The Truth About Rehab.
As I sit here at 1:11 in the morning, unable to sleep due to pain, I figured I might as well do something productive rather than toss and turn and curse. Normally I sleep like the dead, but recently I’ve been having to get creative about how I sleep. The only relief I’ve been getting lately is to sleep on my stomach with a flat pillow under my belly so my back will finally relax a bit.
It has been almost a year and a half now… when I chose to jump out of a perfectly good plane, strapped to another person, and had a freak landing where I bounced off ground on my tailbone- which is hard to do when you’re over 5’10 and almost 160lb, I’m not exactly made of bouncing material.
At first, I was in denial. I thought I had just bruised my tailbone, and I would be fine within a week, adrenaline is an amazing thing. But as the weekend and following week progressed I started to realize that something was seriously wrong. I went to my doctor and had x-ray’s to see if anything was broken, and starting getting treatment.
The diagnoses ranged from a sprained back and tailbone to possible compression fractures, sprained spinal processes, a bulging disk, an unstable sacrum, and/or an out-of-place sacrum. Treatment has included seeing a sports medicine doctor, as well as a chiropractor who not only does adjustments, but active release and the Graston technique as well. I’ve also seen multiple physiotherapists, who have done IMS (needles) and given me exercises, as well as, a few massage therapists.
I can’t honestly remember the last time I had a day without pain, which is a pretty scary reality. I now do anywhere from 20-90 minutes of exercises and stretches a day, and get chiropractic and/or physio treatment at least once a week just to be able to maintain where I’m at and to hopefully avoid any flare-ups. Considering my medical coverage for this year ran out a long time ago, this is getting to be quite a costly little hobby!
But, have I improved? Yes! There was a time an air squat made my sacrum feel like it was going to explode and that anything dynamic like a kipping pull-up was excruciating. Do I wish things have gone differently? Of course. Do I know it could’ve been way worse? Yes, that’s something I remind myself of everyday.
So rather than throw myself another pity party, here are my tips for surviving a long bout of rehab, not just physically, but mentally also. I have learned them the hard way, and I hope that you won’t have to. Hopefully these tips can help expedite your process if you happen to get injured or have an accident.
6 Tips for Making the Most of Your Rehab:
1) Get Professional Help & Seek Multiple Opinions: I have had more than one x-ray, and I literally had to fight my doctor to get on the list for a MRI. Even though it’s affecting my life, job and happiness she said I’ll be pretty low priority. But I pleaded my case anyways, and got myself on the cancellation list, as well as on any list for the surrounding areas.
As described above, I have exhausted quite a few different forms of treatment, and will continue to do so until I find a solution. I went over Vancouver yesterday specifically to see a neuromuscular massage therapist who is also an osteopath. I’ve started looking into therapeutic horseback riding where I volunteer, as well as spinal decompression treatment, and possibly Prolotherapy (injections). It’s time consuming and expensive, but you have to be your own advocate, and…
2) Take Responsibility for Your Rehab & Exercises: You want to get better, yet you don’t make time to do your exercises, or whatever else may help you speed up the process. How badly do you want to get better? It’s not glamorous laying on the floor doing these seemingly ridiculous little stretches, it’s tedious and time-consuming. But I refuse to not get better because I didn’t do everything I could within my control.
3) Check Your Ego at the Door: So before this happened, I was just starting to get into competing in CrossFit, powerlifting and weightlifting. By no means was I highly competitive, but I get a lot of joy out of training and competing, and since this accident I have realized what a huge stress reliever this was for me.
I have had to let go of what I could lift ‘before’, what I could do ‘before’, what my times were ‘before’. Which is hard to do when you’re a coach at a CrossFit gym. But injuries are going to happen, and I want to show our clients that I didn’t give up, even when it started to feel a little hopeless. I have learned to be grateful for any improvements, no matter how small, and to find joy in other people’s progress and PR’s.
4) Don’t Isolate Yourself: I’ve made this mistake more than once. I have a bad flare-up, I can barely get out of bed, and the last thing I feel like doing is dragging myself to the gym where I have to do my rehab exercises and modify a workout that I all I want in the world is to do it as prescribed. Everyone can do something, and it’s nice to be able to see my friends, stay in a positive environment where people want to see me get better and stay healthy.
5) Focus on What You CAN Do: I love, I mean LOVE lifting heavy weights, and being able to train without restraint. But that is not in the cards for me right now, and to be honest, that mindset has held me back at times during my rehab process. Not setting aside your ego or holding onto the past can build up anger and resentment, which takes the fun out of everything.
So instead, why not focus on what I can do? I can focus on getting better at gymnastics, especially strict. I can focus on perfect technique in everything, and fixing any bad habits I had previously- little things like engaging my lats more in pull-ups or bending with my knees, not at the waist and back to grab a bar. Over time these things add up cumulatively, so why not take this time to focus on moving better and more efficiently. I can focus on coaching, my school, and things outside of the gym, like my marriage and personal life. Sometimes this is hard to do, but it is imperative for keeping perspective and a positive mindset.
This is not my first rodeo when it comes to rehabilitating a somewhat freaky injury. Chronic compartment syndrome ended my university basketball career, and resulted in surgery on both of my shins in 2008. After months of crutches, painful rehab and having to learn how to run again I went into the military and received the Top Female Athlete award during my basic training course. Pretty cool after being told I wouldn’t be able to run again.
As I’ve gotten frustrated with this injury over the last year and half I have had to remind myself that rushing it isn’t going to help, and I think I forget how long it took my shins to recover. I found active release and the Graston technique really helpful back then too, and I also had Shockwave therapy- where a mini jack hammer was used to try to micro-break my shin bones so my tendons would hopefully regrow back to the bone… Yep… that’s a real thing. Am I going to run marathons someday? Nope. But if I can rehab that, I’m not able to give up on this.
Which leads me to my last tip…
6) Be Patient & Don’t Give Up: I’m not going to lie to you, it’s going to be hard to stay positive if it lasts for a long time. There will be setbacks, there may even be flare-ups and re-injuries if you’re not careful. Not listening to my body and stubbornly pushing through pain hasn’t done me any favors thus far, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Seek out health care professionals that are as devoted to fixing the root of the problem as you are, but remember, the work when you leave their office is still yours to do.
There’s a part of me that realizes I may live with this chronic pain for the rest of my life, and my competing days could be over. I am a person that has found joy in athletic competition her whole life, so I’m not going to accept that just yet. It may take longer, it may be post-kids, but I will step on that platform again, and it will be glorious 🙂
A healthy, capable body truly is a gift, and we need to respect it and be grateful for it. We never truly know how quickly our circumstances can change, so on that note, happy training, enjoy it!
Take care of yourself,