Healing My Body (and My Ego) - Physical Therapy Follow-Up
The great irony of this post is that I was certain that somewhere in the archives, I'd written all about my introduction to physical therapy, and this post would merely be a follow-up to close out the story of my physical therapy. Instead, I found a single sentence in a post from September. I mentioned that I started PT for some injuries. Then I flipped out about the election, went on radio silence for the rest of the year, and that was that.
So. I went to physical therapy twice a week for the last quarter of 2016 and into January of 2017, to address back and hip pain that had plagued me for about 7 years. The likely culprits: high heels and too much beveling in a Vegas show, a hot yoga practice where I "went deep" without full knowledge of how to keep myself safe, 20 years of dance class, and possibly some genetics too.
I show up to PT, and learn that basically, everything I thought I knew about what was wrong with my body and how to take care of it...was wrong. It turns out I was a little too bendy in the wrong places, like my lumbar spine, without the proper support in other places, like my glutes.
Oh, and I had a weak core. That is such a humbling thing to learn from a health professional.
Below, then, picks up on the story of my physical therapy journey, and the journey of my yoga practice too, because as my body changed to hold more good space for me, my practice necessarily had to shift as well.
My last official day of physical therapy was January 26, 2017. My therapist Colin congratulated me on my progress, and after running through a last round of exercises, I was invited to sign the wall and share my thoughts. I wrote a giant thank you to Colin and the staff, well-deserved for helping me heal. But those couple of sentences didn’t begin to describe what that journey was like for me.
I’m not sure what finally made me see a PT. Actually, that’s not true. It was a combination of factors: Meeting a new friend who had a specific PT recommendation (where I did end up going), working with pregnant women and realizing that if I wanted to be pregnant myself one day, this pain was likely going to get significantly worse, and deeply connecting to the belief that at 32, I didn’t have to resign myself to decades of uncomfortable car trips, plane rides, visits to the theater, etc.
I showed up ready to impress my therapist with all my body knowledge and awareness. I was sure that SI joint dysfunction was the root cause of all my problems. The two therapists who assisted me assured me that I was incorrect. Slightly bruised ego. They also didn’t give me a specific diagnosis, just said I had some dysfunction related to my glutes, my abs, and my back. I wanted a name for the problem, something to go home and look up on google, and something to tell other people as justification for why I was taking so many modifications in my yoga practice. Slightly bruised ego + frustration.
But I came back for my next appointment, and I kept returning twice a week for the next three months. There was dry needling, graston, manual therapy, and many, many exercises. For weeks, they’d ask how I was doing and I’d shrug. About the same. I started to get worried, worried that all these exercises weren’t going to work for me. I was hardly practicing yoga because it always hurt, and now that my full attention was on the pain, I felt like it was doing more harm than good.
I kept coming to PT, and dutifully did my exercises at home. I remember the first exercise they gave me was diaphragmatic breathing, and I nearly laughed out loud in disdain. Diaphragmatic breathing? I’m a yoga teacher, not to mention a singer! This is way too simple for me! What I should have known is that what I viewed as beneath me was in fact exactly what I needed – the literal foundations for good body alignment. Oh sweet, fragile ego!
Then one day I walked into the office, and my therapist asked how I was doing, and I had a different answer. A little better, I think. I could hardly trust myself to be sure. My therapist seemed cheered, and unconcerned by the amount of time this whole process was taking (meaning she thought I was on track in terms of my progress).
I continue to see steady improvement in my few weeks. The only problem is that I’m really not practicing yoga, just clamshells, planks, and bridges with various therapy bands. I am afraid of yoga right now. I believe that I can get better on my own, but I also fear that there is no safe way for me to practice without pain. I am worried that I will always be delicate, on the verge of breaking, and that in a state of health my body just isn’t cut out for asana. If I thought about this too much, it would make me desperately sad, so I mostly push the idea aside and continue my split squats and my monster walks.
I am still in PT, but I am also in a yoga class, because my mother has told me that I’ll never be able to tell if I am fully healing unless I start practicing again. Thanks Mom. The teacher is incredibly knowledgeable, and each time I stop and wince, she comes over and helps me adjust. She doesn’t feel sorry for me, or pity me, or tell me that in my condition (which by the way I STILL cannot succinctly describe) I shouldn’t be attempting wheel pose. She just…helps.
My body starts to remold itself into the shapes in different, stronger, healthier ways. I can’t help but notice that my poses surely don’t look as glamorous as they did when I sunk way down deep into my backbend, but hey, I don’t have to suffer the aches and pains afterward either, so it’s a trade worth making. My ego considers making a fuss, but decides to let it go.
And it is a day in late January, and I am being congratulated, and I have graduated from physical therapy. My therapist and I acknowledge that I have come a long way, and he shakes my hand, and after a last round of exercises, I am out the door.
I have my yoga practice again, and though it is still evolving, I am no longer afraid of breaking myself.
My back still acts up occasionally. The nagging ache is a reminder that those old dysfunctional movement patterns are still in there somewhere, and show up from time to time. In those moments, there’s a twinge of fear that I’ll backslide all the way to where I started.
Then I pull out the foam roller, and the therapy band, and the exercise packet, and get to work.