Pain, recovery & big life choices

Part of my job, as I define it, is helping people move, helping them be free of pain, injury free, achieve maximum performance athletically in Pilates and in their own sport. It’s a real kicker when your own body fails you. By fail I mean you work out fiercely. You find your edge and work past that edge. Train hard to achieve a higher level of fitness as I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. I’ve even been teased for how much time I spend working out. I was just teased recently (mainly by my adorable clients). They think I’m crazy. I guess in comparison to them, what I do is a lot more than what they do and I do it on a nearly daily basis. It’s simply how I move through life. Like breathing, sleeping, brushing your teeth.

It’s a real kicker when your own body fails you. By fail I mean you work out fiercely. You find your edge and work past that edge. Train hard to achieve a higher level of fitness as I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember.
It’s how I move through life. Like breathing, sleeping, brushing your teeth.

To have two “injuries” in one year after years of no injuries has been a real interesting position I’ve found myself in. Both have been the result of what I’d say were caused by not saying “no” when I should have and in both situations over doing it and over stretching. The results caused extreme muscle strain/extreme pain, lack of mobility, lack of ability to do what I usually do but not what I take for granted. I’ve been down this road before but not like this.

One injury began as a hamstring pull that traveled down the leg causing instability on the knee and over months sent pain down to that knee so it was almost as if I now injured my knee not my hamstring. It only happened during very specific movements. Not all movements. I could modify so I did.

That was July 6th. By November, after lots of modifying workouts weight training, yoga, Pilates, bodywork/Rolfing and finally eliminating hiking the pain started to disappear.

For me eliminating hiking was and has been the absolute worst thing. I find myself looking longing at the mountains, picture of mountains, dreams of walking through forests. Being the type of person who always wants to be up on a mountain in the woods and missing nearly an entire year of hiking for the first time ever in my life has been very tough.

On or around November 6th I injured my back. At first I couldn’t walk. I went to my doctor. I tried a muscle relaxer. Didn’t work. I was put on steroids and a short round of pain medication. Didn’t work. Second round of steroids. Didn’t work. But during all those weeks, even if I wasn’t showing immediate improvements, something I was doing seemed right, the medications were working in the background. The conversation with my Doctor went like this keep moving, but cautiously.

Yesterday was December 3rd. The day started off the same. Limping to get out of bed. Struggling to put on my boots. Early morning to go teach at my studio and shovel the outside walkway which got covered in snow overnight. I have almost gotten used to the pain and I’m pretty clear what I can and can’t do/should and shouldn’t do and when to stop. So this day wasn’t any different. I was careful and felt no worse than any other day after the mornings activities.

By 10am my friend arrived for her Pilates session. She’s also a teacher, athlete and fitness soul mate. She was heading out of town and we wanted to have a little fun so we got on the reformers and started off as usual, footwork and the hundred. Then I asked her, “Overhead or Short Spine Massage?” She replies, “Short Spine.” So I changed the springs, shortened the straps, put the headpiece down and took a deep breath. How was I going to get the straps on my feet? My ego was in full tilt. I did it. Then I said to myself here we go and started to move very slowly. Rolling off my hips has not been possible in this way for a month. How was I going to manage?

I did 6 repetitions and somewhere around the 3rd repetitions I felt what I would call a stretch on the left lumbar area of my lower back. Not a pull, a stretch as if whatever had been hooked up was unhooking itself.

I went about the rest of an extremely busy day not really thinking about that moment and even though I was sitting a horrible amount and I was managing some situations I’d have loved to delegate to someone else, by the time I went to bed I felt something had changed. My back pain should have been worse but it wasn’t and in fact maybe it was a little better.

Same this morning, not great but yes, better. All of this made me reflect mostly on the last month but on all the months from early July to early December and prompted me to sit down and write.

I had made a concerted effort since July, no matter what to keep moving. I am not saying all movement heals. Lots of movement is just stupid to do, especially injured and that includes Pilates. But the things I opted to do I felt I had no choice, I had to do them. Something every day.

I’m taking a deep breath as I write this because two weeks ago I had a breakdown. Unfortunately I wasn’t alone as it started. I felt ashamed of myself. I wanted to be the “wild thing” from the D.H. Lawrence poem but I wasn’t. I felt sorry for myself. Pathetic. I made my way home and proceeded to feel depressed, extremely afraid of what this pain meant for the future of my life, anxious how my entire lifestyle might be obliterated. This wasn’t the first time I’d been slammed with this situation. I reacted just as badly that time too but I couldn’t have fixed myself then. It took 4 surgeries and 1 brilliant surgeon to fix me the last time. This time I didn’t need surgery. I just needed a lucky break.

With the success I had healing my hamstring and knee over 5 months, I was devastated to injure myself again in November. I felt I was totally on my own. Left to sort out this issue because there’s not much anyone can do for you in these situations. You have to do for yourself and the rate of failure can be high especially as we reach middle age.

I was able to do a couple things, I allowed myself to have my ego trip and reminded myself I’ve healed myself from so many other conditions and there’s no easy way out but I was going to stay the course.

Even though I felt alone I wasn’t. I have tremendous knowledge from years of teaching, working with doctors, physical therapists, clients with so many serious and not so serious issues. I fell back on that knowledge heavily. But I had a team, my Rolfer, my Pilates Teacher, my Personal Trainer and my Doctor. Without the support and patience off these four people my hamstring recovery might never have happened. Without these four people my back might not have started recovering so quickly. They listened to me, I listened to them and I listened to my body.

I did do things that hurt. I still do things that hurt, even today. I feel there is a degree of pain I have to sustain to work through both injuries and maintain the strength I need for all my non-injured body parts.

I believe pain is absolutely part of healing. They simultaneously talk to you, pain & healing. Pain tells you to stop. Healing tells you keep going. Fear is somewhere in the pit of your stomach through it all.

I don’t know at what rate my back will heal from this point going forward. I don’t know if I’ll have another ego trip and find myself in the abyss. I don’t know if I’ll injure myself again. I do know that you cannot sit down, take some pills and wait for something to change for the better but I was given great advice today from my Pilates teacher who I respect implicitly, “learn to say no.” I didn’t say no and now I have learned a wonderful lesson.

I also know as an athlete that pain is a part of a life choice I’ve made or one that was made for me. But even if you are not an athlete, if you didn’t make this choice and do not want to be in pain or like living in pain, you cannot sit it out.