Things I’ve Learned In PT

I’m sure there are many people who’ve been in and out of physical therapy more than I have, still, I feel like an “old campaigner”. Knee, low back, knee again, shoulder, and what a dear friend of mine calls “shneck”, low back again, hand and wrist, knee again, shneck again, and now for something completely different, upper mid-back to keep the knee company.

Lou Nell on WaterRower w/Breg Lateral OA Knee Brace

Lou Nell, WaterRower, Breg Lateral OA Knee Brace

Apparently, based on comments or compliments or surprises paid me by my most recent physical therapist, I do have a pretty good base of information gleaned from many physical therapists over the years, so I thought I’d share my favorites.

DISCLAIMER, I’m not a physical therapist, have zip medical training so this is just me sharing a list of things I’ve learned that work for me and my particular issues. That includes hypermobility, and while it was pretty cool that I could contort to freak other kids out when I was a kid, it is not necessarily so cool as a “grown up”. The abuse ended up in surgery oh so many years later from the damage that I did…so parents, if your kids are hypermobile, different from the normal flexibility of youth, consult a physical therapist early.

Cat and arm in splint on pillow

Shu Lien taking care of me after tendon transplant.

So in no particular order here goes:

If an exercise hurts, stop. It most likely means either my form is not right, or my injured body part is not quite ready so I need to find a baby-step exercise that will help build towards success at that exercise.

Clamshells, clamshells with a resistance band, elevated clamshells…heck, clamshells are good. Or they must be, it seems like whatever I’m being treated for, clamshells are one of the prescribed exercises. I think there is something to this too because, in between bouts of needing PT, they are one of the things (along with squats) that I do voluntarily and regularly. I notice a difference in overall form while walking in the woods, walking up stairs, and riding my bike when I skip them.

Balance! Practice balance, it can help you quick-correct from a mis-step and prevent a funky re-injury, even a fall.

Ice is my friend. Yes, those of you who know me well will understand how long it took this one to sink in…as you know, I don’t like to be cold. No really…I don’t like to be cold. I’ve been the only happy person at work when the air-conditioning quits in the middle of August. But I’ve learned this, partially due to patient coaxing of PTs, and partly reluctant experience. Ice is my friend. I know for some pain issues heat is the ticket, but for my most common injuries, ice is the thing. Ice is so effective for me that I can, more often than not, avoid taking any pain medication. I’ve also learned if you get the ice pack slapped on to a new injury soon enough, the quicker it seems to recover.

RoxyAnn 2004 Parsons Family Reserve, close up of label

RoxyAnn 2004 Parsons Family Reserve

If wine or beer ease your pain, it is most likely nerve generated. If they don’t, it is probably muscular. I don’t know why, but this has been my experience and the experience of other fellow “clients” at physical therapy. One PT acknowledged that for whatever reason, this seems to be pretty accurate.

Setbacks–>Flare-ups. During the course of the body healing, sometimes I’ve done something stupid…yes really stupid like something I tell myself “don’t do that” or “don’t do that, that way” and dang, ouch! Followed by recriminations: “I shouldn’ta done that. I really shouldn’ta done that.” After one such episode, I went in sheepishly to my physical therapist, possibly my all time favorite, saying I had a setback. She adjusted our plan for the day. I got some ultrasound, massage, lighter exercises, and through it all she was very careful to call it a “flare-up”. Years later, I find that if I’m upset about a mishap, and find myself using the word “setback” I stop and quickly replace it with the word “flare-up”. It is more positive. There’s a certain negativity I associate with “setback”, it feels like some big eraser has wiped out the work I’ve done and the fitness level I’ve reached. “Flare-up” seems positive, “Oh, OK, so I made a mistake and have a flare-up…I can fix this, I’m in better shape than I was before so I will heal more quickly, a little ice, try my exercises and my usual activities and quickly stop or back off doing whatever hurts for a few days.”

From the same PT I learned that a couple days off won’t cut back my fitness level, nor will it make me fat.

24 – 48 hours. Sticking with this same PT, she also had a theory that our bodies are pretty darn good at recovery and she felt, for most things we did, we would recover within 24 – 48 hours. I’ve found this is pretty accurate…sometimes a little longer for me, but not by much. This is really powerful when I do hurt myself…after a possible initial knee-jerk reaction of being angry with an inanimate object, or myself, or both, I brighten up and say, “OK, just 24 – 48 hours. That’s not so bad.” This really helps me focus on taking care of myself, on moving forward positively rather than getting bummed out or angry and doing more damage or doing nothing and sinking into a “dark mood”.

This is the physical therapist that encouraged me to continue to do the things I love. I’d let her know what hurts, then she’d work on ways for me to do those things that would work better for my body. One Monday I went in, pretty sore, and told her “I think you may be mad at me…” “Why would I be mad at you?” “Well, I worked in the garden this weekend and I’m feeling a bit beat up.” Her response, “I will never be mad at you for doing something, for being active. I’m a PHYSICAL therapist remember.”

More from the same physical therapist and not to be taken lightly: I also learned that the best road trip hamburgers ever can be had from Campus U-Tote Em, William’s Campus U-Tote Em, the one on or adjacent to the university in Ellensburg, WA.

And Plaka Estiatorio in Ballard is a fabulous family owned and operated Greek restaurant.

Well, I’ll probably think of more once I post this, but these are the top of mind things I’ve learned from years of PT. Some of these things help keep me going physically when I’m dealing with pain. One thing more, this is not from a physical therapist and I cannot take credit, but I found a quote from David Bowie on his memorial website that was a collage of images and quotes. I repeat it to myself often when I’m having a more painful day and am slipping into “the doldrums”. It is immensely effective for me:

“Never look back. Walk tall. Act fine.”

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