twelve 30 second sprints on a rowing machine with 90 seconds of rest between each. The trick is to go flat out and bathe in the lactate as a result. This was helping clear my mind of otherwise negative thoughts. When I got to the seventh repetition, I felt a twinge in my lower back and slight pins and needles and decided to stop. I got up moved around, stretched a little. My back felt alright. The pins and needles were gone.
I then made a number of mistakes: 1) I decided to spend ten minutes on the rowing machine cooling down afterwards. 2) I then got up, walked over to the water fountain, and as I bent to take a drink, my back went out. I seized up and keeled over and after yelping for help I was carried home by a friend.
As a result, I spent three days in bed being fed by my kind housemates. A few visits to the physio and an MRI later I was told that I ruptured a few of the annuli in my L4-L5 disc, right at the bottom of my spine. My lower lumbar spine had seized up and was barely moving. I was inflexible, weak and incapable of maintaining any position for very long. I decided that I never wanted to go through a similar experience again.
It is worth noting that the incident occurred after I had stopped exercising. Bad posture and a failure to activate the supporting muscles lead to the injury. If I had been more careful bending over, or just had not bent over, I probably could have avoided it. The injury occurred due to fatigue combined with a long period of reinforcing bad muscle activation and motor patterns caused by a lack of mobility and core strength.
Since the incident I have learnt a lot about my body and how it works and I completely changed the way I approach exercise. Rehab was tough to start with. I could not cycle and I could not walk long distances. After a month I was doing daily exercises, starting with no weight at all and building up. The singular most important thing that I learnt during this process was how brilliant the body is at repairing itself. With patience, time and through enforcing correct movement patterns, your body will correct its flaws and repair its injuries to a very large extent. The aim of exercise was suddenly clear: to take care of my body and ensure its function for as long a possible.
To achieve this, exercise became much more of a lifestyle. I got a standing desk at work to try to minimise the time spent sitting still. I began to wear minimal shoes to reduce over extension of the knee when walking and running to help take the strain of the knee and hip and to increase flexibility and strength in my ankles, feet and toes. These processes continue more than two years on. I spend a lot of time thinking about my posture. I do not bend over to pick things off the floor anymore. I have bought flexible trousers that allow me to squat. I measure my progress through many more lenses. I look at mobility and range of motion as much as I looked at strength and cardiovascular fitness. I stopped using free weights entirely. I only use my own body weight. As soon as my form begins to break down I stop, instead of pounding away, just because I can. Less volume with correct form more often goes much further than overdoing it.
I still do all the different types of exercise I used to; circuits, cycling, rowing, running, skiing, walking, climbing, but a vital new addition to all of these has been yoga. I used to be the kind of bloke who thought that yoga was a bit of a waste of time. I have done a complete 180 on that opinion and now I am rather embarrassed to admit I ever held the position.
Yoga provides a perfect and variable mix of body weight strength exercise, both concentric and eccentric, mobility and stretching and has really helped me improve my core strength, body control and posture in a controlled environment. It has helped me substantially improve my performance in other sports and exercise and I swear I just generally feel better and more relaxed. My physio has even been telling me that my lower lumbar is beginning to move again.
As arduous as the above process sounds, I cannot stress how much I have enjoyed it. It has been massively enlightening and pervasive, touching every aspect of my life. As an individual who did not do any exercise during his teenage years, it has been great to get to know my body and use it. My project for the summer is to learn to handstand, something I have never been able to.
As a result of all this, I honestly believe that anybody can change their body for the better no matter what the situation. The trick is to believe and find the correct support and coaching to help do so. Yoga is the perfect place to start if you are a sore and immobile modern human who spends way too much of everyday seated. It allows you to reintroduce your body to its natural range of motion and reignite and stimulate unused muscle and movement patterns. If your problems are more serious, then initially, more heavy duty manipulation might be needed, but further along in the process, yoga will have its place.
I have been asked quite a few times how long I spent rehabbing after the back injury. My answer is that having to rehab my back is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I have never stopped and I never will.