Tough Love for Injuries

Medical advice on the Internet says it’ll take my dislocated finger 1-2 months to heal, perhaps longer.

I’ve had my share of injuries. In the mid-‘90s, I sprained an ankle in a manner so grotesque that I’d probably be arrested for describing it online.

It was the fifth sprain in six weeks – all of them were bad, but this was a zinger. The ankle swelled to grapefruit size, and X-rays revealed a hairline fracture.

I’ve learned that my “owies” generally get better quicker, if I give them tough love.

With that mega-sprain, I tried all the standard treatments, including ibuprofen and RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). The results were meh; but then I found two alternative treatments that worked much better.

The first was a therapeutic massage by a woman whose clients were professional dancers. Within 30 minutes, she had the swollen ankle reduced to normal size. Her massage technique was amazing, painless and ecstatically soothing.

The second successful therapy was running an 8K race (4.97 mi).

The morning of the race, the ankle was far from healed. I still wore a cast, and I wasn’t sure I could run any faster than a slow jog.

The race was part of the 50-Plus Fitness Association’s annual get-together.

If you’re visualizing geezers, you’re right. I hobbled off the line trailing the over-80s.

As the ankle warmed, the pain went away. By mile 3, I was cruising. At the finish, I was dipping under 7:30 pace.

The sequel: the ankle healed much faster after the race.

I’m sure the reason is that the race rousted my body’s repair crew: “WAKE UP, YOU LAZY BUMS!!!!!”

In the days preceding the race, seeking alternative therapies, I found an interesting book at the library: Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Guide to Pain-Free Living.

Prudden is a famous fitness pioneer. In the 1950s, it was Bonnie’s report, “The Shape of the Nation,” that inspired President Eisenhower to create the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.

Bonnie’s ideas are timeless. For sports injuries, she recommends active recovery – underline “active.” If you can move it without acute pain, she says, well then, by all means, move it!

For a long time now, “active recovery” has been the rule of the day in hospitals. Post-surgical patients are routinely encouraged to start walking as soon as possible.

It makes sense. Action – movement – brings energy to the affected area, together with a flow of the nutrients and chemicals required for healing.

That’s why I decided not to baby my dislocated finger.

I enjoy doing deadlifts at the gym. Deadlifts work almost the entire body. They leave this ancient Arnold wannabe feeling young and energized.

The thought of missing my weekly get-together with the barbell to pamper my pinkie was repellant. So I took my fat finger to the gym.

To make a long story short, I loaded the bar with a weight I felt I could handle fairly easily – 135 lbs. I removed the finger splint and cautiously heaved the weight. No problem – no pain, nothing broken, no re-injury.

Short story: I lifted four sets, followed by bench presses with dumbbells.

The finger felt great – more flexible, energized, and strong. I’m sure the weights have set my finger on the fast track to healing.

Ever since that awful ankle sprain in 1996, I’ve had a number of positive experiences with active recovery.

Ÿ I cured piriformis sciatica by – literally – working my butt off at the gym. A gym instructor put me on the leg-press machine and had me do 12 reps with gradually increasing weights. Over the weeks, I raised the weight to 605 lbs, thoroughly intimidating the misbehaving piriformis.

Ÿ I fixed repetitive strain syndrome in a wrist – again with weights. Nothing fancy-shmancy, just whole-arm bicep and tricep work with dumbbells and machines.

Ÿ I healed several lower back strains with (very cautious, very gradual) strengthening.

Ÿ I fixed severe shoulder tendinitis … weirdly …

Ishani and I were walking and took a path that dead-ended at a chain-link fence. Rather than turn around, we climbed the fence. On the way down, I slipped and painfully wrenched the shoulder.

You guessed it – the shoulder felt better right away. And whereas it hadn’t improved in months, it began to heal quickly.

Don’t baby your injuries. Of course, don’t be foolish. Observe all due caution. Some injuries, like Achilles pain, will probably require special intervention (e.g., orthotics). Consult your physician, and then, with his/her approval, start moving.

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