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Dave Bowes Journey back to the World Championships

We get talking to Allcord sponsored GB Team Ice Climbing and Paraclimber Dave Bowes in his recent battle against injury and his thoughts around his first two weeks before and after his operations. 

Prior to my operation, which was scheduled for the 3rd of March 2016, I started to conduct my own research on tears of the shoulder. I compared many cases to myself and found a lot of competitors and fellow climbers suffering or had previously suffered similar injuries. Having recently had an evaluation at the doctors, it was stated that the injury was most likely to be a Posterior Bankart Lesion (PBL), or a tear in the rear of the shoulder – as a result of a very strenuous case of Barn Dooring. However, despite the doctor’s diagnosis, I had my own ideas about the injury. I believed that the injury was somewhat identical to a previously repaired injury that I had sustained during a serious motorcycle accident, in 2007, which lead to my condition of TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).

As well as looking into the injury itself, I had also looked into the different methods of rehabilitation and the timescale of recovery of similar injuries. I reached out to a couple of people Robin O’Leary and a couple of his friends who had dealt with similar injuries to get a more personal understanding of the challenges that I would be facing. I had come across an American climber, Neely Quinn, who is very well respected and climbs at a high level in the States, who had recovered from a similar injury. Neely Quinn was a case that was particularly interesting, as with sustaining a grade 3 tear on her shoulder she had to overcome a lot of the challenges that I would be facing in a similar timescale. Neely Quinn, overcame this injury and was climbing back on the main stage and competing for top spot within eight months – which is remarkable as many climbers do not return to basic ‘wall work’ until this time. This was the timescale that I would be looking to achieve, but even quicker.

I knew that to recover in order to meet my target of competing at the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) Paraclimbing World Championships in Paris, France 2016 on the 14th of September, I will have to be seriously motivated and determined to do my best. Cautiousness will be a major mark of my rehab as well, being determined to ‘become better, quickly’ may overtake my self-control which could lead me to do too much, too quickly and hinder my rehab rate. I know that the physical rehab will be a big challenge, but the physical rehab will be easy in comparison to the mental rehabilitation and restrictions that I will have to face. For someone with TBI there is no halfway point, it’s either all or nothing, which is a typical trait of a brain injury survivor. All I’ll want to do is dedicate myself to the rehabilitation to ensure that I will allow myself the best chance of competing in Paris. Holding back will be my biggest challenge.

The Big Day. My mind set coming out of the surgery was one of nervousness … were the surgeons able to find what I have been waiting for 3 months to find out? What if they could not find the problem?

The surgeon, Mr Taylor, at Clatterbridge Hospital, Wirral told me that he was “very surprised that the injury was an Anterior Bankart Lesion (ABL)”. He continued, “I was also surprised that you have ripped 2 of the 3 previous pins out – which must have been the result of some serious force.” Overall the operation was a great success. The new pins had been put in my shoulder and there were no aches or pains.

The next three days were days of rest and minimal movement under doctor’s orders. To be honest doctor’s orders were to rest up for at least 2 weeks but we’ll come to that in a bit. I was surprised that I had not felt any pain at all since the operation and did not have to take any of the painkillers. Since my brain injury I have a somewhat removed connection to my body's senses including pain and emotion. With pain I sometimes feel it in the normal way, or feel no pain at all but I am able to see my body reacting: by shaking, or my body bypasses the pain altogether. So differentiating between pain, strain, fatigue and hunger shakes is incredibly difficult for me.

Stretches started being attempted on the fourth day (ignoring doctor’s orders of rest). Simple stretches that I had researched prior to the operation – as I felt that I was ready to start my rehab, as I was only provided anti-joint freezing shoulder shrugs and wrist flexion. My researched exercises included many passive stretches (assisting the bad arm with the good arm) and active stretches (doing the same stretch unassisted). I would find daily limits by pushing myself gently until pain on the first stretch (within reason) and then dialling it back 5 to 10 degrees, so that I could work on my recovery without the risk of further injury, whilst maximising my potential safely. My routine consisted of 250 plus reps: this was a combination of different passive and active exercises followed by isometrics, which were repeated several times. My routine would normally take someone 10 minutes, but with a continual testing of limits and analysis and doing the exercises for the first time, it would take me over an hour to do everything on the routine. Concentrating fully on what my body was telling me, with TBI this is more difficult and takes a lot of time and patience to figure out a simple message from your body. I checked with my Sports Injury Therapist Phil MacDonald who runs his climbing clinic part of Sports Therapy Liverpool out of an office at The Climbing Hangar, Liverpool to ensure that the movement and range of the exercises were safe to do and his words were, “If you can do it, then do do it. Listen to your body”.  I increased the repetitions of the stretches and the frequency from once a day to morning and evening stretches, but again I was to “listen to my body”. Since the beginning of my rehabilitation exercise routine, I had increased the angles that were being achieved and had been able to compare my progress to someone that would normally be six weeks along in their recovery, whereas I was only six days post-op.

On the seventh day I visited Phil at The Climbing Hangar for my first assessment. It was a full assessment with numerous stretches to test my range of movement and to demonstrate my normal stretching routine to Phil. The routine only took me 10 minutes to do. Once the assessment was complete, Phil provided me with an updated routine of exercises to strengthen my shoulder. After such a successful day with Phil, I got a bit over zealous and decided to repeat the new exercises… but this was all too much too soon. After the assessment and adding so much into the routine, to do additional work later that day tested my shoulder beyond its limits and resulted in a potentially major setback.

Day eight was a day full of anger, disappointment, nervousness and paranoia. During my morning routine I felt some twinges and pains at certain angles - something that I had not felt for days. This message from my body to stop was listened to and for the next four days I reduced my stretches from 250 repetitions twice a day to zero. Completely zilch. I even went back to wearing a sling, which I’d started taking off a couple of days earlier.  In addition, for the first time since the operation, I resorted to pain killers. Not for the pain but for the possibility of swelling and further setbacks to my rehab. All this time and effort wasted, just because of something as simple as doing one exercise too many. Damn my over eagerness…. STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!

The next 3 days were the hardest time of the rehab so far. Depression being something that was a daily battle, limited movement and not being able to stretch put a sense of negativity and an element of doubt in my mind. I wasn’t going be ready for Paris. An already tight timescale had been set back two weeks, potentially further. I felt like I had taken one step forward and two steps back. Even worse, had I completely wrecked the repair in my shoulder?

I woke up on the thirteenth day and continued to try some basic movement exercises and to my surprise my shoulder felt as good as new. I progressed to doing some basic isometrics against the wall and again my shoulder was feeling great. Progressing again to some planks, hand walks whilst in a slightly bent plank and finally onto some kneeling half press-ups – which all felt absolutely fantastic and in complete control. That morning could not have been any better, my recent negative, doubting and disappointed self was no more. With a great big smile and a sigh of relief to start the day. It was exactly what I had wished for. I could now continue my journey and no longer worry about what could have been. I went back and looked at the exercises that I completed with ease that morning and the routine that I had performed prior to my set back and through a process of elimination, I was able to find that it was the bear crawls that were the culprit to my strain. It was identified by Phil that these were in fact more advanced moves and should be a target to reach for with gradual build up. But due to my TBI I didn’t think of the consequences, I was reckless and I thought that I would be able to push through and complete the more advanced exercises prematurely – which is a mistake that will not be repeated on my journey to Paris. The day had set me in a motivational stride and I was determined to cautiously do the best that I could tomorrow and continue my journey.

Day fourteen was a great day, the pain was no more, my journey could continue and I could get back to doing my rehabilitation.

Paris is back on!"


Check out Allcord on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and Dave Bowes' Twitter and Instagram for more updates. Also check out the #championshipchallenge #fightbacktofitness for all of Dave's posts.

For updates also check out Boot Bananas, Birchall Blackburn Law, Climbskin, Prana, Metolius and Evolv

Picture provided by Dave Bowes and Luc Percival

Author: Allcord

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