If you train in combat sports, at some point, your shoulders hurt. It drives some people from the gym entirely.
The theory is, we descended from apes but no longer use our bodies like apes do, so there is an obvious solution - Go Ape. Dr. Kirsch spoke with Rick Ansorge about it, for NewsMax Health.
"Man is the fifth great ape," said Dr. Kirsch. "The others are the gorilla, chimpanzee, orangutan, and gibbon, all of which still swing from trees orbrachiate.
"When we came down from the trees about 30,000 years ago, we stopped brachiating. But we still have the shoulders of an ape that's supposed to brachiate."
To treat and prevent such injuries, he has developed a simple protocol that simulates brachiating. It requires two elements: hanging or partial hanging from a pull-up bar and performing light weightlifting with dumbbells.
"It cures 99 percent of shoulder pain," says Dr. Kirsch.
He outlines the protocol in the fourth edition of his popular book: "Shoulder Pain? The Solution and Prevention." Unlike conventional treatments such as physical therapy and surgery, Dr. Kirsch's method is almost cost-free. "All you need is a branch on a tree and a brick," he says. "You hang from the branch and lift the brick."
As with any exercise program, it’s important to start gradually, especially if you are out of shape. "If you can't do a complete hang with your feet off the floor, do a partial hang and keep your feet on a stool or on the floor, and gradually put pressure on the shoulder," he says.
The protocol can be painful at first. "Paradoxically, the pain experienced while hanging from a bar will not injure the shoulder, but must be accepted" so the exercise can reshape the space in the shoulder, strengthen the shoulder muscles, and reduce pain. In some patients, it has erased chronic shoulder pain in as little as two weeks. In others, it has taken as long as a year and a half.
Dr. Kirsch's first patient was himself. In the early 1980s, he developed an impingement in both shoulders. The notion that simulated brachiating could help occurred to him when he noticed that his children could easily swing across monkey bars while he had difficulty reaching the second rung.
"It was just intuition," he says. "But I decided if I were to hang from a bar I could squeeze the fluids out of the swollen tissues and reshape the arched bone that compresses the rotator cuff. After a little over a year, I completely relieved the pain in my shoulders."
In 2004, Dr. Kirsch performed a series of CT scans to study the mechanics of the hanging exercise in the shoulders of live subjects. He later founded the Kirsch Institute for Shoulder Research in Stevens Point, Wis.
If you have shoulder pain, Dr. Kirsch recommends that you first see a doctor to get an X-ray to rule out unlikely causes such as cancer or an infection. If the pain results from a common rotator cuff tendinitis, he recommends gradually working up to three, 30-second bar hangs per day and performing the weightlifting exercises as described in the book with dumbbells as weighing one pound or more.
"I lift 10 pounds, 150 times each day with each arm, all the way up as high as I can lift it, up and down and up and down," he says.
According to Dr. Kirsch, about 80 percent of Americans will experience shoulder pain at some point in their lives, with annual direct costs such as treatment and indirect costs such as lost productivity exceeding $300 billion.
"All of that can be eliminated by following this simple little protocol," he says.