A few evenings ago, I came back from my weekly soccer game and walked into a bit of a mess in my living room. For a couple of weeks my elderly dog has been a little restless, and when she’s restless she tends to get slightly destructive. She’s also 14 1/2 years old, so I usually just chalk it up to her being crotchety and it’s never gotten really bad. What I walked into on Tuesday was pretty bad. There were pieces of my couch all over the floor, and she’d chewed up three sections of it.
Of course, my first reaction is to get angry with her. I rescued this dog 12 years ago and I know her like the back of my hand, and it’s been just her and me since my divorce seven years ago. So usually we figure out a way to get along pretty well, but this was obviously something a little bit further than she’d done in the past.
The reason that I’m bringing this up is an example, is I want to illustrate the common themes of emotion and reactivity that people go through when they experience something unexpected or something that triggers them. As I said before, my first reaction was anger, mostly coming from frustration. A couch is an expensive piece of furniture to have to replace, especially when you’re not sure if you do replace it if the next one is just going to get destroyed again. Right now, times are tough and something like replacing a couch isn’t in my budget.
After I had that initial reaction of anger and frustration, the next day I suddenly started to explore the reasons WHY she would have done something like that. Whenever animals or humans have a reaction to something, it isn’t like it just comes out of nowhere. There is always a reason for it.
This concept applies to your body as well. Physical reactions are just a response to a stimulus from your nervous system. So that can come in the form of muscular contraction, it can come under the form of protection, it can even come in the form of pain if you’re doing something that your body wants to avoid. Your body is an incredibly intelligent mechanism that is constantly evaluating the stimulus around you, and providing a response to that stimulus.
Emotionally your brain reacts the same way. The instinct of your body is to protect you from things like trauma or physical situations that it perceives as something that might harm you. So when you’re having a reaction to something with an emotion such as anger, fear, or depression sometimes realizing that it is simply a physical response or an emotional response can really help you recognize the situation and be able to deal with it in a timely manner. Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a client about a massive amount of anxiety she was having, so I explained to her that anxiety is a perfectly normal nervous system reaction your body has in order to avoid a situation or protect you from something that it thinks might hurt it. She expressed that it was like a lightbulb going off in her head, and just simply knowing that her reaction was a normal reaction made all the difference towards being able to come down from her anxious feelings.
So as you go about your days and you’re dealing with stressful situations or possibly even having reactions to things that you don’t understand, remember that recognizing but your body has an innate instinct to protect you from things is part of the process. This can be something as mild as a gut feeling, road rage, or as severe as a full blown panic attack, and we all respond to these types of scenarios in different ways.
Going back to the original example, my dog was so worked up that the only way she could deal with her stress was to chew on something. Your reaction may be to grab food, distract yourself with social media, or even lash out at somebody like a partner or a child. I’m going to encourage you that the next time this happens, you take a deep breath and recognize where the reaction is coming from, and then if it’s somebody that is causing the problem try to understand where their thought process may come from. Sometimes it is completely unconscious, and the person is not doing it intentionally at all. My dog didn’t mean to eat my couch. She didn’t suddenly get up one day and say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna destroy Dad’s furniture!’ She simply needed an outlet, and it’s my job to figure out what that outlet is and how to redirect her energy toward something not destructive.
I hope that this gives you some new thought processes around stress and triggers. Whenever you’re feeling yourself getting upset, just do yourself a favor and even if you walk into a room with a torn apart couch, remember that sometimes your emotions are going to get the best of you and that’s OK. Recognizing WHY is part of the process to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Any active person has had it happen. You are doing whatever activity you enjoy and suddenly feel a bit of a pull, cramp, sharp pain or something not quite right. Hopefully you’re smart enough to stop what you are doing and not push through the pain to complete whatever you are doing, but maybe not.
Then the inflammatory feeling starts kicking in. Your tissue will feel full, there may be lingering low level pain or sometimes acute high level pain when you move. Sometimes you can’t move without your body telling you not to through a jolt of pain. Often this is a bit indicator of the severity of whatever injury has happened.
So you realize that this is beyond a simple pull, mild strain or simple fatigue. You’ve done something that may require intervention and some sort of attention. You’ve injured yourself.
First things first: if you have acute high level pain and can’t move a limb or joint please GO TO A HOSPITAL. You will wait a while because musculo-skeletal injuries aren’t triaged as a priority but at least you will likely get some imaging immediately. There may also be things going on underneath the surface you have no idea about so better safe than sorry.
If that’s not the case, what is your next step. Well, there is a simple routine that you should follow, and it can be done in this order:
This is what you do immediately. The biggest thing to do with any injury is STOP MOVING IT. Don’t stretch it right away, don’t think that you can “push through the pain”. You will make things worse. Stop what you’re doing. Your body is very intelligent and is already doing what it needs to in order to start fixing things. Give it a chance and don’t make things worse.
Don’t ignore pain. Pain is a signal saying “QUIT IT”. Your body is literally telling you to stop what you’re doing just like taking your hand off a hot stove. Once you have stopped moving, the next step is…
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Is the pain acute with movement or does it come and go, for example it stiffens up during sleep or is painful at different times of day?
- Is my strength compromised for certain movements, ie can I not pick something up, reach over my head or extend my leg without a problem?
- Is there soft tissue damage? Swelling is one thing, but bruising typically means a much more severe trauma that requires attention faster.
The more you have information, the easier the next step will be because you can figure out which practitioner to see first and not waste your time. Have a soft tissue problem? Massage might be best? A serious joint issue? Maybe an osteopath or chiropractor (more on this later in the article). Arming yourself with answers and figuring things out on your own can be valuable in not wasting your time. That leads us to…
This does NOT mean going to someone like me and asking them what it is, because I have no authority to diagnose anything even with my years of experience. What is does mean is going to someone with the words Doctor in front of their name and ideally getting some testing and/or imaging. I always tell my clients to push for imaging because ultrasound and x-ray can reveal things simple testing cannot. If MRIs were more easily accessible that would be my default for many things. For those of you in Canada, remember that some provinces (ie Quebec for those of us in Ottawa) do allow paid MRI’s – you just have to pay for it.
As much as I appreciate the access to General Practitioners or walk in clinics, regular MD’s have little to no experience with bone and joint injuries and often will suggest exactly what I just said anyway, so don’t waste your time. And if a GP does give you a “maybe it’s this” diagnosis please get it confirmed by someone with experience and ideally imaging as I said.
Be proactive – once you have a diagnosis, learn everything about it that you can. It will not only educate you on what the injury is, hopefully it will make you realize WHY it happened and how to prevent it in the future. Often during my initial consultation I have found that clients have never had their injury properly explained to them by anyone and have no idea what happened to them and why. Knowing the why is very important for any recovery model. And that allows me to discuss…
After you have a diagnosis, depending where you get it the first suggestion is always physiotherapy. It’s covered under benefits, didn’t you know? The only problem is that there are lots of other ways to treat an injury and in my experience physio yields the worst results overall for my clients and others I have spoken to. If I was going to suggest the order you should look into things and why, here’s my list. Again, not to knock any practitioners – there are lots of good and bad ones out there – this is simply my experience in dealing with all of them frequently.
#1: Osteopath. These people frequently have had experience in another modality and decided to move into osteopathy. From an assessment and treatment perspective the results from these practitioners seems to be consistent, and they don’t ask to see patients frequently.
#2: Massage Therapist. With the disclaimer that this is for soft tissue injuries only, a good massage therapist can help with things like scar tissue, blood flow to improve tissue and relieving stiffness and immobility. This should be included with any recovery plan.
#3: Chiropractic – Again, with the disclaimer that this does NOT mean back cracking or neck cracking. A good chiropractor who knows other treatment protocols like ART or myofasical release, or even relieving nerve entrapment are usually your best bet.
The thing with chiropractors is that a lot of them are salespeople who try to lock you into long term treatment plans where you see them three times a week – please don’t fall for this and if it is suggested, find another practitioner. This generally doesn’t have any interest in your recovery, it has interest in your wallet and benefit plan. If you need to see a practitioner three times a week they need to justify it.
#4: Physiotherapy. Again, there are good physios out there. The problem is that in my experience they are few and far between. Look for someone who doesn’t use outdated methods, someone who will actually spend time with you individually (not hook you up to a machine and walk away or leave you with an assistant), and who will progress you session to session properly.
How long does it take for proper recovery? The general rule for serious soft tissue injuries is 6-12 weeks, more serious damage like tendons and ligaments can be up to 3-6 months. Anything requiring surgical intervention can be 6-12 months. This is not carved in stone, but it will give you some perspective in that you need to assume that this is a long term fix and not a temporary thing.
In my opinion surgery should always be a last resort. It is done when there is no other option for restoring tissue. Full tears, severe arthritis, and things like broken joints often carry this load and it is totally necessary. If you have the option, see how well you can get first without it and then see about surgery if all else fails. Realize that if you meet with a surgeon, they are going to likely push for an operation – that’s their job. You have options, consider them all wisely before making a decision that can affect your body for the rest of your life.
As a final note, the number one thing I see that causes injuries to recur is that the person rushed back into exercise and doesn’t do what they need to do to fully recover. This just makes things worse and more often than not will result in a worse injury down the road. Listen to your body and ease back into exercise. Sometimes my clients have to start off ridiculously easy and it drives them crazy, but it takes time for recovery and having a guided path is absolutely essential.
So you’re hurt – there are lots of options for you to pursue and the good news is an injury doesn’t have to be the end of the world. If I told you the laundry list of injuries I’ve had (including a disc herniation and multiple tears in various places) you would be surprised – but I can still move easily and lift heavy things without a problem. Be smart, apply things properly and keep moving forward.
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Years ago I had a client who had torn his rotator cuff during a simple movement. The funny thing was, he didn’t even know it until he got an MRI on the area. He had come to me with some shoulder pain and I did what I do and strengthened the area, thinking he had simple tendonitis and it resolved in a few months and he went back to regular lifting.
The “holy crap” moment came when he got the results of his MRI, and his orthopedic surgeon said that he actually had a full tear in part of his rotator cuff. What the surgeon also said was that his shoulder was so perfectly strengthened to within millimeters of the tear that his shoulder could function without a problem even though he had an injury that should have required surgery.
Over the years I’ve had many examples of this type of thing within my practice. Hip replacement? Golfing within four months. Achilles tendonitis? Took four weeks. Massive spinal trauma due to getting hit by a truck twenty years prior? Resolved issues and can perform at work and home without issue. Four herniated discs? Skating and lifting things again within six months. Powerlifter with a chronic hip issue that wouldn’t allow her past parallel? Competed in provincials several months later. I had a woman come in with a diagnosed tennis elbow she had for over a year and resolved that in 40 minutes by popping it back into place. She’s still good months later. Bodybuilders who have shoulder issues? Retrained and fine after a couple of weeks.
I actually got an email a few months ago from a client with two knees that were essentially destroyed due to lack of cartilage I worked with three years ago – who said she is still walking 20 miles a week and her knees are totally fine.
Here’s the funny thing – sometimes I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I know a lot about the body and how it responds to force and how to strengthen things really effectively. This is simply a confidence issue stemming from years of bullying and neglect at home where I had to fight to prove that I was good at anything and even then got ignored so gave up a lot.
Recently though I’ve had a bit of a mind shift. I’ve taken a look at the success I have had over the years with clients of many shapes, sizes and ability levels and realized that while sometimes I keep putting myself down, I have actually affected and helped a ton of people in a very positive way when it comes to “fixing” injuries and getting people moving without a problem again. I’ve also encountered some incredibly rare conditions that I have had the luck to be able to work on and gain experience with. My brain just seems to work in line with movement and force so that I can make logical sense of things and actually get to the root of the issue.
So what’s the point of this? I guess it is a simple statement that I’ve realized that I can embrace this skill. It is something that I was meant to do. Something I’m really good at and can help people with.
Last year in a course they asked us to generate something called a “sankalpa” which is a yoga word for a simple statement that you use to focus yourself and discover your inner being. The first thing that popped into my head after thinking about it was “I am a healer”. My other inner voice pushes that away and tells me I’m not good enough, but recently I’ve been able to shift into another way of thinking finally.
So there is is: I am a healer.
The exciting thing about it is that there are still many avenues I can explore, directions I can take and methodologies I can learn in order to increase the level of skill I already have. I’ve gone down a couple of those paths, but now it is time to make it a direct focus and really get into the practice (not that I wasn’t already). It feels good to have that type of mind shift, even though it has taken a long time.
We are all on the Earth for a reason, and as much as I tried to push it away and ignore it, this is simply my calling. I’ve known it for many years but now I’m just declaring that it is time to stop that and embrace it instead. Expect to see some changes to the practice in the near future.
Got a problem? Injury? Strange condition that you want to improve? Come at me bro. Want to feel better, move better? Tried everything and nothing seems to work? Try this. And the great thing is that it can be applied to many communities from heavy lifters who tweak something to the elderly who have been living with problems for years.
With the support of my amazing family and community and clients I know that I can make some changes that will only enhance my ability to help people and make them well physically again. And with any luck help more people that recently thought that there was no help for them. Wish me luck and of course, if you know of anyone that might need help please just let me know.
Nutrition is obviously a hot topic these days, with everyone touting gluten free this and sugar free that. Basically if you read enough on the internet, everything is going to kill you. Here’s a bit of a hint – everything IS going to kill you eventually. Really what you want to focus on is staving off the effects for as long as you possibly can and not letting yourself develop a chronic degenerative disease that might make it happen sooner. My grandmother recently turned 100 years old, and still puts salt on things, eats butter and has two sugar cubes in her instant decaf coffee every day plus a hit of sherry once in a while. I also share a Coke with her once a year. She also lives an incredibly stress free lifestyle, which I think is one of the major contributors to degenerative disease today – but I digress.
While at the store this morning I thought I might post about exactly what I shop for and why, and hope that it might give you some insight into what a “fitness person” eats. So here’s what was in my grocery cart this morning, which is pretty typical of 90% of our food intake:
Apples Tomatoes Bananas Cheese
Grapes Cucumber Green Beans Whole Wheat Wraps
Broccoli Strawberries Kale Lactose Free Milk
Greek Yogurt Brussels Sprouts Oranges Brown Rice
Peppers Sweet Potatoes Peppermint Tea
Tofu (we feed this to our daughter for fat and protein – and she loves it – yes, I know about soy)
Cheerios (my daughter also loves these as a treat but I eat them too for breakfast sometimes)
Total Cost: $53 (at our local FreshCo) for enough to cover us for about four to five days. We typically spend about $80 per week on groceries.
We get our meat from a local butcher because it is better quality – I rarely buy meat from the grocery store unless they are having a big sale on something in bulk. Most of our meat is fish and chicken, but I also buy ground beef and sometimes a roast for convenience. Once a week we do a slow cooker meal which covers us for 3-4 meals so it is easy for my wife to simply reheat if I am working late.
You might notice that there’s nothing from a box or that’s frozen. This isn’t always the case – we buy frozen fish because it is cheaper and my butcher doesn’t carry it and we buy frozen peas because they are convenient and cheaper as well. We don’t drink pop, or any juice. I drink coffee that I sometimes make at home but I typically buy one from Tim Horton’s 5 days a week when I’m on my way to work. I put cream and sugar in it because it tastes better that way. If I want a snack I’ll eat fruit, yogurt or banana chips from Bulk Barn since I’m allergic to nuts and can’t eat those. My post long run recovery drink is chocolate milk and sometimes my wife puts it in her coffee at home.
Here’s another shocker – I don’t take supplements. No protein shakes, no BCAA’s, nothing beyond a simple Vitamin C to help reduce the risk of illness. I found through trial and error that protein powders don’t make my system happy and the added juice and sugar add up to a ton as well. Not that this is necessary, but I made a decision a while ago to basically cut back on anything artificial or that has chemicals in it, which any protein powder does. And you can tell me until you’re blue in the face how yours comes from 100% natural ingredients, but the truth is, your powder still got made in a factory with 20 others that are simply boxed and shipped to other companies and there are still fillers and additives in it. So basically I get 80% of my nutrition from real food, and the other 20% is the occasional 1-2 times a week I grab something when I’m out. About once every other week my wife and I order in Thai food like normal people. I follow the 80/20 rule – if you do the right thing 80% of the time it likely makes up for the 20% that you don’t.
I also have a ten month old at home – we feed her pretty much the same stuff that we eat at this point because she loves to feed herself and imitate Mom and Dad. She loves beans, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, tofu, brown rice pasta, and especially strawberries. For breakfast we often make her toast with almond butter and she loves it. She has been exposed to pretty much everything (all fish, nuts, major allergens except for honey) and has no food allergies. She doesn’t like too much animal protein because of the texture at this stage, but she will eat fish and chicken if we hide it or if she’s hungry enough.
So there you have it – the grocery and eating habits of a not perfect personal trainer and a regular human being. I know that nutrition is a personal choice for many people so if you want to comment, that’s fine – I just might not listen. I’ve spoken about nutrition before, and lots of people either over complicate it or simply don’t manage their time well. They hit the snooze button 3 times and skip breakfast. They don’t bother making lunch at home and spend hundreds a month eating out – which also leads to unhealthy choices. Instead of whipping something up that’s healthy and easy at home (which you can easily do in 15 minutes) they stop and pick up something packaged or fast food. Always remember – this is a choice. If you choose to do that, then fine, but don’t complain about it. It is really easy to make a simple change and manage your life and time better so you can live longer and feel better. If you’re going to make a change, don’t make it for 6 weeks or a “90 day challenge” – make it for the rest of your life and commit already.
I hope it helped – feel free to comment, subscribe and share!