Friday, January 22nd, 2010

The Best Injury Prevention Method

by Alvin Tam

What is the best injury prevention method? This is such a great question. Not only have many people asked me about it but I’ve had to ask myself about it also.

There are thousands of vitamins, supplements, ointments, and other treatments that you can take to brace your body against potential injuries. Obviously I don’t know all of them so I can’t recommend a particular brand, a gel, a pill, a patch, or a cream that will make it all go away, or at least stay away in the first place.

As an acrobat for the last 15 years, I’ve had the time to see when injuries occur, how they occur, and most important WHAT THEY MEAN. There is no definition for injuries but each person has his own way of interpreting an injury. What am I saying?

I am saying that injuries are – you guessed it – a result of a mindset. This is not to say that you cause ALL your own injuries, or that you should feel guilty if you did get injured. What this is saying is that injuries serve a purpose, and it is essential to dive into the meaning of that injury – what it means TO YOU.

Some injuries are your body’s way of saying slow down. That is an obvious “meaning”. You might approach this whole concept on injuries by seeing them not as nuisances, or troublesome events, but as nature’s way of sending you a message to become more aware of something in your life.

But aren’t injuries some random occurance? In my years of training, I’ve noticed how un-random they are. There are many times I’ve taken a hard fall, jumped too high, or tripped, and I should have been injured. But I wasn’t. And then there were times when I was stepping off a mat, running on a trail, or falling off a 3 foot high table, and I ended up injuring myself the most.

The most important thing about preventing an injury is to ask your body EVERY DAY what it needs. When you ignore its needs (not enough sleep, not enough food), you force it to communicate to you in harsher and harsher ways, until you finally experience an injury.

There is so much more to be written and said about this topic so we’ll continue in the next blog. For this week however, keep your awareness open to your body and ask: what does it need?

The best injury prevention is your mindset. I’ll relate a quick story testifying to this personal truth.

When I was training in the circus school I was very lucky to be surrounded by coaches, medical staff, and access to hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. The irony of the situation was that I often found myself needing a band-aid over some part of my body. If my ankle wasn’t recovering from a sprain, then my back was in spasm. If my neck wasn’t sore and stuck, then I was plagued with the latest seasonal flu. It was a circular type of affliction, a merry-go-round of injuries and illnesses.

The eye-opening experience came when I left on tour finally as a professional performer. On tour you don’t have the luxury of being pampered with emergency services, on-staff therapists, and most importantly, time off. You perform out of sheer necessity, and especially in smaller casts, there are no backups and no understudies. Just you.

I never once missed a touring show ever for an injury or a cold. I remember thinking at the end of a year long tour that I was only sick once and that was because of some bad water in Mexico. But I never hurt myself. I was fascinated and puzzled by that fact since what I was doing involved extreme acrobatics, heights, and plenty of exhausting touring.

The only answer I figured out was that injury prevention was entirely a product of necessity and will. I couldn’t get injured because 1) no one could replace me and 2) I wouldn’t get paid. (Forget workers compensation!) And so, out of sheer will, I stayed healthy.

But aren’t some injuries fluke accidents? I can’t answer that. I think yes… and I also think the majority of injuries serve a purpose. It may be there to slow you down or help you realize a very important aspect of your life. The meanings are as varied as the injuries, but uncovering its message requires artful observation and most importantly, honesty with oneself. It’s easy to deny an ugly truth, and sometimes only an injury can jar you and create awareness.

alvintam2-headshotThere are many physical remedies to raise your chances of preventing injuries, like sleeping enough, eating well, taking your vitamins. Beyond the obvious physical preparations, think of all the reasons why you would benefit from an injury. That’s right. I said “benefit.” It’s a twist on perceiving injuries, a change in the way we think of getting hurt. If you realize what you can “get” from being injured, then you are already 50% there to preventing it. Is it time off? More attention? A reason to change sports, a job, or a relationship? This is the art of injury prevention.

Stay Healthy,


Alvin Tam is a Human Touch Health & Wellness council member and enjoys relaxing in his HT-7450 Zero-Gravity massage chair.

“I notice that using the massage chair has helped to radically reduce tension in my neck from all the computer work I have to do. I also have an overall sense of well-being by not having any back tension at all during the day.” – Alvin Tam

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