Nerve Damage in Self-Suspension: a Case Study
After years of doing quite strenuous, dynamic suspensions in hip harnesses, I was getting quite cocky… even starting to think that my lower limbs were impervious to nerve damage. Of course, once I started thinking that, the leash of reality came and yanked me back!
This injury happened when I was doing a self-suspension at home, with my partner Stefanos spotting me. I’d gone through quite a variety of different ties over the course of close to 2 hours (including floorwork). At the time, I had been doing a lot of self tying, as I was practicing for one of my first formal self-suspension performances. I was often self-suspending 3-4 times a week for up to a couple hours at a time. There is a lot of evidence that nerve damage is cumulative (it builds up over time, so what seemed like a one-shot fluke injury may instead have simply been the “straw that broke the camel’s back), and I think that was likely a factor in this incident.
I was up in a version of a swiss seat harness—one that I've probably done on myself over 100 times. I tie it in one wrap with a doubled piece of 8mm nylon. I was probably up in it for 15 minutes or so, moving around a lot. I tried to go into this position:
... which is one that is always intense and causes the hip harness to dig in quite aggressively, but usually I can tolerate it pretty well. I felt a sudden stab of pain where the rope was digging in under my left iliac crest as I was moving my feet towards my head. I stopped the motion and moved upright... and as soon as I moved, the pain was gone. I assessed my body (I even felt for numbness on my outer thigh, because lateral femoral cutaneous nerve (LFCN) injuries are the ones I’ve heard of happening in this way) and I felt fine, so I continued on for probably about 5 more minutes, then came down.
As I was untying, I noticed an area of numbness on my left inner groin, and a mild burning sensation. Being an anatomy geek, I traced out exactly where the numbness was, and went googling—I was quite numb in exactly the area innervated by the iliohypogastric nerve, and mildly numb in the area innervated by the ilioinguinal nerve (only on my left side):
...which makes sense if you look at the path of the nerves, which do run quite close to each other:
About 24 hours after the injury, it was still still pretty numb, although it was not terribly noticeable unless I touched it. There was a mild background burning that I felt if I thought about it (would rate less than 1 on a pain scale of 0-10)... it was VERY annoying when I shaved, as the sensation was super weird/numb/not right. The injury slowly improved over the course of several weeks and was completely resolved by the 3 week mark.
Lessons I took from this:
I am not invincible to nerve damage from hip harnesses—boooo!
If I feel that particular sharp stabbing pain again, I will stop completely (even if I can’t find anything wrong) to rest and assess my body. I’m not sure it would have made any difference to come down 5 minutes earlier (I was doing totally different movements/positions), but in the same situation again I would err on the side of caution and come down.
I always tie more substantial hip harnesses on other people, because I know that it’s riskier with less rope—I’m much more willing to take risks with my own body than other people’s. However… most of the time even on myself, I should use more than one wrap for hip harnesses, so that they are more substantial and provide more support, lessening the chance of very focal compression like what happened here. Even though I like tying a quick hip harness with a short rope… see point 1 above… boooooo :-(.
Despite being a nurse and bondage anatomy geek, I’d never even heard of the iliohypogastric nerve until I damaged it! As us self-suspenders do some quite unique ties, we may also face some fairly unique risks. It’s important to broaden your sense of risk awareness beyond doing the basic checks many bondage bottoms are already aware of, such as checking your arm for radial nerve damage or outer thigh for numbness (a sign of damage to the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve (LFCN), which is a more common injury from hip harnesses and futomonos).