Physical Activity with Crohns Disease

A lot of folks that have Crohns are a little turned off by physical activity for a whole host of reasons.

I don’t blame them, really.

Chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and never wanting to be too far from the bathroom aren’t exactly conducive to physical trials of any kind. Regardless of all of that, it can be done. I accept that you’re not going to be up to much in the middle of a big flare up, but I’ve managed to do a few things in my short time on this planet after my diagnosis.

Two big ones come to mind:

  1. I’ve competed in 125km (78 miles) off-road, one day mountain bike races.
  2. I’ve trained in karate all over the world and currently hold a second degree black-belt in one of the most popular traditional styles in the world (Okinawan Goju Ryu, IOGKF).

They’re not earth shattering accomplishments by any means, but they were pretty big for me, especially at the time.

You’re more than capable of doing the same.

The two biggest things I had to figure out were how to mitigate my joint pain and how to reduce my need to go to the bathroom all the time.

I’d spent thousands on physical therapy to try and sort out my various joint issues (Crohns very commonly causes joint pain, it’s heaps of fun) and nothing really helped. In the end I had to spend hundreds of hours educating myself about how the human body works. I find that I have a lot less tolerance for faulty movement patterns than most people, but that I can get away with minimal pain if I move myself intelligently throughout the day. I learn’t to squat correctly, align my knees correctly, use and position my shoulders correctly, and work on my general mobility (think flexibility).

YouTube will teach you everything you need to know on that score, you can watch and listen to some of the worlds best practitioners talk about their field.

Secondly – I had to look at my diet.

This is a tricky one, everyone is a little bit different, but here is what worked for me.

  1. I stopped drinking coffee (I was only drinking 1-2 cups per day) and moved to a single cup of mild (not strong) green tea per day. This made a huge difference for me.
  2. I stopped eating dairy. This was the second thing that made a massive difference.

Coming off the coffee was a challenge, but I got it done.

I miss coffee a lot, but I’m better without it.

Learning your basic human bio-mechanics and some reasonably serious diet modification and I had myself under control enough to make some progress.

Do some experiments and see what works for you – exercise is important, and we were built to move.

It isn’t easy – but it is totally doable and very much worth your while.

Body Balance, Physiotherapy And The Mind

I’ve always been a very tall, skinny, weak nerd.

You can fight your genetics all you want, and you can certainly move the needle – but you’ll be fighting forever.

I’ve been fighting (in a friendly way!) my genetics for a long time.

I never really played a lot of sport, I just hung out with friends and messed around with computers. Then my darling wife dragged me to Queenstown and everything changed. I was in my mid-20’s and everyone around me was exercising. I started cycling, I tried running for a while, I started skiing, day walking, all sorts of shenanigans. I had a physical base of about 0. I was lucky in that I wasn’t carrying around any excess weight, but I had the strength and fitness of a wet towel.

I had no significant musculature and no idea how the human body was supposed to work. My expensive private school education hadn’t taught me the first thing about how my body was supposed to move. A real shame.

I trashed myself very quickly. My horrible mechanics put me on the lightning fast track to chronic pain, my joints hated me. Crohn’s has a nasty habit of causing joint paint too, but I didn’t know I had Crohn’s at the time, and while it would be easy to just blame that – it probably accounted for 20% of my issues. I was a mechanical mess.

Fast-forward to my early 30’s. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on subsidized physiotherapy and had little to no result (the biggest benefit of my therapy to date was simply having them tell me to take it easy for a while, an enforced stand down period).

On the positive side, I’ve watched hundreds of hours of YouTube material on physiotherapy, I’ve got books everywhere and I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts on the subject. I decided to fix myself, because it was clear no one else was able to.

It took me months of research to stumble across one of the fundamental principles of a healthy body, and that is one of balance. Specifically muscular balance across your joints.

In simple terms, if you push a lot, you need to pull a lot.

If you develop strength doing a particular movement in a particular direction – you need strength in the opposite direction.

Karate is a great example – we push all day. Punching, kicking, blocking. It’s all forward focused. The front of the body develops, the back of the body does not. The supporting musculature for all of our pushing movements slowly withers away and we end up with a huge muscular imbalance across the shoulders. Loose traps, malfunctioning lats and non-existent rear deltoids coupled with strong, tight pecs and tight biceps are a recipe for shoulder disaster.

Look at any joint, look at a movement, you need to be strong in both directions. The opposing muscle group must be trained or you loose balance, and you make physiotherapists a lot of money.

My shoulders.

I had a shoulder impingement issue from karate and I’d had it for a few years. Id gotten a lot stronger over time and my pecs were chronically tight. My posterior musculature, tasked with keeping that anterior strength under control was woefully inadequate.

I haven’t had a serious shoulder problem for over 2 years but I didn’t fix it with goofy physio exercises with a band, or with rows.

I’d tried that stuff for 6 months and I was still impinging. I was certainly stronger for my physio exercises. My rotator cuff was stronger, my rear delts were stronger, my traps were stronger.

No improvement.

I wasn’t really sure where to go from there.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t really have to look hard for an answer. This random guy started renting the desk next to me at work and stuck around for a few months.

Turns out I knew (of) him, I’d seen him on TV. He was a famous multi-sport athlete.

Naturally I bitched about my shoulders. “My shoulders keep getting pulled forward when I train karate, my pecs are tight blah blah blah” – my usual whinge at this point.

He told me to pull my shoulders back and keep them there.

Cheeky bastard.

I’ve been in and out of physio for a year with this shit, “pull your shoulders back” isn’t much use to me!

Long story short, I started walking around with my shoulders back, it took a while but months later that’s where they stayed and they’ve stayed back ever since.

Problem solved.

I fixed my shoulders with my mind. My mind is clearly some sort of deadly ninja.

I think about that conversation whenever I see people walking down the street waddling like ducks with the feet pointed outwards.

Don’t do that duck walk thing, it’s super stupid and we all judge you for doing it.

That was a weird, abrupt ending.

No one will notice.