above, my how to video for warm water massage for shins
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Anyone who has kicked anything knows that the occasional bump, knot or “mouse” on the shin or foot is inevitable. You can get them on your forehead or face from an elbow or punch and on your shins or feet from kicking knees, elbows, heads, etc. They kind of feel like badges of awesomeness, but they can also keep you from training and that feels lame.
I always have something that hurts, be it mushy or bumpy shins, crushed toes, swollen knuckles, stitches in my head, bruised thigh from leg kicks, tweaked knee from running, blisters, muscle ache, whatever the hell I keep doing to my elbow by not hitting on the bone-tip, etc. This is normal and it doesn’t register to me as being hurt or injured, it just impacts how I’m training if I can’t kick on one side for a few days to let something heal up. I never stop training, just train around things. Even then, I hate it when I can’t knee or kick on one side because something hurts, so I do my best to get those bruises or knots healed quickly.
Knots and Soft Spots
So how do you treat these knots or soft spots in order to get back to or keep training? It’s actually quite easy and I show you how in the video above. A few things to remember:
1. In the West we love ice. You ice everything and we have that handy RICE acronym to throw around. By all means, keep using ice and compression as the first (early) method of treating swelling.
2. Drain it immediately after injury upon swelling: if you have ever watched boxing or MMA on TV you’ve seen the cut guy in the corner using “end swell” on a busted face. It can be a metal hockey puck shaped device that is pressed onto a swollen eye or bump on the forehead in order to drain fluid out and away. DO THIS on your shins when you first get one of those large bumps. You can use a cold metal spoon if you’re fancy or your thumbs or even someone else’s elbow or forearm to press the fluid in one direction away from the swelling, starting from the outside and working toward the center. You’re going to want someone to help you because it hurts a lot and you’ll probably wuss out trying to do it yourself. Wearing a mouth-piece helps. Here’s a picture of Nook rubbing the knot out of my foot – if it didn’t work I would never put up with it:
3. After the first 24 hours heat becomes your best friend. [Update Jan – 2016: I have stopped using ice altogether, previously I had waited for 24 hours of ice]. If you’ve got something on your body that hurts and you ask a Thai trainer what to do about it, 99% of the time you’re going to hear the words “hot water,” nam rohn. And for good reason because it really works (see the video above). Drawing blood to the area so it can heal in the days that follow an injury is just as important as using cold and compression in the first 24 hours to keep swelling down [Update: I now have stopped using ice altogether, even initially]. Don’t just let the knot or bruise be there until it goes away on its own, you will be waiting for a very long time. Draining the fluid, using hot water massage and some balm or oil a couple times per day will speed up recovery time and get you back to training.
4. In particular to shins: I was told by both Kaensak and Den in no uncertain terms that you should NOT kick on a damaged shin until it is completely healed – what “completely healed” means is perhaps discovered by experience, but is something like “does not ache or swell”. I was surprised by how adamant they both are in not kicking on it at all, but these are men with hundreds of fights and who have trained hundreds (in Den’s case thousands) of people in Muay Thai. So I have to put this in here that if your shin hurts do not “tough it out” through the pain. Work to heal the bruise or lump and lay off that leg until it is healed. I cheat by using an extra shinpad so that I can kick sooner than I might otherwise (shown in the video). But do not kick on your shins when they are bumpy, mushy, or causing you pain. Den and Kaensak both gave me the same warning: if you keep kicking when your shin is hurt, it will never heal.
The long and short of it is that there is always something that will be “off,” and there’s no such thing as fighting at 100% unless you allow a liberal definition of 100%, which I do – for those that don’t follow me regularly, I fight very frequently from 2 to 3 times a month. The way I see it, if you stop training every time something hurts, you’re basically training to stop. I prefer to train myself to continue despite pain, discomfort, or even not being able to use one limb at all, like when Urijah Faber broke his hand in the first couple rounds and just started replacing all right crosses with right elbows. You don’t just magically do this, you have to train it. Training around injuries is how you learn to do this. If you damage your foot during a fight and you know how to adjust your kick to stop hitting it you can keep kicking rather than abandoning the weapon all together. Plus, injuries can actually be a boon in allowing you to focus on particular techniques – training with a broken nose got me to keep my guard up like nothing else ever had before and not being able to kick on my right side helps to develop my left kick.
Same with training. It’s the “art of 8 limbs” and when one is on the mend you’ve still got plenty to work on. When I had my stitches in and wasn’t allowed to sweat at the gym I did shadow and uncountable situps, keeping just shy of breaking a sweat. Injury is a state of mind and I do everything in my power to train my mind to reject that state. In my 33rd fight my opponent was bashing my front leg with thigh kicks to a marvelous degree. It was immensely painful and I wondered at an early round whether it could result in a KO by leg kicks. But I didn’t show her that it hurt and she slowly lost interest in attacking that leg. I didn’t do this out of quick thinking or improvised poker face. I was only able to do it because I’ve been trained by getting my ass kicked by Den every single day that if I show him that his attacks are having an effect on me he will continue to do it, faster and with more gusto; if I poker face something that is actually causing damage he generally moves on to something else.
I think westerners have something in our culture that really rewards suffering through something with evident effort. This is culturally not the way of Thais and is to some degree taboo. Instead of showing that you’re fighting through pain you show that nothing hurts and in some way that makes it real. If you don’t show a response, it didn’t happen. At the end of that fight I walked out of the ring and smiled; after sitting in the bed of the truck and having my thigh lock up on me I had to force the limp out of my stride as I walked home because I didn’t want Den to see it. I got home and sat in an ice-bath, almost unable to bend my leg enough to fit in my little tub. The next day I returned to training and Neung could not believe that I could walk. Even a week later he was poking at my thigh and asking if it hurt and my answer was always the same, “not at all.” Say it enough and you’ll believe it yourself. Believe that you can overcome the pain or work around it and you actually will. Injuries are what you make them and if you accept them as part of your training you will stop worrying about them, anticipating them, or even caring much about them. After all, it’s nothing a little hot water can’t fix.
For longer lasting Shin bumps and swelling read this post:
If you liked this post, you may like reading about Muay Thai Techniques and Tips I’ve discovered: