If you’ve been watching my videos over the last few months, you might have noticed the sleeve I am wearing on my elbow. A few months ago, I was walking my son into school and he slipped on an ice patch. Luckily I was able to catch him but in the process, I ended up injuring myself. What I thought might have been a supinator strain turned out to be a small tear in the bicep which I found out through a recent MRI.
Being a physical therapist and knowing how injuries can also stem from issues above and below a joint, and knowing I have a history of damage in my shoulder through a labrum tear, I requested my shoulder undergo an MRI as well.
That labrum tear occurred while I was working for the New York Mets on a routine afternoon before a game. I made a comment to one of my players that third base didn’t look as far from right field as it did on TV. We made a bet on whether or not I could throw a baseball that far and thinking nothing of it, I tried to launch it. Turns out, the inside of my shoulder was more explosive than my throw! With the immediate pain and instability that I felt, I suspected I tore my labrum.
Fast forward to today’s MRI results. As it turns out, a labrum tear was not the only bit of damage that is present in my shoulder. In fact, not only is my labrum hanging on by a thread, but I have 50 percent thickness tear in my supraspinatus (responsible for external rotation), a small subacromial spur, moderate to severe glenohumeral degeneration, and mild AC joint degeneration.
In other words, I have the shoulder of an 80 year old!
You might think I am in a ton of discomfort all the time, given the results. Well, quite the opposite. What I think this underscores is that imaging doesn’t always tell the whole story. You can have results showing damage, but have no symptoms whereas you can have a whole list of symptoms but the images show no damage. These results can be a helpful tool, but should not dictate your approach to training.
I think the best thing you can do first is to get a diagnosis, that way you just have an idea of what’s going on. While your healthcare provider may advise you against training, we know that we have the option of training around an injury to make sure the gains keep coming, which is what I’ve been doing all these years.
The next step is to find out what does and doesn’t work for you when it comes to working out. Use this opportunity to explore different methods and implements of training. This means you should be looking at not just different exercises, but variations of those exercises as well, because that could make a huge difference.
In the case of a shoulder injury and bench pressing, I would suggest grabbing very light weight and trying all three angles – flat, incline, and decline. Not only that, change the speed at which your pressing. Slowing down your reps might create more stability and less discomfort. What else? See what equipment allows you to press without issue. A barbell might be irritating, but cables and / or dumbbells might not cause a problem. Range of motion is another avenue to explore for training with an injury.
I think that the exercise is less important than the movement pattern itself. If you have knee pain from a standard back squat, you may benefit from squatting to a box – while not the same exercise, the movement pattern remains and is worth exploring because you can gain similar benefits when it comes to building muscle.
In my case, while taking care of my shoulder initially, I avoided horizontal pressing. However, in order to continue training my chest, I performed cable crossovers. This allowed me to train around the injury to make sure that the gains kept coming, even though I was doing the “standard” chest building exercises.
So this underscores the point that if you take an educated approach to your injury and your training, then you won’t have to worry about skipping the gym altogether. There are all kinds of modifications that can be made in order to make sure that you don’t lose out on the gains that you’ve been working so hard for, despite the injury.
If you are looking for a workout program that will help you train with an injury and allow you to make gains without compromise, then you are going to want to check out the ATHLEAN-X training programs via the link below.
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