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Updated: Jan 31

These are my views as a former 11B (Army Infantry), active Firefighter, certified personal trainer, and strongman competitor. I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice, just my personal experience. I have found a full body regimen for long term health and recovery through research and implementation. As members of the military and first responder community we suffer from unique mind and body ailments the broader civilian population is not used to dealing with. We have higher levels of chronic pain, site specific injuries (such as low back), and exposure to traumatic events which affect our mental health. Each of these problems can present long term health issues, such as sleep or hormone disruption, the inability to enjoy tasks we used to, or depending on the severity severely hinder our day to day lives.

Our bodies and brains are complex machines with many moving and interlocking components, whereby treating one specific component may not address the actual issue. An example of this would be suffering from a TBI and seeking help from the VA through behavioral health services. Instead of having blood work done the VA prescribes various medications to treat the issue. There may be underlying conditions here that are not investigated, for example there are many studies now that indicate a TBI may temporarily or permanently alter the production of sex hormones and human growth hormone in the body. Low productions of these hormones mimic many diagnosed behavioral health issues such as depression, lethargy, low motivation, and anxiety.

We need a total body approach to living as healthy as possible. This needs to be stressed, because with injury comes life adjustment. Can we return to what we used to do after a spinal injury? But we also need to be realistic and understand that going forward we may need to adjust our movements or avoid movements which agitate the injury. Moving forward means moving at the speed your body is capable of, not how eager you may be to recover.

The road to good health and we hope longevity begins with medical evaluation. A good place to start is a medical exam with a proper blood panel done to determine if there are any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. It is common to have a vitamin D deficiency and a supplement may be necessary to bring those numbers up. Having blood work done will also determine proper hormone production. A few of the side effects of low hormone production were discussed earlier. In a physical evaluation a doctor can help you understand your injuries, what are they, where are they, how do they affect your life? Sleep tests are also incredibly important, undiagnosed sleep apnea is very common. From there with medical advice, we can develop a plan of attack.

There are parts of the body that are heavily affected by the nature of the work across the military and first responder community. These are feet, knees, back, hands/wrists, elbows, and shoulders. To begin with, walking may alleviate many of these aching or nagging ailments. Walking with a purpose with the arms swinging is key here, slow or mall walking will make things worse. This puts a lot of shearing force on the bones and joints. At least 10 minutes of brisk walking a day. If your feet bother you, it may be time to visit the podiatrist. Custom insoles from the VA have helped my plantar fasciitis and heel spurs a lot. Proper footwear and insoles may also alleviate spinal compression. For achy Infantry knees a brisk walk is worth mentioning again. Walking lubricates the knee joint. To address back issues, the McGill method (a program to address pain and eliminate it) is worth exploring more in depth. He has developed a routine called the McGill big 3 to address core instability and alleviate chronic back pain.

If you suffer from spinal compression hanging from a pull up bar for 10 minutes a day or using a reverse hyper machine if your gym has one have been incredibly beneficial for me. The hands, wrists, and elbows are all treated the same way. Ironmind has many useful tools for this. It’s important to develop your crushing and flexing strength. You can use rubber bands around your fingertips and do exercises where you expand the band and the use of something like a stress ball to squeeze for repetitions can do wonders for aching elbows, wrists, or hands. Finally, addressing shoulder issues, mace swinging has alleviated many of my chronic shoulder issues. A mace bell for good price points can be found on amazon. I do mace swings four times a week for four sets of 25, switching clockwise and counterclockwise every set.

Diet and supplementation can be vital components of recovery and health. Depending on your activity level you might strive to eat a gram of protein per pound of body weight and drink a gallon of water per day. Our muscles are 70% water and 30% protein. It’s crucial to have protein and water intake take priority over carbs and fats. In my view, for men, it’s very important to consume at least some dietary cholesterol, which is necessary to produce testosterone. Eating whole eggs every morning has been a good way for me to start the day and get in necessary cholesterol for hormone production. Some studies have rescinded commonly held beliefs that cholesterol is bad for our health. There are those that are affected negatively by dietary cholesterol and that will reflect in their blood work and their doctors can advise them on that.

I have personally found supplements that lower inflammation very beneficial. The modern American diet is full of foods that cause inflammation in our bodies. This negatively affects our cardiovascular system, our joints, and can exacerbate pain. One supplement that I use that has come up in studies is curcumin. Curcumin is a spice from India and is commonly referred to as turmeric. It has great anti-inflammatory properties and some studies have shown to positively affect heart health and those suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases.

At the end of the day sleep is what matters most for recovery. Getting to bed earlier in the night rather than later greatly improves sleep quality. The closer to midnight or after the worse sleep quality is, studies indicate. For those struggling with sleep it needs to become a ritual. I sleep with a CPAP machine with a nose attachment, I use medical tape to tape my mouth closed, and I wear noise cancelling earbuds to sleep at night. Some other advice out there is to make sure the room is dark and avoid looking at electronics shortly before going to bed. If you suffer from flashbacks or nightmares at night, I have found a form of self-talk before falling asleep to help. I went for months with nightmares from my wartime activities and my sleep quality was terrible. I would wake myself up punching or kicking the bed. I was able to change this before going to bed I would mentally tell myself that I was in control of my dreams and that I would have lucid dreams. I did this every night and when I began to have a nightmare, I changed the dream while I was dreaming. I have not had any nightmares about being in combat since. Meditating at least 10 minutes a day also helps me with sleep. There are many benefits to meditation, it reduces stress, it can lower blood pressure, and if you’re having trouble focusing on tasks it may prove beneficial.

First and foremost, you must always be your own advocate when it comes to your health. It can be a hard and long road to recovery. We as a community need to avoid the narcotics, the overuse of psychiatric medications, the muscle relaxers, the drugs, and the alcohol that act as a crutch. Most of us took oaths to serve our nation and/or community - so part of that is always living up to it and being prepared. Without your health you are not prepared. Get out there and PT, stay motivated, and take your health and your family’s health into your own hands.

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