Just over seven weeks ago I was in fantastic shape. I had come off of the World Championship of Kettlebell Sport at the end of February, gone straight into 5 straight full days of Kettlebell Sport training with 4 multiple world champions and then dove right into 3 months of focused training at breakneck speed in an attempt to achieve CMS ranking in 24kg kettlebell snatch- up two weights from my previous competition weight of 16 kg that I lifted at worlds. I felt strong, fit (though a bit fat as well) and unstoppable.
Perhaps that is what is part of what tempted me to go to an obstacle course training day. On that day (which I anticipated for weeks), I was pumped. After learning the basics of the course, and finally mastering rope climbing technique, I was ready to crush the course. First was the run- piece of cake for a former Ironman Triathlete…Then burpees- pretty straight forward- burpees are burpees. After that was the 4 foot wall- but there was a line of folks waiting so I bypassed both the 4 and 6 foot walls to go straight to the monkey bars.
Since I tend to be stronger on the lower half of my body, monkey bars are always challenging for me- but I figured I would go as far across as possible and then make up for it with burpees. An added twist- these monkey bars rotate- they don’t stay in place and that makes them extra challenging on both grip and body control. I slowly made my way across and made it till the last rung. Then I fell. Our monkey bars are supported by 6”x6” posts and there were several nearby my location…As I fell backwards, I remembered the posts and decided to fall flat on my butt rather than chance rolling backwards and smashing my skull on one of the posts.
I landed with my left arm outstretched, palm down, arm straight. A loud “CRACK!” came out of my elbow- a sound which I had never before had heard emanate from my body- I knew right away that I was likely seriously injured and sat there for a moment stunned. I got up, annoyed at myself for falling, did a bit of soft tissue work on my elbow for a few min and then proceeded to do the rest of the course ( I didn’t want to miss out). Got over the 4’ wall gingerly, then the 6’ wall with a couple of tries since I didn’t have full use of my arm at this point. I was able to use it provided I didn’t straighten it fully ( It was unstable in that position) and couldn’t bend it past 90 degrees.
I skipped the parallel bars as those required straight arms and went straight to the rock wall which I navigated with a bit of strategy. The bag hoist wasn’t too difficult and, surprisingly, the rope climb was pretty easy. Yoke carry, tire flipping, and spear throwing (with my right arm only) went well. After that I went home with my kids. Later that day, my arm started to swell and seized up. I knew I was in trouble. This was Saturday. That night and Sunday night I got orthopedic acupuncture treatments from my wife using e-stim. I thought my elbow might be dislocated or broken.
On Monday afternoon, my colleague Dr. Galambos, X-rayed my elbow to rule out any major breaks or fractures. “A really bad sprain” she said. Time would prove her right. My main doctor Dr. Zappala was out of town for two weeks so I continued with soft tissue work, liniment, and acupuncture so I could work. Tuesday after the injury, I went back to the gym. I couldn’t lift kettlebells with my arm like that but I thought I’d see how much of the regular class workouts I could do- I didn’t want to completely stop training and lose all of the momentum, strength, and conditioning that I had gained up to that point. I discovered that I could do most of the workout with slight modifications for my range of motion and instability in the left elbow. For example- instead of pull ups, I did inverted ring rows (as far as I was able). Instead of pushups on the floor, I did ring push ups at an incline- again within range of motion and stability of my injury.
Instead of kettlebell cleans and racks, I used a really light weight (4-8kg) and kept my elbow at 90 degrees- moving as much through the range of motion of the exercise as possible.
I continued to get acupuncture treatments, do soft tissue work on myself, and use liniment several times a day ( I had to continue to do bodywork on my clients). When Dr. Z finally returned (didn’t see him till after week 3 of my injury) he had me get an MRI to get a better picture of the totality of the damage.
The results of the MRI showed that I had partially torn 3 ligaments supporting my elbow- the ulnar collateral ligament, the radial collateral ligament, and a radial annular ligament (one low grade, one mid grade, one high grade tear). Additionally, I had a subcortical fracture in the articulation of the ulnar olecranon process and the articular surfaces of the humerus- basically a “crush” fracture- hence the elbow tenderness and inability to straighten the elbow. Treatment recommendation: more acupuncture and continue to train within range of motion. Supplement with LIgaplex I and Ester-C from Standard Process to supplement the basic building blocks for repair.
Based on my nutritional training, I upped my protein intake as well and ate as much collagenous foods as I could get my hands on (bone broths, natural gelatin from leftover chicken, etc.) I continued to train in the gym 5-6 days a week- sometimes doing double classes, chain drags, runs, marathon rope pulls, marathon versaclimber sessions, and so on.
My rationale for the increased training was based on several factors: 1) Use it or lose it- by challenging my body constantly- just below the re-injury threshold I encouraged it to adapt by growing more tissue. Multi planar movement and quadrupedal movement really challenged my body and also encouraged adaptation of the stabilizing tissues surrounding and relating to the injured area. 2) Training moves blood in and waste out of the injured tissues- this speeds healing. 3) Systemically challenging the body requires the body to recover- the more we ask from our bodies, the more they will ramp up the recovery and adaptation processes. These are systemic. They work to heal the ENTIRE body INCLUDING (especially) any injured areas (thanks to my longtime client and friend Elite runner Greg Keyes for turning me on to this mindset).
At week 4 I started to add class 4 laser treatment to my acupuncture treatments (Video Here) and found it had an immediate and somewhat dramatic symbiotic effect that resulted in noticeable range of motion improvements the next day. I’m now at week 7 and have continued to do this once a week (acupuncture- 7 times in the first two weeks and then 1x week since then). At the end of week 5 I began to swing an 8kg kettlebell- 10 reps at a time. Week 6 consisted of swinging a rainbow of increasing weights (Tuesday 8kg, 12 kg bell) 10 reps a side. Just to “feel it out”. By the end of the week I was swinging a 20kg bell. This continued into week 7 when on Wednesday I did my first full kettlebell sport workout- snatching up the rainbow from 8- 24kg bells for 10 reps a side. Friday I did a longcycle workout and this week, I have gone full bore ( I am using a lighter weight than I will eventually train with to ramp up until the last tear and the fracture are fully healed.
Both of my docs have been amazed at my progress and can’t believe that I’m back to lifting so soon. In the real world, I am an outlier- but my story shows that it can be done and also shows not only that fast healing with minimal down time of tears is not only possible, but that, with the right game plan, even a 47 year old person can do it. If I can do it- so can you.