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Tuesday, February 28, 2006 | In the last month two of my good surfing friends have dislocated their shoulders while snowboarding. Strangely, in my last conversation with the second of them, I informed him of the incident involving our mutual friend who had injured himself only two weeks earlier.
A phone conversation a week later with the second friend was slightly surreal. It felt like a reverse of our last talk, as we lamented his time out of the water: two months.
He got off lightly.
See, my friend No. 1, will not be surfing again for eight months, since he tore about every tendon and ligament in the area to go along with the dislocation.
He will have to have surgery.
I went snowboarding this Sunday. But I took it decidedly easy and I came out injury free. I wanted desperately to avoid the fate of my fellows.
However in January of 2000, I was not so lucky. After three weeks of intense snowboarding in Colorado, my right knee gave out and did not recover for six months.
Not that it needed to take that long, I just had never learned any of the mental or physical tools available to athletes, and especially surfers, who find themselves benched out of the water – or whatever you want to call the state that can produce psychological harm to go along with the physical injury.
For the first month of my injury, I moped, ignored the pain and went surfing anyway. That is until it got so bad I could no longer surf or even walk. Two different doctors told me I needed surgery because my kneecap was in the wrong place within my knee, thus scraping and grinding its way over bone and cartilage every time it was bent.
The only problem was that they could not explain how the surgery would really help solve the problem. I was told a lot about scraping cartilage, but little in the way of what was going to get my kneecap back into place.
For the first time in my life, the medical establishment had failed me, and my knee problems persisted. I felt like Hunter S. Thompson, who referred to the American Medical Association as a bunch of golf-playing quacks.
Since I refused surgery even after an MRI, (which did nothing to prove I needed surgery) I was turned over to the physical therapists. Under the care and guidance of these well-intentioned professionals my knee became steadily worse.
I did not understand why the physical therapy made things worse for another two months, when I finally found a cure for my knee. Having been injured, and unable to surf for nearly six months, I had somewhat given up hope of ever surfing again, and was generally depressed about the prospect.
Under the guidance of an Iyengar Yoga teacher, I learned that my muscles had been developing in specialized, unbalanced ways over my surfing career from the ages of 12 to 19, and that three straight weeks of snowboarding, locked into a similar stance, had finally revealed the pain my unbalanced muscles were causing.
Over the next two months of heavy private yoga practice, I learned to re-teach my muscles to work in their normal manner, mostly by building up the muscles on my inner-thighs. While I would never have believed it previously, western medicine had not held the cure for my injury.
Western medicine will be and has been essential to the recovery of my two friends who recently dislocated their shoulders.
When the healing period elapses, two months for one friend and eight months for the other, physical therapists will help re-strengthen the limbs weakened from such long confinement.
The major difference in the nature of the necessary cure was the type of injury. For a clear-cut, one time event such as a dislocation or a broken bone, a doctor can see the problem and set it right, when combined with healing time and then physical rehabilitation.
It is the longer term back and knee injuries and the like, that seem to baffle our medical establishment. Many times the cause of the pain is almost purely muscular, due to some unnatural activity, say eight hours a day typing at a desk, which weakens certain muscles while strengthening others until a painful imbalance occurs.
For those longer-term, lifestyle injuries, longer-term solutions are needed. I still, seven years later, do the same basic set of Yoga poses my teacher designed to help my knees stay balanced, every time before I surf.
And it has worked.
I am still injury free after seven years and I surf all the time. If you do have a chronic injury, from whatever sport, try and find out as much information as you can before you have surgery – it may not always be necessary.
Edward Graham is a freelance writer living in La Jolla. He has been surfing in Southern California for 15 years. You can email him at