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Old 08-24-2011, 09:59 PM   #1
Brian Shanahan
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Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury

I'd like to share a story with other members here on the board.
I'm a member of a SOF unit in the military and I've been a crossfit nut for about two years. While on leave in June, I was involved in an accident while enjoying some sunny weather and wakeboarding with friends. The rope became entangled around my right arm, just below the shoulder, and I went for a subsurface ride behind a speedboat, with what was essentially a noose around my appendage. It was a rather painful experience.

The bicep and triceps muscles were crushed and separated as the rope crushed down around my arm. The brachial artery was pinched shut, and the nerves suffered extreme damage, resulting in complete paralysis from the shoulder down. The shoulder, lat, and pectoral muscle suffered a mild strain, but my whole right side bruised dark purple with a hideous yellow tinge around the edges of the bruise.

I went into surgery to repair the artery and restore blood flow, this was approximately 2 hours after the accident. Two hours of staring at my arm, which was cold, gray, and lifeless. I was pretty sure I'd lose the arm, and the paramedic, when I asked him to be honest in his opinion, said he thought it was likely.

I awoke from surgery with a nice, warm, normal arm (aside from being incredibly swollen and crushed at the top) but had no movement from the shoulder on down. The surgeon stated that my fitness level was the primary reason that the arm didn't have to be amputated. Healthy blood pressure and arteries allowed the blood to flow normally again, and muscular fitness kept my rotator cuff and my shoulder intact despite what was probably a significant amount of force pulling against it. The verdict was 12-18 months of recovery, with no guarantee that I'd ever regain full use of my right arm. It didn't sound too optimistic.

I'm pretty stubborn, so I was down for the count approximately a week and a half, but then began some easy air squats, and step-ups onto my plyo box in my garage gym. This progressed into KB swings, and one-arm overhead squats and snatch, all with my right arm in a sling.

In two days, I'll hit the 2 month anniversary of my epic wipeout.

About two weeks ago I got some movement in the elbow. A week after that, I had full range of motion, and was able to ditch the orthopaedic robocop brace that I had to wear. I currently feel like my elbow is normal, although it's very weak still from the damage to the bicep/triceps.

The docs I've been seeing are shocked. I still have no use of the wrist, and my thumb and fingers are somewhat numb, but they have limited movement, and are slowly improving as well.

The moral of my story is that strong people are hard to kill. I attribute the fact that I still have an arm to the level of fitness I reached through being a Crossfit addict. My mental state has always been positive through this ordeal. Part of it has been my girlfriend and family supporting me, and the rest is because of my dedication to being an athlete. Losing an arm, though being a real bummer, was never going to be a show-stopper for me.

I believe the quickness of my recovery is due to the fact that I've continued to stay active in the gym. A Crossfitter's mentality is to face adversity and then kick it's ***, right? I'm currently the only guy I've seen do 95lb barbell OH squats with one arm. It took some practice, but I got it figured out.

We all deal with injuries and adversity at some point. Don't let it get you down, fellow CF'ers. It's simply a challenge to overcome.

I can't do the daily WODs, currently... but I'm sure I'll get there soon, and much sooner than I would if I had never been a CF'er. I'm still in the gym doing my own WOD every day, though "constantly varied" is difficult to maintain.

Keep on WODing... it might save your life/limbs some day.
-please excuse any typing errors... I'm doing this with one mitt

-"Be a Effin' Athlete"
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Old 08-25-2011, 04:12 AM   #2
Hector Santiago
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Re: Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury

Wow! What a story! Keep up the training!

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Old 08-29-2011, 05:15 PM   #3
Helen M Brennan
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Re: Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury

simply awsome! you are an inspiration.
i am so pleased to have had the opportunity to read your story...


you dont drown by falling into water. you drown by staying there. Edwin Louis Cole
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Old 05-01-2012, 09:14 PM   #4
Brian Shanahan
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Re: Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury


It's been 10 months since the injury. I have about 90% range of motion in my shoulder. Full range of motion in the elbow. Wrist is very stiff/kinda numb feeling, but about 80% range of motion. Thumb and first 3 fingers work, but my pinky finger is kinda jacked. I can grip with it, but can't extend it.
I thought about having my team medic amputate it, because it gets in the way... but you need it more than you think to grip things. So... I'll keep it and see if it will improve.

I can do sets of 10 pull-ups and up to 10 ring dips. I think I've been able to do ring dips for about three weeks. It seems like once I can do something again, improvement comes quickly. I managed 2 sets of 10 x 135 clean and jerk tonight. I can deadlift 315 for 5 reps, but anything over that I just can't hang onto yet.

Need to work on wrist strength, it's REALLY limiting me. It will give out if I'm not careful and dump me on my face doing push-ups and stuff.

The nerves don't always fire the muscle correctly. This is hard to describe... One rep of press, for example, will be easy and feel normal, and for no reason the next will be hard, and then it'll be easy again.

Anyway... I'm putting much of my upper body weight back on and still CF'ing. There have been some very frustrating days... Double-unders cause me to 'roid rage out and throw my jump rope because I keep dropping the damn thing with my right mitt. Haha...

All together, I can't complain. My fiance has helped me stick thru this shiz and keep my motivation up. She can probably do more pull-ups than me, so she sets the bar pretty high...(She was featured in recently)

On the plus side... I can do pistols like no ones business after being limited to lower body exercise for so long. PR pistol box jump is 32"
And I'm real good at left arm KB snatches. lol

Well, CF'ers - keep drinking the kool-aid and do some muscle-ups for me.

*Note - The Inov-8 XF 210's are awesome. Just sayin'
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Old 05-02-2012, 06:12 AM   #5
Ari Sherwood
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Re: Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury

Great story, Brian. Thanks for the update and glad to hear that you're still improving. What an inspiration!
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Old 05-02-2012, 06:42 AM   #6
Joe C Thomas
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Re: Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury

That's awesome man! I bet you can dunk now after all those pistols.

So all I need to do is almost get my arm ripped off and I'll be jumping out of the gym. Hmmmm, not sure I'm ready to go that far.

Glad to see you are getting back into it.
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My blog: Joe's Fitness Bucket List My PRs: Joe's Peppers
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Old 05-02-2012, 12:46 PM   #7
Michael Wengloski
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Re: Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury

Along these lines a few months back I took a bullet through my forearm and desipite shattering my radius and ulna my arm was still intact and operable. Everytime I see one of my ortho doctors he laughs at me because he is amazed by how good my arm is doing consider the trauma it took. Now I'm using a strongly modified CrossFit to rehab it as well =].
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Old 05-02-2012, 08:08 PM   #8
Brian Shanahan
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Re: Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury

Thanks for the replies. I dunno what to say except CF and the mentality that goes with it works wonders.

Michael - good luck with the arm. Keep working it and I'm sure you'll be fine. It gets painful and frustrating but it'll pay off.
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Old 05-17-2012, 07:31 PM   #9
Hollie Jacobs
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Re: Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury

Thank you for sharing! It just shows how someone can be so motivated over something. Great job!
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Old 05-19-2012, 03:23 PM   #10
Lynn Martin
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Re: Crossfit and recovery after traumatic injury

Don't ever listen to doctors when they tell you that you won't ever do "x" again. I should know, I am one. We pretty much have to paint the worst possible picture. The risk of being sued if I tell you that I think you can regain movement is too high if you don't. (and since most people aren't motivated enough to do major rehab.....)

Stories like yours are relatively rare, but usually only occur in people with positive attitudes and motivation to work their butts off.

Way to go! Keep at it and best wishes for full recovery.
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