May 9, 2011

Listening to your Body Part Two, Swimming and Neck Nerve Impingements

Listening to your body - Part Two

Continuing my aggressive efforts to learn, resolve and work through my recent set back, I have discovered what I already suspected. An old neck injury from an auto accident 25 years ago coupled with age and the tremendous pounding my body is taking on repetitive arm movements daily in training result in nerve irritation. We are now focused on managing this nerve irritation and the resulting sub-councious favoring of certain stroke techniques to compensate for this that may be leading to things like my recent pulled muscle.

Whether you are young or old, experienced or new at this sport of open water swimming, listening to you body and responding properly is very important in training or races. 

All too many times today we see ourselves (i.e. our ego as my coach likes to remind me), coaches, parents and kids push (our) themselves knowingly into physically and mentally stressing the body to point of injury all in the name of achievement. Pushing to test ones endurance is part of the effort, training and planning however this sometimes this results in injury. Dealing with the injury is just one part of the issue. Getting back to health and learning why it happened and hopefully to prevent a repeat is what I (we) are really after. We learn from our mistakes.

In my case, here is a little bit about what I am learning from looking deeper into what is happening to my body and why perhaps I had this set back. 

In this case, it was one of my own doing (step one, take full responsibility for your own actions). I needed to do a long training swim, well actually I will be doing many in the coming months, but this time it was the Tampa Bay (24 miler) to gear up for the English Channel later this summer. This was all about testing the body, mind and nutrition. 

I have for some time known that an old auto injury created damage to my upper spine area (C-4,5,6,7) and I had simply learned to live with the dull pain most of the time and move my neck around to relieve this pain as needed so just like many of you.

As a follow up to my intercostal muscle (strain, pull, slight tear) I had a Neck MRI read as many times nerve damage, inflammations and impingement's I am learning can present themselves as muscle weakness and your body response with favoring certain muscle groups, sometimes, sub-consciously to you while exercising.

Taking up swimming again several years ago helped as it strengthened neck and upper back muscles. As I progressed in my training over the past two years it also became obvious that balancing muscles front to back and left and left to right for proper body alignment and positioning when swimming these many long hours was critical. I continue to work on this every day in the water. I do not have the best above water recovery arm technique, never had, so its been a constant effort in my train.

After having my arm injury evaluated we looked deeper and made the likely connection to the neck nerves radiating out into my shoulders and arms. For Doc's you'll see this and know right away. For me it took my newly found Ortho Pod. neck specialist (Dr. Brebach here in Barrington) one glance and "whoops there it is" came right out. 

In my layman terms, the long light grey vertical tube running in the middle of the neck inside the white area is the spinal column nerves or cord, etc. Due to my accident, I have curvature of the neck to begin with plus the vertebra are close to and create a very narrow space or touching the vertical spine nerves / cord). Normally this is not a big problem but when you add in thousands and thousands of arm cycles and turning the neck to breath it slowly irritates nerves that go out to muscles in the shoulders, arms, etc. As you get more tired, your form naturally suffers and injury like what happened to me at Tampa Bay.

Good news is I am on the mend, intense PT, supervised medication to reduce swelling and nerve irritation are helping plus a well deserved 5 days without being in the water seem to be the right medicine. 

I have been back in the water now since last week slowly progressing mileage up to about half of where I should be. Sunday I swam in Morse Reservoir in Carmel, IN where the water was 59-61f. This cold water felt wonderful on my body since the cold (like an ice pack you use) works to subdue the inflammation. I swam a nice 5k lap around the lake (2.4) miles in a comfortable hour or so and was very pleased with how I felt.

This morning still in Indianapolis, i stopped the local YMCA for my morning swim hoping to continue to build on my apparent good feelings. About 3000 yards into the workout it became clear that the 84-86f water (very warm) was not my friend like the cold water. The under arm 'rubbing / like strumming a guitar' sensation in the intercostals along my ribs under the Pecs and Scapula was irritated. I listened to my body and changed strokes swimming a relaxed cool down and stopped. I added some Advil's later and took a cold shower.

Its pretty clear in the absence of working through the muscle / nerve injury the colder the better for me is the plan. So I have decided to embrace my inner 'polar bear' and really focus on training in the cold water.

This will help me later as the English Channel's biggest challenge is the cold, period!

This is a good example of turning one challenge into what I plan (hope) will be a success.


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