Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Importance of Decompression

When you live and work in the same place, whether it is on a ship at sea, in a forward operating base in Jihadistan, on an oil rig, logging, in a helicopter camp, any number of various situations; you find yourself getting burnt out on the same places and faces. A low level of stress tends to build over time, and at times you get the full on "bored to tears" mentality. Some of my best writing has been owed to black coffee, isolation, and boredom. Everyone has their own coping mechanism -- mine happens to be fitness. I relieve my stress by working out everyday. I love sledgehammer slams to get out aggression, and muscle-ups for greasing the groove. I have a set of rings in a live oak outside the trailer I sleep in while on shift. When i need a breath or two of fresh air, I go outside and do a couple of muscle-ups. Sometimes I'll throw in some L-dips in there too. Pull-ups on our home-built bar are a good time killer as well. I have attained my goal of being able to do bar muscle-ups as well, but they are harder on my hands than on the rings. The best decompression exercise -- the great equalizer -- however, is running. I try not to over do the running, but sometimes the best way to "get away" without going far is to just go for a run. Last year I started incorporating weighted Mile runs into my warm-ups, and the occasional 5k run, but it has turned into something I look forward to. When my shift starts hitting day 10, I am about to lose my mind, and I need a good reason to get away from the camp for a little while, a quick run is the best prescription.
Now I'm not one to spend hours upon hours running, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting out and spending a chunk of the day out stretching the legs. I usually stay less than 4 miles, but only because i get bored. If I had a longer trail here, I probably would go longer. I just get bored. I also love throwing in sprints and plyometrics into the workouts. Power skips are a great power exercise as a warm-up or full out workout. I wish I had rediscovered them sooner.

This was of course until just before Christmas, when I was out warming up for a workout and rolled my ankle. I felt two pops and had the shooting pain, all too familiar from my first sprain. I guess it was colder than normal, and I landed just awkward enough to roll it. Not good. I fought through the pain, and tried to keep it moving - partly to make sure it wasn't broken, and partly to keep it from seizing up. I just grit my teeth and hobbled the 200 yards back to the trailer. I immediately took 4 ibuprofen, some fish oil (for the anti-inflammatory effect) and threw some ice in a bucket. Within an hour it looked like this:
From Drop Box


The point of this story is that I have been in the process of rehabbing this bum joint back to a strong workable joint that I can rely on to get me from point A to point B without too much pain. So far it's working pretty well, and my hopes of retaining or improving the range of motion from after the initial sprain is pretty close to a reality. After the first time I sprained it, I was just out of the Navy, without insurance, and working in a warehouse where i was on my feet most of the day. It healed, but took a long time, and had no formal rehab to help it along. Ironically, the sprain is what led me to this path of constant improvement, and crossfit, Paleo, Health, etc. This time I have learned from my mistakes, and I want to strengthen and improve my ankle, not only to minimize further injury, but to get back to a point where I can run again. I finally learned to love running, and now I can't do it!!!! What kind of karmic shit is this!?

This has been the most difficult part of all this. With my diet being clean, my self experimentations and rehab, and constant attention the re-hab is going extremely well, and I have progressed rapidly over the last month. I learned after the first sprain, that to properly re-hab the sucker, you have to let it hurt. Sprained ankles are torn ligaments, and because they are so dynamic and very bony, they are prone to scar. The scarring is what leads to loss of mobility and ROM. When attempting to regain mobility through stretching and strength exercise, this scar tissue tears away, and... HURTS. If I would have known this the first time, I would have been back to normal in two or three months, but it ended up taking 6+. It has been 3 weeks, and I am almost back to where i need to be. I stretch it constantly, and I stay active. I have been able to ditch the support brace after 2 weeks, and I have started balance exercises again. The swelling is gone for the most part unless i really torque it. I have to occasionally ice it after a good day. I have been making sure to walk as far as I can every few days, and I can still squat and deadlift, so I throw those in. A good three or four mile hike with a weight vest on is a good low impact adventure to try and clear my head. Yesterday I had a chance to get off road and walk on the levee, and feel like I was out in the woods. I took the camp dog Cracky with me. She had a blast.

I will not be crippled. I just can't run yet. It feels like there is damage inside the joint somewhere, and I am hesitant on pushing it. The impact forces just aren't feeling very awesome. It's awesome to get out and take a hike. I feel great when i wear the 50Lb. vest, but it's just. not. the. same. I need to be able to run. Walking is ok, but i am too alone with my thoughts.

Any recommendations for increased healing times and re-hab ideas are welcome. Please comment.


  1. Ugh- I did my ankle in like that when my horse and I went down together while out galloping... 1000lb animal on your torqued ankle=not fun! I think what impressed me most was not the size that my ankle swelled to, but the colors it turned...

    I'm sure you're on the right track with rehabbing your ankle. The exercises that I found really useful that I think a lot of people are prone to miss are ones aimed at regaining and improving proprioception (getting your body to know where it is). Sometimes having low proprioception leads to injury, and frequently after an injury proprioception is decreased because of nerve damage and can lead to re-injury it not addressed. The exercise I liked was simple- balance on one foot. Do it for each foot, I bet your injured foot will be much less stable and you'll have a harder time staying balanced on your injured foot. Basically you want to get your body to correct itself for small changes and keep you centered. Once you're stable on flat ground, you can try it on an unstable surface (I found a folded up towel made a good spongy surface). I'm sure you can find other ankle proprioception exercises on the web.

    Best of luck!

  2. That is definitely in the plan! I just have to get to the point where it doesn't hurt too much to do that.

    But, dang! My little ankle sprain is nothing compared to having a 1/2 ton of moving pain fall on me! How long did it take to bounce back from that?

  3. I can't remember specifics, but I was in compression socks and an air cast for well over a month and recovering all winter (luckily it happened in the fall at the end of my usual riding season). Active range of motion still isn't what it was (this was 5 years ago), and it's definitely more prone to injury than my other ankle. First month back riding was pretty torturous-my ankle did not want to flex and drop below my stirrup and it's still a lot tighter than the other. Functional though!

  4. I hope your ankle gets better soon! I enjoy running too - I tend to be quite hyper and it takes the edge off so I can relax.

    Best of luck on the rehab!


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