Chronic exertional compartment syndrome in martial arts, an update

Four years ago, I woke up in a hospital and when I looked down, I saw this:

I dsitinctly remember thinking “So that’s what it feels like to not constantly be in pain anymore…”

That feeling wasn’t to last as I was still on an IV with pain killers but it was proof of concept: my body was still capable of functioning without pain.

So there was hope.

Hope was an emotion I hadn’t felt for a long time, as I had slowly been becoming a cripple for years. I wrote about that process here: Chronic exertional compartment syndrome in martial arts.

It’s been years since then and I’m still clawing my way back to a full recovery. In an ideal world, I would have taken a year off from working and spent it on full-time rehab. That would have cost a small fortune, which I don’t have. So in this world, I was working on crutches one week after surgery. The joys of being self-employed…

After the surgery, I had a few months of rehab with a physical therapist but that is expensive too so it had to end well before I was recovered. So I kept doing the exercises he showed and never stopped. As my body began re-knitting itself together again, I spent most of each day in a significant amount of pain. Nights were worse, because when I would lie down to sleep, my connective tissue would start working, hard, and keep me up for hours. Sleep-deprivation sucks, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.

Most of all, the constant pain turned out to be an enormous psychological and emotional war of attrition. I’d go to sleep with pain and wake up with it. Sometimes it would be my back, then my shoulders. My forearms and fingers had become rigid and hard to use, my knees also hurt on and off for inexplicable reasons. But most of all, it hurt to stand on my feet, if only for a minute or two. I had to constantly shift my weight from one leg to the other and contract postural muscles to avoid nerves getting pinched. You can get used to a lot, so that’s what I did.

Fast forward to three weeks ago:

I went to bed and realized I hadn’t really been in pain during the day while standing on my feet.

I still had to manage my posture constantly and it wasn’t comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but there hadn’t been the grinding pain I’ve felt for almost four years. That was a bit of a surprise, so I was happy about it but also prepared for it not to last. Turned out I was wrong; I can now stand without pain, all day. As Borat would say, “Great success!”


Why talk about this now?

For a variety of reasons.

  • Over the years, I received lots of requests for follow ups of my instructional videos.  I wouldn’t have been able to do a good job due to all the physical problems I had. Now that I am closing in on being back to normal, I can train better again. This then will allow me to make videos that have me showing things to a standard I can live with. So stay tuned for more in the coming months and years.
  • It is never smart to reveal all your weaknesses and injuries. So I didn’t give all that many details in the past few years and just worked on getting better. Now that most of the big problems have gone away, I’m comfortable discussing things more openly. See the next point.
  • I loathe the macho culture that seems to still be a big part of the martial arts and self-defense community. I know what broken fists and bones and ripped-off muscles feels like; it hurts, a lot. Pretending it doesn’t is stupid. You don’t have to make a big deal about it, but it is a load of crap to go on as if you are made of steel. Because it sets an impossible standard to follow for those who look up to you, whether you want that or not. As a result, they make the same mistakes you made that got you all banged up and they pay the same price. Stupid. Especially if you are in a position to give the advice you would have wanted to give your younger self. So here’s my uncalled for advice for those who are young and at the start of their martial arts journey:

Treat your body well, because it’s the only one you’ll ever get.

It doesn’t un-break if you mess it up beyond repair. Train hard, enjoy that stuff like I did, but let yourself heal from all the injuries you get that way before you resume the hard training. It sucks, I know, but do it anyway. I’m 46 and have mileage on me worth two decades more. It is too late to do anything about that. It’s not too late for you though.

So focus just as much on rest and recovery as you do on training like a maniac.

You’ll be happy you did so when you get older.

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