My Experience Lifting Weights With A Rib Injury

by Kilo on February 10, 2011

ribsNone of this should be construed as medical advice, it is just a report of my own experience.

It has been about 18 months since I injured myself lifting weights or fooling around with my kettlebells. Since I started practicing Gym Movement in my strength training, I avoid even the minor tweaks that plague a lot of lifters, including me from the past. And when I do get something nagging at me, I can almost always fix it. If not, I have smart friends and the end of the pain is usually a phone call or email away.

But I’m certainly capable of getting injured outside of the gym, as happened in November of 2010. There were three weeks when I was sick with the worst cough I had ever had. It was going around Salt Lake City and every other person seemed to be hacking their guts out. When I came out the other side of my cough it was with a nagging discomfort in my right ribs, particularly the lowest one.

I hadn’t spent more than two or three hours lifting while I was sick. When I don’t feel like going, I just don’t go. But with December arriving and the cough behind me, I went back. Everything tested well, I was getting stronger, but that discomfort just wasn’t going away. My ribs felt loose. If I put my fingers under my lowest right rib, I could grab something soft and it would move back and forth. It would move the same way if I sat for too long, or if I took a breath into my chest.

After many conversations about pain with Frankie Faires and Adam Glass, it makes sense to me that most pain is either an issue of something moving too much, or too little. Too much rigidity or too much elasticity in the tissue. There was no doubt, however, that when I pressed on my lowest rib, it moved. Way too springy.

And it wouldn’t go away. It got looser and looser. The looser it got, the worse the pain got, but it was a pain I wasn’t familiar with. If I went into spinal flexion by sitting at my desk, an hour later my entire back would feel inflamed, as if every single nerve had someone stomping on it. The sensation wasn’t unlike the muscle soreness after a big jump in volume during a workout–not entirely unpleasant, but nothing I’d choose either.

Except that in the case of my back/ribs, the inflammation didn’t fade. I was going nuts. And I want to say again that I retained my full range of motion during this time. I could perform any lift I wanted, I just didn’t want to do anything. I was not myself, in other words.

I saw a couple of of specialists, just to rule some things out. I got a CT scan. “Take more ibuprofen” seemed to be the general consensus. Lame.

I had a flapping piece of costal cartilage that was brushing my insides every single time I breathed. This was one thing they all agreed on. I could have had a chiro put the thing back in, but the very next breath would have moved everything back into a painful spot.

I was as miserable as I had ever been. I would have gladly backed up to the darkest days of my Tourette’s Syndrome in a heartbeat. Nothing seemed to work.

But I had fixed my Tourette’s and I knew I could fix this.

The good news

I had another conversation with Frankie, who is a martial artist, or “martial scientist” as he’d tell you. Most of the pain I help people resolve in the gym is the result of some weird little neurological tweak or pinch, and it can be as simple as finding a movement that tests well in order to get the brakes off. I’ve seen this over and over.

But moving from those pains into actual damage mode changes the game a bit. It’s not always a matter of simply getting the right movement. there might need to be an additional intervention, something nutritional, something to buttress the skeleton, or even something psychological.

The reason I brought up Frankie again is because rib injuries seem to be one of the costs of grappling for many martial artists. And the rib is about the least convenient place to have an injury because it literally moves with every single breath.

He suggested wrapping it up with bandages and seeing if it helped. This is where it gets fun. I went to a medical supply store, bought a 6″ rib belt that is basically a thick ace bandage with velcro fasteners.

I put it on tight and spent a week training trip to reevaluate. Mild improvement, if any. The belt was driving me nuts. I decided I couldn’t stand not lifting anymore. the weights had never made it noticeably worse, so I figured I’d keep getting stronger and bigger while I sorted myself out. I went back to the gym, tested everything, lifted for a week and suddenly I was okay. Not 100%, but so much better that it felt like 100%. The looseness was still there, but diminished, and it continues to tighten up every day.

The fix for me was heavy deadlfiting in a slightly staggered stance while braced by that belt. A lot of ab roller work as well. Not a diagnosis I ever would have gotten from anyone, or that I would have felt comfortable accepting from anyone but myself.

This is why I love Gym Movement. I’m usually able to fix my own pains in a matter of minutes, but this was something different. It required the rib belt to speed it along, but I was able to resolve this horrific situation in about a week after figuring out the right combination of testing, movements, and wraps.

I saw four doctors who gave no advice beyond “take more pills” and “immobilize yourself for 30 days.”

Instead, I ran my tests, pulled some heavy weight off the floor, wore a $10 for a couple of weeks, and I’m as good as new. If you are dealing with pain that nobody else seems to be able to help with, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Gym Movement and learning how we view pain and the ways we treat it.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Piers McCarney February 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm

This reminds me of a game-changing (for me) experience I had with GM.
I managed to injure my right heel by the ludicrous act of overzealously demonstrating the curb stomping scene from “American History X” to my wife. Drove the damn thing right into a concrete floor, full force, no cushioning. Don’t know where my common sense was at the time.
As I have to patrol for approx 10hrs a shift at work, not being able to walk without limping was not something I could tolerate for more than a couple of days. So I began trying anything and everything that tested well, to decrease the pain I felt when the heel was under pressure.
The main fixes? Pull-ups and assisted pistols on the left leg. All it took was a set of 6-7 pull-ups, most days, for my foot to feel 50% better near instantly.
Before GM, I never would’ve thought to test out something like that, but goddamn it worked alright!


Kilo February 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Piers, what’s your job?


Piers McCarney February 10, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I’m a Transit Officer. Basically government empowered security is how I like to describe it. Not law enforcement, but there is some legislation allowing us to carry restricted weapon systems and use force to enact an arrest/eject someone from railway property.
On a quiet day, it involves a lot of patrolling on concrete for long periods, which is just lovely for the feet and ankles, haha.


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