A Miracle That Changed My Life

By Rick Newcombe

November 14, 2012 6 min read

After years of lifting weights, you can expect shoulder pain. It goes with the territory.

I say this as a 62-year-old man who has been lifting weights his entire life -- and as one who has seen countless others in the gym either quit working out altogether or succumb to shoulder surgery. Just recently, there was a famous photo on the Internet showing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone sharing a hospital room during their recoveries from the shoulder surgeries they had undergone.

Mr. Olympia Frank Zane writes about having shoulder replacement surgery. Mr. Universe Dave Draper tells of his commitment to training after his shoulder surgery. There are countless others.

For many years, I worked out at World Gym in Santa Monica, Calif., and saw all of these bodybuilders and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other bodybuilders and weightlifters come and go. I can't tell you the number of times people told me that they would have to take a layoff for a while because they were going to have shoulder surgery.

"My doctor says I have bone on bone" was the usual way of phrasing the problem at the gym. I had heard about many different theories for the cause of this problem.

My first encounter with shoulder pain occurred when I was 50. It was my right shoulder, and the pain was severe, forcing me to use light weights. I did a ton of high-rep shoulder exercises using 2- and 3-pound dumbbells. The pain finally subsided after three months.

Then, five years later, the pain came back with a vengeance. Wow, did that hurt! I could not lift a bar off a bench for bench presses, because it felt as if someone were driving a nail through my right shoulder. I dealt with it by doing sets of 50 and 100 reps of extremely light-weighted, or freehand, physical therapy movements.

I also tried alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and Chinese medicine, but to no avail. I found the best treatment was time and rest, and a year and a half later, I was finally able to resume my normal workout routine.

But it wasn't quite normal, because I was secretly dreading another injury to that same shoulder. Consequently, I would not work so hard as I did before. And then it came, one month before my 60th birthday. I was climbing into the driver's seat of my car, holding a heavy briefcase horizontally in my right hand. As I sat down and simultaneously laid the briefcase flat on the passenger-side seat, I heard something go "POP!"

Oh, no, there goes my shoulder again! I couldn't believe it. Three times in 10 years. I thought I would never get back to my workouts again. I felt all washed up. For years, my disciplined workouts had made me feel young for my age, and now suddenly I felt like an old man because I could hardly raise my right arm.

I saw an orthopedic surgeon, who said, after a series of tests, that I had a rotator cuff tear and was a candidate for shoulder surgery. I would get cortisone shots and feel relief for a few days, and then the pain would return. I babied my right shoulder because it hurt so much, and I was living in a state of constant fear of damaging it more. I had won a contest in high school for doing 75 pushups in one minute, and now I could not do a single pushup. I could not even do one on my knees; that's how bad my shoulder pain was.

During this time, I started reading everything I could find on the subject of shoulder injuries. I read dozens of books and hundreds of articles, and then at some point I discovered the book "Shoulder Pain? The Solution and Prevention," by John Kirsch, M.D., and my life was changed.

Dr. Kirsch is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who performed shoulder surgeries for 33 years and then discovered that hanging from a bar will help cure most shoulder ailments. He also recommends some light dumbbell exercises in his book, but the primary exercise is to hang.

Most people will say, "That's too hard. I can't hang for more than a few seconds." Dr. Kirsch's answer is that you will get almost the same benefits for your shoulder if you do "partial hangs," which means keeping your feet on the floor or on a bench to take some of the pressure off.

Your hands should be facing forward while gripping the bar, as if you were about to do a pullup. If you don't have a bar, then try raising your arms to full extension, with your palms facing the floor. That helps a little, but hanging is the key to remodeling the shoulder when bodyweight is applied. Although, it does not always have to be full bodyweight.

What I loved about Dr. Kirsch's approach was that he was saying it was up to me to heal my shoulder -- not some passive solution like lying unconscious on a hospital bed while a surgeon chipped away at my shoulder bone to create more room. Dr. Kirsch said that by regular hanging, I could create the room between bones myself.

Now, more than a year after reading his book, I continue to hang at least six days a week for a minimum of 30 seconds, for three sets, with each set super-setted with one of the dumbbell exercises recommended in the book.

This treatment has been life-changing because I feel young again. After one year of daily hanging, I have total flexibility with both shoulders, and I can do windmills, yoga, archery, throw a football, swing a baseball bat, play tennis, play golf, swim -- you name it. And of course, I am working out with weights harder than ever, knowing that my shoulder has been remodeled and will never again be injured, because of my daily hanging. Talk about a miracle!

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