Spare the Knife, Spoil the Grappler?

In twenty-four years of martial arts training I have had more than my share of injuries and surgeries. Recently, however, I had an interesting encounter with the medical establishment that I’d like to share with you. Given the abundance of injuries in combative sports I think it might have some value for the readers of this newsletter.

About 6 months ago I was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), which basically means that the Ulnar nerve is compressed as it goes through your shoulder on its way down to the rest of your arm. Functionally it means that you might experience some weakness, numbness and tingling in your arm and hand, especially when your arm is raised above your head. TOS didn’t really bother me very much, but I thought that I should do something about it nonetheless.

Eventually my doctor suggested that I see a surgeon to find out what the surgical options were. After a brief examination the surgeon concluded that I could probably benefit from surgery. “What type of surgery”, I ask. “A re-section of the first rib” he says – and then I find out that that basically means cutting the rib in half and removing several inches in each direction.

Needless to say I left the office determined NOT to have my rib resected; the cost-benefit analysis of a relatively invasive, and essentially optional, operation just didn’t seem worth it to me.

Several days later I visited a friend who is a massage therapist. “Let me have a look at that shoulder” he says. He spent about 5 minutes doing somewhat painful work on the muscles of my neck and shoulder (the Scalenes, Subclavius, and Pectoralis minor). Afterwards I got up and went though some of the tests that are used to diagnose TOS: I was amazed to find that my symptoms had completely disappeared.

Since this ‘miracle cure’ I have been using massage therapy, chiropractic care and physiotherapy to keep the condition in check. As far as I can tell it is completely gone, and my doctor agrees that it seems to have dissapeared as well.

As I write this story I am reminded of the old adage that goes something like this: if all you have is a hammer, then the whole world looks like a nail. Surgeons want to do surgery, massage therapists want to do massage, physiotherapists want to play with rubber tubing and chiropractors want to adjust vertebrae. Each treatment modality is (sometimes) valuable and (sometimes) appropriate for different conditions.

Sometimes surgery is incredibly helpful; sometimes it is even the only sensible option. Without surgery I wouldn’t be grappling (and probably not even walking properly). My point is simply that ultimately YOU are responsible for managing your body and your injuries, NOT some other person who doesn’t have nearly as much at stake. Taking responsibility means spending time, reading books, doing research, and consulting different experts to sort out valid information from the flood of propaganda and unsubstantiated advertising. It’s your body, and you’re hopefully going to be stuck with it for a long time, so take care of it.

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