Injuries and recovery
What is this post about?
- I had an accident, fell on a mountain and injured myself
- I believe that I very possibly could have died if I was not as fit and strong as I am - thank goodness for all those push-ups!
- My recovery from injury has been very fast, thanks to my healthy diet and lifestyle (in my opinion)
- I have not rested but instead kept active to speed my recovery
Read on to learn more!
I was on my annual family holiday down in the South of France some weeks ago, and one day out of the holiday, I slipped away from my family for a day in the mountains on my own. I had an excellent day out; I climbed the highest mountain in the Eastern Pyrenees, I enjoyed stunning views and excellent weather, but I did have a little accident. I tried to find a way down which the map described in French as “passage difficile” and it was a lot more ‘difficile’ than it should have been!!
I was high up, at between 9,000 and 10,000 feet, and large sections of the supposed path were lost under steep snow fields, so effectively, I was forced off the ‘path’ onto some pretty steep rocky ground. I managed to skirt around several of these snow fields, involving some fairly dangerous downward rock climbing, but then got to one large snow field that just couldn’t be avoided. There was one set of footprints/crampon marks in it, and I tried to follow them. I put ‘snow grips’ on my shoes, not proper crampons, but little points that are supposed to help. They didn’t.
In hindsight, looking back, it was very foolish for me to step out on such a steep slope, the snow field was at maybe 60 degrees or 65 degrees, and frankly I should not have been stepping out on anything over about 20 without crampons and an ice axe. It was afternoon, the snow field had been in hot sun for several hours, and the top was slushy and slippery. I only made it out a few steps, and as I started to slip there was just nothing stopping me. It was sunny, I had taken my t-shirt off after leaving the breezy summit and packed it in my ruck sack, my phone (with very little battery left) was fortunately zipped into my pocket, but I was in shorts and bare chested, wearing a backpack, and suddenly I was face down in the snow and falling fast.
I tried hard to arrest my fall. I know a [very] little about snow safety and I tried to spread eagle and dig in, but the mountain side was way too steep (or I’m too fat and heavy!) and I was just going faster and faster. I wasn’t scared, oddly, for the first few seconds it was actually kinda fun, exciting, til I realised I was getting faster and not stopping. Trying to dig my hands in was achieving nothing, and my bare front was freezing, so I rolled over on to my back thinking my heels might be more use. That’s when I started to realise I might die.
There was nothing, just a big mountain and a long way down, and I was going very fast now, perhaps around 30 miles an hour. Then I saw a hole. There was a hole ahead and it looked like I was heading straight for it. I had already been falling for 15 or 20 seconds, and there were not many seconds left, the hole was approaching fast. In my fleeting thoughts, I tried to avoid it, but it was a sizeable dark patch and I had no ability to ‘steer’ as gravity was fully in charge. I fleetingly though “Oh shit, how deep is it (the snow and ice was between 2 and 20 foot thick) and what will I land on” but before I had any more time to think about bracing my legs or back or what I might do with my arms…I was in it.
The hole was about bath tub shaped, but 3 or 4 times the size. I flew off the end of my snow shoot, having fallen, well, probably 250 feet or more, and going at 30 or 40 miles per hour…I have no idea what my butt, back or thighs landed on, I don’t recall, all I know was that as my body weight (at speed) dropped into the gap, I very quickly reached “the other side of the hole”…only by now, instead of my body being up at the same height, I.E. my bum on top of the snow, now I was lower, and the 2 foot thick solid wall of frozen snow basically was now a wall in front of me. My legs disappeared under the snow sheet into rocks, my head and arms thankfully stayed above it, and as I tried to ‘sit up’ so my midsection took the full impact, 100%, my entire body weight at 35 mph slammed into a solid wall stopped entirely by my ribs.
It felt like I was cut in half. Bang, I had stopped but my insides felt like they kept going, kinda like a car crash but without the car as protection. The impact completely winded me, I laid in the snow and ice, a jumble of rocks up my bum, gasping but unable to breathe. It felt like when I bust my back a couple of years earlier, I was gasping but nothing was happening. My diaphragm was in spasm, my insides churned up, every muscle tightening, and I simply could not pull air into my lungs, no matter how much my brain wanted me to.
I guess it was a perfectly safe place to be sat, but my intuition was screaming at me to move and get out of the snow…I guess because if something was broken, I didn’t want to be sat there in the cold when my body went into shock, that would surely shorten my survival time. So I somehow pulled myself off the snow and extracted my legs, and stumbled rather wobbly, up on to my feet, bent over double in pain, still trying to pull in some oxygen. I still had perhaps 8 to 10 feet of snow to cross to get to rocks, but not so steep at this point, so I scrambled on all fours over to safety on solid rocks and sat for a moment trying to control my breathing.
Just keep moving
I felt compelled to keep moving, as previous injuries from a twisted ankle to a fractured spine have taught me not to just sit still, as everything seizes up. I knew I was still at 9000 feet, and I had a long way to get back down, my car was 5000 feet below, 6 or 7 miles down the valley, and in falling 250 feet I had lost the path, which was buried under the snow fields. I had a lot of dangerous rock scrambling still ahead of me, I had to get my body working, moving. I knew I was damaged and climbing down would be painful and difficult, but I also knew there was no one else around, no phone signal, and max 5 hours of daylight left. I had to get myself off the mountain, and sitting around thinking ‘oh shit this hurts’ wasn’t going to get me anywhere.
I stood up, controlled my breathing and starting brushing off all the slush and snow…it was everywhere, in my pants, my hands were numb frozen, snow in my pockets, round my trousers waist band, in my armpits, you name it. My thumbs and the pads at the bottom of both thumbs (can’t remember what they are called) were frozen and numb, and I had cuts and scratches up my arms…I got my t-shirt on, a couple of t-shirts actually, drank some water and started moving slowly, stopping every few steps to try to control my breathing.
Slowly, everything started working again and I just kept moving. I scrambled up on to rocks and looked back at the gash in the snow left behind by my falling body. From below, it looked insanely steep, I never should have tried it, an idiotic mistake, and a lesson learned for sure. I had not been scared at all, and I had not felt any fear. But then stood looking at where I had fallen, I realised that if I had been 6 foot to the left, I would have missed the hole completely, and my fall would have kept going…not 250 feet, but 600 feet, and I would have been spat off the end of the snow field at 40 plus miles an hour into a rugged boulder field. This would have almost certainly led to multiple broken limbs, possible broken spine, possible instant death. Many climbers have died from less.
And had I had time to think about the hole before I was in it, had I been able to sit up and see what I was heading for, perhaps I would have put my legs out to brace the impact, that could have led to broken legs, or one leg up and one leg down and my ‘manly bits’ taking the impact. I might have put my hands out and broken my wrists, almost certainly precluding me from further descent down the mountain. I was not afraid at the time of the actual fall, but I then spent the next 3 hours slowly making my way, lost and off route, down the mountain, over boulder fields, steep rocky walls, scrambling down stream beds and scree slopes, thinking about just how dangerously close I came to dying. Then I felt scared. I was on ‘the quiet side’ of the mountain, no one about and no one knew I was there, things could have been a whole lot worse.
So I made it back to my car, eventually, and then I made it home, and it all hurt like hell. Every part of me from neck to groin felt like I had done 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, my entire mid-section felt very sore and movement for a few days was slow and painful, but I’m alive, and I will not let one slip spoil an otherwise perfect day on beautiful mountains under sun-filled blue skies. It may not sound like it, but I am reasonably experienced in mountain environments, and I have been in a few ‘predicaments’ over the years, and always come out largely unscathed. Mountains are by nature both beautiful and dangerous, and every time they try to teach me a lesson, I gain renewed respect for them.
I have thought about this accident a lot in the months since, and it has changed my views on ‘risk assessment’ for sure. I came too close that day, I came far too close to death, and I genuinely believe that my upper body muscle saved me from breaking my ribs in, puncturing through my lungs and likely dying on that mountainside. I do between 100 and 1000 push ups at least 5 or 6 days each week - probably an average of 300 per day every day of my life, and I do a lot of running, cycling, ab work, core work - the result is that I have a strong core, strong abs and chest, and I guess all my torso muscles were tensing as I hit that wall of snow and ice. If my upper body was less conditioned, perhaps things would have been disastrously worse. Thankfully, we will never know.
Once I got back to the UK, I got to hospital and the nurse confirmed 6 to 7 fractured ribs. Actually, a week or two later, as the swelling eased off, I think it was only 5 fractured ribs…I could identify 5 clear separate pain points. They don’t x-ray unless they suspect the ribs are fully broken, so I can’t share an image with you, but I identified a fracture low down left side far round to my left side, the same on the right side, then a fracture mid-centre left side and 2 fractures high of centre on the right.
It did hurt, I won’t deny that. I was quite immobile for a few days, and sleep was most uncomfortable. I seemed to be much better on my feet and moving about…lying down was painful, I just could not get comfortable in bed, which side I was lying on. However, as I mentioned before, from my experience of previous injuries, I felt compelled to keep moving, every day, as much as I could. My gut feel was that if I sat around feeling sorry for myself, I would seize up and recovery would take longer. I’m a stubborn old mule, and I hate being injured, I feel like I’m missing out on fun, and I hate to put my feet up and admit that I can’t take part and have fun…it makes me feel like I’m missing out, so I never rest much, it’s just not my style.
Now, that’s what this post is really about - I refused to rest, and the result was incredibly fast recovery.
When I went to the hospital, I was told ‘Stay home, rest, don’t do anything strenuous, take painkillers, don’t fly on a plane, don’t travel, don’t play sport. Take 6 weeks off all these strenuous things, then ease back in gently.’
I pretty much did all the opposite.
You see, I think GENTLE exercise stimulates blood flow, promotes growth and repair, stimulates oxygen uptake, promotes muscular repair and helps a body to heal. I think sitting around resting is the wrong thing to do for most ‘minor’ injuries.
The evening of the accident I was in lots of pain, getting out of my car took 3 or 4 minutes, standing up from a chair took a whole minute, straightening up was agony, getting in and out of bed was a 10-minute effort.
But every day, I started pushing myself, working on my recovery. I believe the best way to recover is to try to get the body working as efficiently as possible, promoting blood flow to the injured area. Blood is often referred to as ‘the river of life’ and our bodies use our blood vessels to carry toxins and waste products away, for cleansing and removal, and to carry oxygen and nutrients to tissues for repair, maintenance and rebuild.
Therefore, it makes sense to me to encourage blood flow to the area of an injury, in order to promote healing and repair.
Then it’s pretty much the same story with breathing. One of the principal detox pathways in the human body uses our blood and our lungs. Waste is carried in the blood, to the lungs and removed through respiration. Obviously, a regular supply of oxygen is essential, and this is brought in to the body by the other ‘side’ of the respiration process. We breathe in, fill our lungs, oxygen passes into the blood, and is then pumped around the body supplying oxygen to all the tissues that need it.
When I have an injury (perhaps not if it’s a repetitive overuse injury!!) it makes sense to promote blood flow and oxygen uptake, to encourage flushing out lactic acid, waste products, damaged cells and toxins, and to encourage oxygen and nutrient supply to the area, to accelerate healing.
There can be no better way to create movement, stimulate blood flow, encourage respiration and increase oxygen uptake, than to engage in gentle and varied exercise!!
Working on this theory, during those first few days after my accident, I worked hard at making my body move. Even though I was in pain, I pushed myself as hard as I could each day, just hard enough to make my muscles work and push myself, but obviously not so hard that I might cause any further injury - that’s just common sense!!
I pushed myself thus:
- Day 1: Easy walking around at our holiday villa. Carefully lowered myself into the swimming pool and managed about a dozen very gentle lengths of breast stroke
- Day 2: Kept busy, gentle walk and 3 times as many gentle lengths as previous day
- Day 3: Went horse riding (OK, I admit, that was kinda stupid! But I had promised my kids, and I didn’t want to let them down, and it was fun!) and thankfully I didn’t get thrown off!
- Day 4: More swimming, and managed to dive in and get out without using the steps, and a gentle hour walking including hills
- Day 5: As day 4, but more of all of it
- Day 6 and 7: Sat all day in the car, driving 800 miles home from our holiday
Yet the advice we see, all too often, is “rest, put your feet up, take anti-inflammatories and painkillers.”
This is actually all wrong in my opinion. Inflammation (in the case of a physical injury) is Mother Nature’s response mechanism to an injury - surround the affected area in soft tissues, fluids and anything that can help protect the area from further damage.
The thing is, every day that I pushed myself to exercise more and more, I kept getting better.
Then, over the two days that I was driving - sitting all day and not working my body, mid-section crumped up, I felt more and more pain. I had to take painkillers to get through those driving days, and I couldn’t sleep at night. By the time we got home, I was in agony, I couldn’t even sit to eat a meal without gasping in pain.
On Day 8 after my injury, I started moving again, and instantly (within 5 or 6 hours, or less) I started feeling better.
- Day 8: A gentle walk and some push-ups (lot of bracing my core!)
- Day 8: I managed 300 push-ups throughout the day
- Day 9: A good walk and some varied easy exercises, such as dips
- Day 10: I managed a gentle jog
- Day 11: Flew to the Alps for a week’s hiking trip!
- Day 12 through day 16: Had to scale back on planned trip, but still managed to hike an average of 12 to 14 miles per day, taking in about 4000 feet of ascent and descent every day - the video was made on this trip!
- By day 22 I managed a proper 5 mile run
- It took until day 27 to do chins (pull-ups) - that was the hardest thing, as taking my own body weight on my arms really stretched the rib cage open, so that was a challenge!
Now, the hospital had suggested I take 6 weeks off any activity.
But I was swimming, horse riding and doing push-ups within 5 days. I was hiking over mountains 2 weeks later. I was running after 3 weeks and doing pull-ups after 4 weeks. By 6 weeks, I felt 99% back to normal and I was back to exercising at a level that most guys my age find exhausting.
The more I pushed myself, the faster I recovered, every day I felt PRO-gression. The only days I rested (travelling days, sat in my car or on a plane) I felt RE-gression and pain.
As the video discusses, I think that movement promotes recovery, and my nutrient-dense, high-quality diet, promotes healing. If our blood is ‘the river of life’, then I think that keeping my river clean, pure and full of nutrients is a massive boost to helping my body get the good healing nutrients where they are needed, and the waste products cleared out quickly and efficiently.
As my friend told me, the motto many orthopaedic surgeons preach is ‘Life is movement… Movement is life.’
Now I’m not going to turn this post into some rant against doctors, dentists, nurses or anyone else…I’m not going to start saying it’s all a big conspiracy theory to sell us drugs, bla, bla, bla. No, I don’t believe in those stupid conspiracy theories, but what I do believe, is that we as a society love to come up with ‘solutions’ to a lot of things that perhaps just don’t need a solution. Often, we wrongly think we can do better than Mother Nature, but we can’t, and things are best left in her capable hands.
But that doesn’t sell pills, does it. So don’t expect the pharmaceutical companies, or your dentist, or anyone else to come along any time soon and tell you that I’m right - that a clean diet of quality real, whole, fresh foods, combined with lots of clean water, fresh air and regular varied exercise will solve many of your problems.
But trust me, I know I’m right.
We, as a society, have gotten lost in trying to outsmart nature. We seem to have become afraid of dirt, we send kids out with bottles of hand sanitizer, like mud is somehow going to harm them. We use chemicals to over-sanitize our homes. We have drugs for everything - antacids and anti-inflammatories and yet your stomach is meant to make acid, in many cases, your body is using that inflammation as a healing process.
In my opinion, our bodies are best left to heal naturally, for most minor injuries and infections,
Recent research even indicates that the age-old ‘RICE’ advice for injuries is now destined for the history books. RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation - comes from a way of thinking that says: “I had an accident, twisted a knee playing rugby or something, and now the joint is swollen (inflamed) and it hurts. Therefore, inflammation = injury = pain. Make that swelling go away, and the pain will go away, and the injury will be ‘over’ and I can go play again.”
Now this is ‘human thinking’ and it’s flawed. Some new research is now showing that actually, while RICS does take down swelling much faster than ‘no RICE’, it doesn’t actually promote long-term 100% recovery as well. Mother Nature causes that swelling for a reason, as discussed in the video, that soft tissue and fluid build up is there to heal - icing it just slows the job down by taking the swelling away. It’s better to let it swell, and let your body heal itself. Our bodies have evolved over 8 million years since we were ape-like tree dwellers…I reckon that in 8 million years, Mother Nature has pretty well figured out the best way to heal a twisted ankle, without neoprene straps and anti-inflammatory drugs.
MND all the way - No tech, no intervention, no human bull****, just let Mother Nature do her thing.
Modern Western thinking has such a “go to The Man, get it fixed” mentality. I believe health and healing is just best left to Mother Nature. Most headaches are best cured with time away from straining eyes at a screen and good hydration - but the offered and trusted solution is to take headache pills! We’ve invented human solutions to everything, when most of it just is not required!
Keep it real out there folks! And careful on the mountains, they can be beautiful but dangerous places!