Body hacking of another kind: Learning to work out with a cervical spinal injury.

Last year I was diagnosed with disk disease in my cervical spine, aka the neck. At least one disk is herniated (poking into the actual spinal cord) and the other ones aren’t looking too keen either. On top of that I was dealing with a crush of the ulnar nerve through the elbow, which might have been related to the neck injury as well. It caused pain and headaches the likes of which I’d never imagined, plus some loss of fine motor control in my hands- not fun for a writer.

Note the serrations in my spinal cord and the lack of curvature in my pine.

Note the "serrations" in my spinal cord and the lack of curvature in my neck. Ow.

This year I am recovering, and for the first time in a long time I can exercise and do rehabilitation, a process I will document here.

First off, there is something I am not going to do for a long time, if ever again. For a while my main workout was Krav Maga, which I loved doing. But Krav is dangerous and violent, and my neck is still in no shape to take those kind of risks. It was the best work out of my life, and I miss it.

What I can do is build up pretty much every muscle in my body that doesn’t cause me neck pain to work on. I had my first meeting with Winston, my personal trainer on the 15th. We did arms, legs, and plank for core. He tried to get me to do a sit up, I flatly refused- I can’t do them without hurting my neck. He also tried to do some stretching and decompressing of my neck by basically pulling on my head very carefully. This backfired a bit and gave me some headaches. But we have another appointment on the 2nd, and he plans to talk to a more experienced physical therapist about how best I can work around my vague disability.

That’s my main take away: get help and complain a lot. If it hurts, don’t do it, and let the PT know.

This idea of exercise as body hacking departs from my own, but I can see its validity. In fact, I was very touched by a post in 2007 where a physical therapist decided to post a top five body hacks list after seeing my presentation. There is a certain magical quality to attention, and when it’s paid to the body, it can teach you much about yourself as well as making you stronger.