The pain first reared its ugly head in the middle of my #MH100Days challenge. It was the day after a gruelling arms training session when a painful, alien sensation crept over me. The right shoulder blade on my back felt stiff, and when I tried raising – or even moving – my right arm, a dull pain emanated from it.
It’s nothing, I told myself. It’s probably just some DOMS acting up. Nothing a little bit of foam rolling and stretching can’t fix. Grit your teeth and get on with it.
But after two consecutive days of foam rolling and an attempt to self-execute some trigger point therapy at home (i.e. me leaning and rolling against the wall with a tennis ball wedged behind my back), the pain still showed no sign of abating. If anything, it almost felt like any attempt to suppress it had caused it to flare up with a vengeance. I’d sit in my swivel chair at work and swivel to the left or right when colleagues called for my attention instead of just turning my head normally.
I’ll be better by the end of the week, I told myself. I probably pulled a muscle and just need to let it rest. I’ll get a massage if it keeps bothering me.
Things hit an all-time low when I woke up one morning and couldn’t push myself up to get out of bed. Wincing in pain, I had to roll onto my stomach and prop myself up with my forearms instead.
This is not your average muscle pain, I realised. It’s time to throw in the towel. Get yourself checked.
Upon a friend’s recommendation, I decided to set an appointment with a chiropractor: Dr. Ivan Sin of Spinalive. He conducted some small tests and announced his diagnosis. “Some of the ribs articulating to your back – to your spine – have gotten misaligned,” Dr. Sin said. “If a joint is unable to move, it creates a lot of grinding, which results in inflammation. This leads to a lot of wear and tear, and tension in your muscles.” He added that the injury is often presented as soreness in the beginning, before developing into a sharper, more acute pain. He said that in my case, the root cause of the injury had been a muscle imbalance.
“Your right side is noticeably stronger than your left,” Dr. Sin explained. “You’ve probably been compensating with your right side to make up for the weaker left side. As you increased the weights or exercise intensity over time, your right side couldn’t keep covering for the left, and it finally gave out.” Ouch. Just hearing that was enough to make me grimace again.
Next up was my treatment. Dr. Sin got me to lay down and went ahead by making a series of chiropractic adjustments. I felt these as mostly “cracks” across my joints. I’d watched some videos of chiropractors before going in myself, because I was concerned that it would hurt. But I was surprised at how natural – and even pleasurable – the adjustments had felt. The first thing that I noticed after getting up was that my back wasn’t hurting as badly anymore and that I could move my arm without too much difficulty.
As Dr. Sin and I discussed what was next for me, he also shed some light on why every guy should see a chiropractor:
1. Prevent Problems Before They Blow Up
“Seeing a chiropractor is like taking your car to be serviced: when you hit a certain mileage, you need to send it in. A good time frame for you to get your spine checked is the same as that for dental appointments – every six months. Pain is often the last symptom that something is wrong. Just like a decaying tooth, you won’t experience the pain until the grinding and inflammation has caused enough damage. See a chiropractor to make sure that your joints are loading properly and your spine is aligned too. All these factors can influence how well your nervous system functions.”
2. Check In To Stay Sporty
“If you play contact sports like MMA, you should see a chiropractor more frequently. Guys who engage in contact sports have a higher tendency of getting injured compared to people who play other sports such as weightlifting, running or swimming. I work with a lot of MMA fighters; I get them to come and see me even after their pain is resolved. It’s a good way to make sure that all their joints are in the right place for them to exert the force they need to. For a regular athlete, seeing a chiropractor once a month should be adequate.”
3. Join Forces With Your Chiropractor And Trainer
“A chiropractor mainly focuses on your spine and nervous system. We usually leave muscles and rehabilitation work to personal trainers and physiotherapists. But most modern chiropractors engage in multiprofessional work, where they can assess patients and collaborate with PTs or physiotherapists to let them know what the injuries or weaknesses are. The best way to prevent an injury – or the same injury – from recurring is by making sure that the core of that area is stronger than before. I often recommend some basic strengthening exercises and core strengthening workouts to prevent injuries from affecting the same part again.”
4. Sleep On Time!
“Rest is important, but I think it’s more important for you to rest correctly. For example, you can get eight hours of sleep if you go to bed at 12am and wake up at 8am, but that time frame doesn’t enable you to get good quality sleep. Try to go to sleep slightly earlier, from 10.30pm or 11pm onwards, and make sure that you get at least seven hours of sleep each night. The reason behind this is because when you sleep, your spine’s intervertebral discs become filled with fluid. A lot of problems like slipped discs and degenerated discs happen because of wear and tear, and an imbalance in loading your spine. The recovery process for this happens at night when you sleep – that’s when the fluid floods into the discs.”
5. Get The Right Nutrition For Your Spine
“Diet plays a very important role in your daily function, especially when it comes to your muscular-skeletal system. If you consume too much protein, you’ll have high uric acid levels. Sometimes, this can progress to gout, which attacks smaller joints (like your toes), and even impact bigger joints. If you’re not getting enough vitamin E, your body will have a harder time fighting and getting rid of inflammation. Active adults who aren’t getting enough magnesium are more prone to muscle cramps too.”