As I mentioned in this post, I broke my hand a few weeks ago.
I wanted to use this as an experience builder when it comes to recovering from injury – I would learn how to approach training when injured and report back the results.
As a personal trainer, I believe there is always a way we can exercise despite injury or inconvenience. This was a chance to practice what I preach.
This post will outline the steps I took when recovering from injury and the lessons learned on the way.
Recovering from Injury
Saturday 5th January 2013.
I fall on a step and land with all of my weight on my hand. I heard a crack but wasn’t sure I had broken the hand as the pain was far less than I have experienced with other broken bones. Some confirmation could be found in the image of my hand – I used to have 4 knuckles, I now have 2!
X-Ray shows a fracture on the 4th metacarpal…
Good news – the break is clean and aligned. Bad news – doctor estimated it would be 8-12 weeks before I was training again and could expect pain for a few weeks afterwards.
Broken Hand Treatment
Initially the Doctor ‘buddy strapped’ my ring and little finger together to prevent movement. In truth it did very little and was a pain to redo every time I washed my hands. After two days I removed the strapping and didn’t put it back on.
I consulted a man called Noel Jensen who has a twitter following and provides some excellent, practical nutritional advice. He suggested I increase my mineral intake to help bone healing – I started taking multivitamins on top of my usual meat and veg-filled diet.
The other change was my consumption of Evian water. The mineral content is very high, so 2-3 litres per day in the acute stages of healing were being drunk! It makes logical sense that this works and even if it only made 1% difference, it’s still an improvement.
On the tuesday after the break, I had a session with Hilary Farrer, a Bowen Practitioner in Stockport. She performed a treatment on my (very) swollen hand…
Remarkably, within 48 hours of the treatment the swelling had all but disappeared and I was back to having a sore but normal-sized hand!
It was now just a question of regaining mobility in the hand and let nature take its course during the healing. I was given a couple of tendon gliding exercises by my girlfriend (a physiotherapist), where I had to lay my hand on a flat surface and lift my hand off, keeping my fingers flat on the surface.
Although this was painful at first, I kept the range of movement to within levels that I could cope with. Basically, I let pain be my guide to how far I could push it.
I kept up the exercises on a daily basis because I didn’t want to lose any range of movement in my hand. I was also taking my multivitamins and drinking my mineral water daily. Another step I took was avoiding alcohol completely as I know that has a dramatic negative effect on recovery.
Within a fortnight I could push my fingers a significant distance without pain. I could also make a fist with only minimal discomfort. The real pain came when I accidentally knocked a finger when I wasn’t concentrating! The unexpected pain was far worse than the tendon gliding pain!
After 3 weeks my girlfriend did some massage to prevent scar tissue build up and help with range of movement. In the early stages this was slightly painful but quickly went away. It also helped to bring back blood flow into the tissue and reduced the size of the lump around the break.
After 4 weeks I could use the pads with my personal training clients during boxing sessions – this was almost pain free. After five weeks it was totally pain free when boxing and I could make a fist with only a tiny amount of pain.
Exercise with a Broken Hand
A key factor for me was exercise. I was unable to grip anything, ruling out most of the upper-body exercises. Push ups were even painful given the pressure on the hand. My legs were fine, but only for exercises that allowed me to carry a weight on my back or perform the exercise using my body weight as resistance.
In addition to the leg work, I could do some basic core work and lots of flexibility stuff. I also wanted to cycle, so managed to get a weekly spin class in which helped me stay active beyond squats and lunges!
My weekly training volume dropped as there is a limit to what your legs can take! I couldn’t squat really heavy as my grip was weak/non existent in my right hand, making the bar feel unsafe and unstable. I managed plenty of lower weight, high rep work and the flexibility work. I probably averaged 3 sessions per week during my recovery.
I could feel my upper body muscle catabolise quickly, and have to work hard to keep a decent level of muscle. Without regular exercise I would deflate pretty quickly!
I started to train my upper body again after around 4 weeks, with lots of grip issues still working against me. I was capable of a few push ups, some TRX work and dips, but anything requiring a good, strong grip was beyond me at this point.
Notably, I have lost SO MUCH strength! I felt weak as a kitten and am still battling on to recover that. I imagine trying to regain strength after 4-5 weeks of not lifting anything with my upper body will prove difficult!
After 5 weeks, I started almost all of my training. I can now bench press, chin up, dip, shoulder press etc without problem. My deadlift is tricky as if I am not in the correct position my hand hurts quickly, so I am relatively self-limiting on those.
I was spending a significant amount of time practicing the Olympic lifts before the injury, and that has had to be put on the back burner for now as the catch position still gives me trouble. Overall though, I am able to train just as I could before the break, with reduced weight!
Weighted chins, trying to get my strength back! This picture was taken 5 weeks and 3 days after the break.
Having had an injury that affected my training, I feel like I learned a lot of useful information around the recovery process. I am not going to pretend a broken hand is the worst injury known to man, of course it’s not. It is however a broken bone and it did have a dramatic effect on my ability to exercise, so the lessons hold true for anyone in a similar position.
So, here are the lessons I learned whilst recovering from injury…
- Nutrition is key. Garbage in = garbage out. Eat well, get plenty of vitamins and minerals and give your body the best tools to rebuild you.
- Be proactive – don’t just wait for the body to repair, help it. Use exercises, massage etc.
- Find out what you are capable of in the gym. I broke my hand, but I could still do other things. Unless you have really done some damage, get into the gym!
- Don’t be a slave to healing times. I imagine there is an element of self-protection in the Doctors advice, so people don’t go back complaining they are still in pain after only 6 weeks. That said, I took steps to help recovery and believe they worked.
- Don’t shy away from using an injury, as long as it is within acceptable pain barriers. I kept testing the hand to see if I could hold a coffee cup etc.
So there is what I learned from my experience. I am now 6 and a half weeks post injury and 95% better. I have been back at almost full training since 5 weeks, when I was told it could be as long as 12 weeks. I don’t think I am blessed with rapid healing powers, I just took the steps to manage my injury and help my body heal itself as quickly as possible.
If you know anyone who is injured or are injured yourself, take these steps and see how you go – my bet is your recovery time will be reduced significantly!
Here is my hand now – 4 months post-break. No pain at all!
Being injured isn’t much fun for anyone – the injured party or those around them, but recovering from injury needn’t just be a waiting game – I wanted to take an active role in speeding my recovery, rather than just letting nature take its course and do the work. My approach significantly reduced the time it took me to recover from the injury and I would suggest others do the same thing going forward.
Recovering from injury needn’t simply be a question of waiting for nature to do the work. You can help yourself – just follow my steps.
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