Pain is your best teacher! Come back better, come back stronger!

It was just another day in the gym and I was finishing some ab work. Suddenly, I felt this bulge around my lower ab region, bottom left of the belly button to be precise. Initially, I thought it was a pump. Then, in a few seconds, I couldn’t breathe and was in a lot of pain. It lasted a couple of seconds and subsided on its own. It was the most painful experience I have had in a very longtime. What followed was even worse. I looked up the web and did a bit of self-diagnoses. With all the symptoms I had, it was one hundred percent sure the result will be a serious medical condition. Although I was normal after and didn’t have any swelling, I was extremely worried of the unknown. The experience in the gym, one whole ab muscle stuck out like it was my intestine coming out, was scary. All symptoms were pointing out to herniation, which meant an end to my lifting passion. I went through all the necessary tests and didn’t bother to wait for the reports. I was confident it isn’t good.

What came out was unexpected!!!

The condition diagnosed was a major muscle spasm, which was caused as a result of overuse of the muscle or dehydration,  in some cases also due to electrolyte imbalance (loss of body fluids). Which basically means that I need to take it easy or else I will turn into Iron Man! It’s not every day you experience an ab muscle sticking out. I was fatigued and burned out. My fault. I was not being smart about my passion. At times, when I should have taken it easy, I was completing workouts. Yes, I like to grind and this is a discipline I follow regularly, however, if you do something, you should do it well and be smart about it.  We all get sore and tired. Our body is not always a hundred percent. Take a day off!!! YOU WONT LOOSE ANY MUSCLE OR GAIN FAT IN A DAY.

Coming back to the medical result, I was overjoyed and couldn’t thank god enough. It was like a new lease of life. I promised myself that I will be mindful and prudent going forward.

Our initial mindset is to pick up everything in the gym. We want to impress the opposite sex, carve the best physique, develop monster strength, whatever the goal, at times it blinds us and we lose focus. Like they say, “Rome was not built in a day” There is a process which needs to be followed. A quality physique needs time and effort. It requires years of hard work in the gym, nutrition to the point and injuries are a part of it. Building on that is key. Although, injury is the last thing anyone wants, the nature of the sport is such that sooner or later you will encounter problems related to mobility, muscle tear, fatigue etc. I haven’t come across a single athlete who hasn’t experienced this. There is certainly a way to work around the same and prevent it,however, more often than not, we tend to ignore this and overestimate ourselves to pay a price later.The nature of the injury is what matters. If you ever feel discomfort or pain beyond your control, it’s best to consult a specialist. Not all pain and injuries are bad. With experience, you will learn how to deal with each one. We must respect the need and importance of rehab. You want to make sure the problem is dealt with early so you become better and well informed to control and prevent the same from happening in the future.

Let’s list some of the most common injuries we encounter in the gym and how to deal with them. Again, this is not a replacement to specialized consultancy. This is a guideline to help you deal with common day to day injuries in the gym.

 

Shoulder Pain

One of the most common body parts that gets injured, is your shoulder. It is a usually result of wrong technique.

Let’s first understand the anatomy of the shoulder.

The shoulder comprises of the humerous which fits into the scapula, like a ball socket. The scapula is the shoulder blade.  The wide range of motion in the shoulder is due to the relatively loose humerous which fits in the scapula.

The most common shoulder injuries

  • Frozen shoulder– there is pain in the region due to inflammation. This needs to be addressed asap as movement can become limited in due course of time.
  • Rotator cuff tear– A tendon tear or a muscle tear around the humerus. It is usually a case of overuse of the muscle or wrong technique.
  • Shoulder impingement– the edge of the scapula presses on the rotator cuff as the arm is lifted. If there is inflammation in the rotator cuff, the impingement causes pain.
  • Dislocation- the shoulder bone slips out. It pops out and needs to be placed back. Lifting the arm causes pain and movement is limited. Extremely painful and can cause complication if not treated correctly.

All off this can be prevented and in some cases, you can work around the injury and continue to exercise. Again, it depends on how severe the pain is. Any which way, please see a doctor and get the right advise and medication.

Prevention

Shoulder mobility and stretching before you start weight training for 5-10 mins. This will increase the blood flow by raising the temperature of the body and the muscle in the shoulder area and reduce the chances of injury.

Mobility exercises

  • Light dumbbell Shoulder rotation. Take two five pound dumbbells. Extend your arms in front with your elbows bent and hold them parallel to the ground. Twist it up and then all the way down with your elbows bent. Repeat 10-15 times.
  • Use resistance bands to stretch your shoulder. Look up the web for shoulder stretches.
  • Arm extensions.
  • Sideline Thoracic Rotational Stretch (very effective). Look up the web or ask your trainer for this.

Remember these movements will secure your muscle and get the body temperature up by increasing the blood flow. Right technique with a full range of motion is extremely important. Do not, I repeat, do not compromise on good form for strength. If you’re not able to push a weight, reduce it and do more reps.

Back Pain

Back pain is one of the worst things you can experience. You have difficulties bending, breathing becomes painful.  If you’re an athlete or a fitness enthusiast who frequents the gym, poor technique is one of the main reasons behind this. It can also happen if you’re inactive, overweight or have a bad posture. Carrying extra weight makes you bend forward and stresses your discs and spine. The lower spine is the most affected. It can be a muscle pull or it could be a somewhat damaged disc. The muscle cells in in a human adult go through certain amount of cycles in one’s lifespan. When you weight train, your muscle experiences wear and tear more than an average human being as you’re using the muscle more. Your body repairs muscle cells, however the body’s efficiency in repairing muscle cells depends on factors like, age, gender and other things to name a few.  So, each time you push that heavy weight, technically, your muscle cell cycle goes through an overhaul of sort. We must continue to weight train as the benefits are galore. Most back injuries happen due to a muscular strain. Strength training helps you build a strong back and a strong core. A strong core braces the spine and prevents muscular injury

Let’s understand the anatomy of the spine and list common lower back injuries and rehab methods.

The spine is divided into four sections.

  1. The cervical spine (neck),
  2. Thoracic spine (upper back),
  3. Lumbar spine (lower back),
  4. The sacral region.

Your vertebrae are separated by spinal discs. This provides support by working as a cushion to your joints. Mechanical issues are mainly the cause of lower back pain.

Muscle Strain and Ligament Sprain

You can experience a lower back sprain as a result of a movement suddenly, or it can develop over time with the same movement hitting the same muscle.

  • It can be a stretched muscle which eventually tears.
  • It can be a ligament tear which connects the bones together. Ligaments can become overstretched and injure the joint they are supposed to be stabilizing — so stretch with caution.                                              Prevention
  • We must use proper gear and technique while performing heavy movements.
  • Brace your core in movements like deadlifts, squats etc. Look up the internet on bracing and consult your trainer in the gym.
  • Use of weight lifting belt while performing heavy movements.
  • Use of Supporters every time we lift weights. Though a supporter is only required if you have a weak core, however, we don’t want to take a chance. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Hence, make sure you carry one to the gym.
  1. Back mobility-Stretch your back before you start training. Some of the common stretches are
  2. Lie on your back and pull your knees to your chest. Hold ten seconds and repeat a couple of times.
  3. Lie on your back with the knees bent towards the chest, not all the way, half way. Slowly lower both knees to the left while turning the head to the right. Bring the knees up again and to the right while looking left.
  4. Bend forward and touch your toes with your fingers. Hold for a couple of seconds and repeat a few times.
  5. Neck Rolls.
  6. Reverse Prayer Pose. (look-up the internet for the right technique)

In case of mild pain

  • Ice your back
  • Apply heat to your back

Do this 3-4 times a day for 10-15mins

In cases where the pain is excruciating and movement becomes restricted, see a doctor immediately.

Abdominal spasm or abdominal cramp

This is not a common one, however, people do experience it. I did, and it was excruciating. The abdominal muscle is short and frequent contractions can lead to spasms. If the contraction is severe it can bulge out and remain like that or subside in some cases. This can be due to dehydration, over use of the muscle or it could be electrolyte imbalances. If you feel pain or a bulge do the following

  1. Push the bulge back inside gently and don’t use the muscle.
  2. Stretch your abs and make sure you don’t contract them.
  3. Drink a beverage with electrolyte or just consume plain water and hydrate yourself.
  4. If the bulge does not go back, see a doc immediately.

How to prevent abdominal spasms

  1. Warm up and stretch your abdominal muscles every time you train abs.
  2. Stay hydrated always. It is not only essential for survival, it also helps to keep muscle mass intact. Cellular hydration is key to muscle building. A good way to check your hydration is by looking at your urine colour. If its clear most part of the day, you’re good. Alternatively, you could have a sports drink intra workout. Not necessary all the time, it depends on your training intensity. If you are going to be training longer than usual, say strength and cardio, you could use a sports drink.
  3. Consume whole foods always. They are rich in nutrients and will keep your electrolyte balance in check.
  4. Include a banana in your diet. High in electrolyte potassium
  5. Avoid abs routine for a while if your muscles get fatigued or sore.
  6. Make sure your form is good. Consult a trainer if required

Now, all injuries are a result of something gone wrong. With experience, you will learn how to deal with them. Follow this as a guideline and watch out for your body signals. Never compromise on good form for strength. Yes, injuries will make you strong, however, if it’s out of control, see a doctor. You need to address it, or else, they can become a problem and hamper your training and lifestyle. However, whatever it is, get it fixed and come back strong. Never give up!

Let me leave you with something I strongly believe in-

Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If you quit, however, it lasts forever.Lance Armstrong

Train hard, Train safe!

We lift, therefore we are!

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