This was written a few months back, only posting now.
I woke up at 3.30 last night with tears streaming down my face. I had more pain in my neck than I ever thought was humanly possible. If it was constricted to my neck alone I wouldn’t have been that worried…the worrying part was the shooting pains down my arms, the numbness in my hands and the tightness across my chest.
At 27 years old the first thought that went through my head was “this is it, this is how I go out.” I thought I was having some sort of heart attack on both sides of my body (3.30am and that level of pain is not conducive to rational thought).
After 2/3 minutes of crying like a little girl and panicking, I managed to calm myself down, I wasn’t dying but something was seriously wrong. So I did what any rational person would do, raided the medical cabinet, swallowed a fist full of whatever pain pills I could put my hands on and started thinking. If I thought I could have driven I’d have been straight to the hospital.
Earlier that night at rugby training our usual S&C coach wasn’t there so one of the other coaches did our “warm up.” Real old school, loads of wrestling, push ups and sit ups…like a literal fuck ton of them.
Now, sit ups and me don’t get along at the best of times, I always end up with a sore lumbar and neck. Once I realised that I was half way to figuring out what my issue was. Did some stretches for my neck and upper back and started to feel better, lay back down and felt OKish…5 minutes later, agony again.
Back to the drawing board.
I had a lacrosse ball in my car, shuffled out to the car in my boxers, grabbed the ball. Came back inside and tried some trigger point work on my lower traps…nothing. Fuck, what now?
Ok, so we did loads of push ups so I stretched out my pecs…INSTANT RELIEF!! The type of overwhelming relief that you couldn’t even imagine. Spent 20 minutes stretching my pecs at 4am, in my boxers with no lights on…a terrifying image. Got back into bed, threw my pillow away and slept flat on the mattress…with that I managed 3 hours of sleep.
There’s a few reasons I’m telling you all this.
- Waking up at 3.30am in agony is one of the most terrifying things that can happen to you.
- Everybody has ideals about things until they’re in pain. I hate pain killers, hate taking them, hate my clients taking them etc. But when I was literally crying with agony I started throwing those bad boys back like the Wolf of Wall Street.
- Where you feel the pain is never the source of the pain. I had pain in my neck and down my arms. Stretching my neck did nothing. So I thought outside the box and stretched out my chest and everything felt better.
- Not stretching enough day to day will fuck you up if you’re training hard. I preach mobility and stretching all the time but neglect it myself. Now, I’m paying the price for not looking after myself.
- Joint pain is caused by muscular imbalances most of the time.
- Dan John says it all the time “stretch the tonic, strengthen the phasic.”
There are certain muscles that over time become tight and immobile and they cause heap loads of issues. These are the tonic muscles. There are other muscles that over time grow weak and slack, they also cause heap loads of issues. These are the phasic muscles.
My clients will know that there are areas I’m always harping on to them about stretching: calves, hip flexors, upper back and pecs. When these muscles tighten up, bad things happen: lower back pain, knee pain, neck pain etc. The cause of the pain won’t hurt (my pecs didn’t hurt but judging by how tight they were and how quickly the issue resolved itself I’m guessing they were the source) but making the source of the pain relax will have instant effects on where the pain is felt.
As a general rule of thumb here’s what I look for straight away.
- Lower back pain – tight hip flexors and glute med and/or hips are out of line – stretch hip flexors and glutes, traction the hips
- Knee pain – tight calves and/or hip flexors – stretch both and foam roll IT bands
- Neck pain – traps and pecs are tight AF- trigger point work on traps, doorway stretch for pecs.
Sometimes that’s not the answer, but 90% of the time it does the job. The other 10% of the time you need to go see a physio or chiropractor.
Yours in agony,
Ben “crack my spine doc,” Harrison