Every time I get injured and I see doctors they always suggest total rest to avoid aggravating the injury. I somewhat disagree about total rest being the best solution for my fast recovery. Here is my latest first-hand experience.
On 7 April 2016 I sustained a serious injury: while demonstrating a leading hook punch against the shoulder of a 97Kg student of mine I tore the tendon of my left bicep. Difficult to say how that happened after hundreds of thousands of these punches I have thrown in my life but there I was: A&E at Cambridge Addenbrookes’ hospital at 8:30pm, just after the end of the Thursday’s lesson. I managed to get a consultant to see me in emergency the following day and, although he advised I could have a nearly normal life leaving the arm as it was, I decided to get operated on the first available slot. The operation took place at Addenbrookes hospital at 12 noon on 14 April, 7 short days later.
I was released from hospital on the same evening; my left arm was on a sling and I received precise instructions about what I could and should not do with the operated arm. Basically I could squeeze the hand and move my fingers around; lifting absolutely nothing, not even the arm’s own weight for the first 6 weeks and then no more than a cup of tea for the following 6 weeks. When I was still in Italy 20 years ago I saw my master sustaining a similar injury which also needed a surgical procedure and he carried on training while he was wearing his sling. By the same token I had a strong opinion that total rest, which would have driven me to total craziness while make me very unfit, was not the best option for me.
Here is how it really went, while keeping myself safe and injury free:
- I missed the Thursday lesson on the day I was operated (14 Apr), most people were joking about me turning up at class.
- I was in pain the Friday and a bit on the Saturday (15 & 16 Apr); did not work on Friday and took a total of 3 pain killer tablets. That was the total pain killer intake for the whole time after surgery. Friday was the only day I actually missed from the office and worked from home, doing the minimum necessary.
- I could not really move fast so, while I accepted to miss the Sunday (17 Apr) lesson, I decided to walk, with arm in sling, all the way to Kelsey Kerridge where we train and watch half of the lesson; total walked distance about 7Km. Being in the room with other people training made me feel very well.
- Walked to the office on Monday up and worked a full day but missed the lesson on that evening (18 Apr).
- Turned up at the lesson on Tues and run the beginners course (19 Apr); I kept the injured arm totally safe in its sling and demonstrated everything with my right arm and legs; in this occasion I did the minimum amount of warm up and stretching exercises to get ready but did not break a sweat during the whole lesson.
- On Weds (20 Apr) I also run a lesson for Cambridge University and managed to show all combinations with one arm and two legs or by asking someone to demonstrate what I was asking for; I realised then it was easier than I imagined.
- On Thurs (21 Apr) I continued with the beginners course.
- On Friday 22 Apr I had the first check-up with the consultant, together with X-rays; the operation went as well as expected and it was progressing well. Next check-up three weeks later.
- During the following three weeks I started to take part in all warm up sessions and increasing the number and intensity of exercises, getting to a decent aerobic cardiovascular workout. I was using my legs to kick any possible combination while still keeping the arm at rest. I received some good advice from one of my physiotherapists which helped a faster recovery of motion and strength.
- On 13 May I had the 4 weeks check-up which confirmed a very good progress of recovery and rehabilitation. The consultant suggested keeping the arm away from full power exercises for the following 5 months.
- Within the next few weeks I started to use the left arm for very gentle punching, just for straight punches and still avoiding block of any technique.
- On Monday 6 June I did my first sparring session since the operation; I trained just with beginners, females under 65Kg. This allowed me to perform most of my techniques at a slow pace, keeping the left arm in guard position but without using it for any form of attack or defence and just punching with the right arm.
- On the same week I also started swimming once per week; about 40 lengths on the first attempt, 60 slow ones on the second one and 60 at a good pace the following times.
- Over the following weeks I kept training kickboxing regularly and increasing pace and strength to most techniques. I pay lots of attention to avoid direct strikes on the left arm and still use it just for straight punches but I feel at least 80% in shape.
Having spent a couple of months at a slow pace training, carefully avoiding tough classes and technique I realised how much fitness I lost in terms of strength, power and endurance which I am now working hard to recover. On the positive side I was supposed to do next to nothing for 3 months and then start a slow recover afterwards while I managed to cut that by two thirds: less than 3 months after the operation I am feeling great.