I’m on a an actual vacation this week. Actual as in not working, as opposed to just taking a break from posting. I’ll try to keep up on posts, but no guarantees. The weather is amazing, and I plan to take full advantage of it. It’ll be my first summer as a day-worker in many years. I love being able to get up early and enjoy the sun as it comes up…it’s such a privilege to see it as the start of a new day, and not the end of a long night.

I want to talk about injuries today. The common kind, not the kind that sends you to the hospital. I’m currently nursing an ouchy on my right hand resulting from a rapier cut that landed between my knuckles on the left hand, hard enough to…well, let’s just say there was significant swelling and blood pooling. For a lot of people, this would mean a week or two off of practice. I seem to have been blessed with a strange wolverine-like healing ability, so three days later and I don’t even have a bruise anymore. I tend to shrug off most injuries, once I’m done screaming with pain for a while.

When a student is injured, I go through the usual run of advising ice, compression, etc and the usual drugs, plus advising an temporary increase in dietary protein, omega3 oils and other anti-inflammatories. I preach ice and compression for 24 hours, heat and massage after. Recovery is short applications of ice before, after, and during exercise. Wraps are worn on affected joints only during class, to provide a slight additional support. I will also reccomend temporary changes to biomechanics if I think they are needed. Of course, any serious injury…any injury, really, I insist that the student get proper advice from a medical professional.

I follow none of this advice myself. I hate ice, and can’t stand taking drugs. When I’m injured, I prefer to be aware of the injury. It’s hard to at first, when the swelling is compressing everything. You can’t really isolate the source of the actual problem. Ice numbs things, and I don’t like that. I don’t have any real issues with pain, so my chief concern with an injury is how it will immediately affect my training.

My first concern is always to determine if the injury was a near-miss, as in, did I nearly miss being really injured? If I twisted my ankle, did I almost pop a tendon? How badly stretched are the ligaments? How much care to I have to take to not make the injury worse as I continue to train? Same thing with a hard hit or a bruise. Was I hit hard enough to weaken a tendon? Will swelling in the area be putting more pressure on vulnerable ligaments?

The first thing I do with an injury to a joint is the same thing I do to heal it. I try to move it as soon as possible. Very, very slowly. If I can make normal motions without pain, then I try to move the joint to the limits of it’s range of motion, to find out where exactly the injury is. Once I’ve found that, I start to think about what sort of motions will affect that. If I can alter my movements enough so that the injured area will remain unaffected, back to class I go. If I can’t alter my movements, I will do what I can to isolate the joint, with tapes or wraps. If all movements will affect the injured joint, I’m done for class.

Joint awareness is a key thing for longevity of training. In our current class, students enjoy the workouts and breeze through them. It’s a challenging game. They push their limits because it’s fun. And eventually…they start to miss classes because of pain. I’m guessing it starts with a minor ache or cramp that they try to tough out, and after a class or two it turns into something more serious. In my experience, it’s the minor aches and pains that people need to pay more attention to.

If you’ve got a muscle cramp in the back of your thigh that seems to linger from the previous class and into the next one, you need to deal with that. A tight muscle is a muscle that’s constantly pulling on something. That lovely big muscles on the back of your thigh, for example, is pulling on your hip and knee at the same time. Which makes the muscles on the other side of the hip and knee tighten up just a little more to add some stability. And now that one side of the body is a little tighter than the other side of the body, other compensations have to happen. Usually the small muscles around joints stop that much of a chain from happening, though…which means the small muscles are competing with the big muscles…which is a recipe for a nasty sprain.

One of the best things you can do to prevent injuries from cropping up is to pay attention to those small aches, and do something about them. Build up an awareness of your body and how it works. If you can afford it, nothing beats a professional massage. Massage is the best injury preventative there is. If you can’t afford a professional massage, or talk your partner into giving you one, a foam roller is a killer investment. After massage or rolling, daily movement practice is key. Walk, run, crawl, hop…play. Do something that is not your usual art.

Doing the same thing day after day is the best way to injure yourself. Doing only one form of exercise is the second best way to injure yourself. Not resting enough is half way between the two. Keep things fresh. There are always different things you can do to exercise. And watch your energy level. You should always want to do a little more exercise…if you don’t feel the urge to get up an do something, you might be starting to overtrain. Rest, variety, and sound knowledge of your own body are key to avoiding injury in martial arts.