Former Bears OL Dan Jiggetts has learned he doesn’t have to live in pain
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The Super Bowl is over, and football has been laid to rest for the season.
In a sense, however, football is the gift that keeps on giving — and not in a good way.
Like other violent or extreme sports, football comes with guaranteed injuries. Many of those are treated at the time and temporarily assuaged, but they linger quietly before flowering later in life as chronic aches and pains caused by the aging process, weight gain, arthritis and the compensation one’s body has made for the damaged muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, etc.
When you see a bunch of old football players at an assembly of some sort, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching human crabs and sloths lurching and stumbling about. They’re big guys, but they’re often a mess.
And the reason is simple: pain.
Everything that once was just an irritating competition issue is now a demon that begins to take over the former players’ lives, limiting what they can do physically until immobility becomes the defining concept of their existence. From bed to table to BarcaLounger is the path of routine.
Nor is this just what happens to old NFL athletes. Those college, high school and even peewee football injuries can return years later as nasty reminders of games gone by. The pains can be from hockey, too. Or soccer, pole-vaulting, distance running, rugby, weightlifting, baseball, basketball or just about any sport where there’s hard contact with the ground, a ball or another human.
For 64-year-old Dan Jiggetts, a former Bears offensive lineman and a much-loved Chicago media personality, the pain from old football injuries to his shoulder, back and hips began to take over his life some time ago.
Combined with his sedentary lifestyle and serious weight gain that at one point had him in the 400-pound range, Jiggetts was a walking — correct that, shuffling — time bomb of hurt. The vicious cycle had begun: The pain made him not want to move more than he had to, the lack of movement added to his weight gain and muscle deterioration, so he moved even less. His legs were basically numb below the knees because of nerve damage in his hips.
‘‘One calf muscle almost disappeared,’’ he said.
He couldn’t lift his right arm because of an old shoulder separation. His lower back screamed in agony when he tried to walk.
Then old friend and former Bears offensive tackle Keith Van Horne called. Van Horne said he had started seeing an unusual physical therapist/weight-trainer named Greg Hachaj at GhFitlab in Glenview.
Van Horne, 61, had many of the issues Jiggetts had and was desperate for help. When he first met Hachaj in 2016, he told him bluntly, ‘‘Greg, I’m slowly dying.’’
‘‘Keith kept telling me this guy is unbelievable,’’ Jiggetts said. ‘‘I thought I’d give it a shot. And, boy, am I happy I did.’’
Jiggetts said this as he waited at GhFitlab to continue the twice-a-week, one-hour training he has been doing with Hachaj since getting Van Horne’s advice.
Has the unorthodox, no-sweat, exhaustion-free, almost-painless training he has been doing worked? Jiggetts has feeling in legs again (though there is more work to be done on his right foot), his back is better and both shoulders have responded amazingly.
‘‘I couldn’t sleep before; now I can,’’ he said. ‘‘I couldn’t lift his shoulder before, and look at it now!’’
He laughed and hoisted the arm high.
Hachaj’s training focuses on specific muscle groups and even single muscles that might surround a client’s injured or painful area. The machines he uses are standard fare, but the weight plates are minuscule — as few as 2 pounds or even nothing but one’s own body weight for some routines.
The point is, Hachaj, a former champion bodybuilder from Poland, one day saw the ridiculousness of his lifestyle — with all its vanity, drug-taking and obsessiveness about mass and striation — abruptly quit and decided to use his muscle knowledge to help people rather than amuse them with his gigantic slabs of beef wrapped inside tissue-thin skin that brought him to what he felt was near-death from crazy training.
Slender and enthusiastic now, Hachaj is gaining a strong reputation with orthopedic doctors and others in the medical field because they see the results of his work.
‘‘I could bench 500 pounds as a player,’’ Jiggetts said. ‘‘But tell me what good that is in the real world?’’
Hachaj’s technique stimulates the muscles with gently increased blood flow, treating them as sacred restorative ‘‘organs’’ that should not be broken down by old-school weight-training that leads to exhaustion, joint trauma and more pain. Instead, they should be seen as miraculous gatekeepers to a fuller, more stable life.
Many people are aging in pain, and here is one way of slowing — and even reversing — that slide.
‘‘My biggest fear was not being able to move,’’ Jiggetts said as he got into a chair for his first routine with Hachaj. ‘‘When I started this, on a scale of pain from one to 10, I was at eight. Now I’m a two, some days even a one.’’
That’s fine news.