Pain and the Over 40 Martial Artist

by on April 30, 2012

in Injuries

Martial Artists are usually no strangers to pain. As older martial artists we need to be more aware of what causes pain, and what to do when we have it. Pain really is our friend, and is trying to tell us something. This is the first part in a series exploring pain. By Craig Hart.


Wow — what a topic to write about!

After I met Brett while attending the National ITF Tae Kwon Do camp a few weeks back, I have been doing some study around pain and injury and really digging in to the various aspects of this subject.

As Brett mentioned in Issue #27 of the Alive and Kicking Newsletter, Dr Jake Pearson gave a presentation at the TKD camp entitled “Pain: friend or foe?” This was a fascinating discussion from my perspective as pain is something that I have become really way too familiar with over the last few years. Talking to some of the more senior members who were also at the camp it seems that I am certainly not alone when it comes to my experience.

So, the last few weeks I have been talking to people and researching on the internet to unearth some pretty interesting stuff. If I have learnt one thing about health and well being in the last few weeks, it is certainly that this is one heck of a subjective topic!

Dr Pearsons presentation mentioned three differing scenarios in three different areas of the body. Firstly a calf muscle “tweak”. Secondly a sharp pain in the knee when twisting accompanied by some swelling afterwards and finally a stiff and sore lower back which gets progressively worse over the course of a few weeks. He asked the same question after each example –should the subject (during training);

A: Harden up and keep going?
B: Avoid only the things that hurt?
C: Pull the pin and stop and seek treatment ?

It was fascinating amongst the audience how many of those present chose “A” for a couple of the examples given — me included.

This highlighted one thing to me — the determination to push one’s self to achieve our goals in martial arts (and life) is potentially linked to some pretty long term discomfort and perhaps, in some practitioners, potential long term, and irreparable damage.

So, if we have this mental toughness or attitude that a little discomfort (pain) in the body can be pushed through, are we just lacking the physical mechanism to keep up with the drive and ambition of the mind? If this is right, in my opinion what we need to do is learn as much as possible about our physical selves and do everything we can to keep the “machine” ready and as willing as the mind. After all, isn’t it the mind that is our “real” self?

Something I hear all the time among friends, colleagues and others who have reached “middle age” is “I still feel 20 in my mind”. There is a plethora of information and advice available from a multitude of sources — something that the information age has certainly provided to those who are keen to seek answers and try things beyond what they have always thought or done. The real secret is to actually DO the things that you should. Eat the right things, avoid the wrong things and do the fundamental stretching, strengthening and conditioning stuff.

I took this one step further and went on a root cause analysis mission. I have had some aches and pains for so long that in some cases, I actually reached the point where I just accepted it as “normal for my body.” Sadly, I would wager that there are a great number of people who feel exactly the same way.

So, fortunately for me, I enlisted a range of practitioners who have quite literally changed my life.

Firstly, a natural therapist who does a spinal alignment treatment for me biannually asked if anything else was bothering me – so I let her loose on my left elbow, which had been painful for probably 4 months after hyper extending it in a fall during training. It took literally 5-6 minutes of manipulation — completely pain free and low and behold — fixed — no more pain. I felt like a right idiot after so long of “getting used to it”.

As A Martial Artist Would You Train Through The Pain
by Glen Bowman under CC BY
As A Martial Artist Would You Train Through The Pain?

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The same visit, I mentioned to this therapist my bad left knee. She took a look and pointed me to a physio who she recommended as “one of the best”. Off I trotted to this physio who not only sorted my knee but also diagnosed that the root cause of my lower back pain is actually the result of a lack of joint mobility in my right ankle — the result of a motor cross crash, 22 years ago!

Again, scary stuff to know that for years I have endured this pain as normal and here it was, the actual cause of it — discovered and treatment under way with some daily fundamental exercises. The most amazing thing about this process was I didn’t even remember the ankle injury so didn’t raise it as a potential — she took some quick video on an ipad of me doing some squats — had a look at the video and said; “what did you do to your ankle?” I was blown away! (I had to rack my brain to go back that far.)

The initial diagnoses was followed by some video of me running and doing a few other “tests” which all led to a pretty interesting case study. (Apparently all the therapists in the practice sat around and discussed me as they found so many things not right!)

So, the lesson for me — if there is an ongoing issue with your body, seek treatment and if the first person can’t help, seek someone else until the answers come.
Back to the topic of maintaining the physical self to support the spiritual and emotional self, I would like to break this topic into the following sub headings and discuss each in subsequent articles;

1. Supplements and diet
2. Medical practitioners — who does what and why
3. Injury treatment and prevention

As part of my investigation and interview process I will share some tips from various people who I have had the privilege of talking to with regards to these topics.

As I mentioned, health, well being and training is a very individual topic and the advice that I have always followed is to literally take what works for you and disregard the rest. Only you know your own body inside and out.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Martial Arts Over 40 May 1, 2012 at 8:08 am

In this article, Craig Hart talks about how his lower back pain was caused by an old injury to his ankle, many years ago. The body is an amazing thing, and will compensate for anything. I shared this post over on Google+ too (am I allowed to say that on Facebook?), and in response Colman Fink shared a link to an article he wrote about body and posture alignment. It’s a good supplement to Craig’s Pain article.. https://sites.google.com/site/martialartswithcolman/my-articles/body-posture-alignment

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Cathy May 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm

At 51, I’ve got to the stage where I almost always have some muscle pain, a pulled muscle or some other niggle, especially since I’ve stepped up the training to aim for black belt later this year. But I also know I wouldn’t be this fit & healthy if I wasn’t training, so of course I’m going to keep training. Any suggestions to keep muscles pain free would be greatly appreciated!

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Craig May 9, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Hi Cathy

Check out this weeks article about diet and its reference to protein. (You might also be interested in nexts weeks issue around supplements where I mention a couple of things I have tried and find successful)
You could also google the term “DOMS” – delayed onset muscle soreness and have a read of some of the articles returned.
For me, additional protein and a good antioxidant seems to help.

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