One of the biggest barriers to exercise, which is such an integral part of health and wellness, is the fear and reality of injury. Especially now, when many people make new year’s resolutions to run a 5k, take a weekly or daily online yoga class, or start a biking or barbell-lifting regimen after many months “sheltering on couch” (or at desk), this is a real risk.
I have dealt with injuries since my 20s which eventually led me to my friend Kristin Williams, who, if you’ve been following this series, is a physical therapist and a fellow yoga teacher. We teach at the same yoga studio and care a great deal about sharing our differing experiences so that others can avoid injury and keep motivated if and when injury happens. One of the takeaways is that injury and pain are there to teach you. To tell you something. Engaging with it appropriately will set you on a rewarding path of health and self-knowledge that you will not regret.
Find the right person to help you.
When I was growing up, I had a constant cold. It seemed like I was always sick. I missed quite a bit of school and wasn’t involved in sports other than dance, which I was passionate about. Even if I was sick, I would dance. Later, in my 20s, I started running and I started getting injured. I would come back from a run and feel some pain but think that it would go away on its own. When it didn’t, I went to physical therapy and it didn’t help at all. According to Kristin, this is a common problem.
“If I had a dollar for every time someone said they had a bad experience with PT!” Kristin laughs. We are on the phone in the middle of winter doing our weekly run. Her friendship, humor, and passion for educating others about health and wellness are good company as I make my way through the snow.
“So many people find that when they go to a physical therapist they leave with a bunch of random exercises and aren’t given any education or explanation about why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s hard to stay motivated when that’s the case,” says Kristin.
That was definitely my experience. It wasn’t until later when I became really injured, that I met Kristin and found a partner in my recovery. “Pain is scary,” says Kristin. “You need to find someone who will explain what happened and show you how the body can heal and why you need to do every single exercise that is prescribed. That’s what will motivate people to do the work and heal.”
Pain has a purpose.
Kristin helped me see that behind the pain is a message; it’s trying to tell me something and has manifested as an injury. Once you find the right person to work with, you can go about finding out what the message is. That won’t happen if you ignore the pain or just assume it’s going to go away on its own. It’s there because it’s trying to get your attention. For me, that was a mindset change that was extremely freeing. “Though pain is scary, it’s important to not be afraid,” says Kristin. “It’s your body trying to provide you with valuable information.”
Working with your physical therapist, trainer or doctor is an ongoing and evolving process and the person you work with needs to be an engaged, educated, and agile educator who will help you uncover the message behind the pain.
What do you need to change in your training or how you exercise? What do you need to change in your lifestyle? When you are working with the right person, they will avoid cookie-cutter solutions. “Every person and every person’s body is different and needs to be treated that way,” adds Kristin.
Be part of the process.
Kristin’s approach to my rehabilitation engaged me every step of the way. It was empowering. I didn’t want surgery or to pop a pill. I wanted to learn, recover and be stronger – not only for myself – but so that I could help others, as well.
“The amount of times that surgery is not always the best solution far outweighs the times that it is,” says Kristin. I saw firsthand the side effects of surgery on two members of my family and I wanted to avoid what they went through. Our bodies are not simply math problems that just need to be solved by going under the knife. As Kristin says, “we need to appreciate the magnificence of the human body and what it means to be a human being.”
An engaged and tailor-made approach invites you to be part of the process. With my own injuries, after the direct application of treatment stopped yielding results, Kristin treated my knee and shoulder by focusing on my core. “Everything is connected and a strong core is necessary for the health of your knees and shoulders.” She explained why we were shifting focus which enlisted my mind and motivation to keep going with the rehab work. She explained what we were going for and what our goals were. It’s easy to get tired of doing the work but when you see an end in sight, you’re willing to engage with the process.
When I wanted to go back to running, Kristin and I worked out a plan that would support my rehabilitation. It wasn’t an all-in or all-out solution. She listened to my needs. “I knew the benefits running was giving you,” says Kristin. “So I had you run on the track instead of the pavement and we decreased the amount of running and increasing the amount of walking so that you were still getting the miles you wanted.” By providing alternatives, Kristin helped me stick to my plan. I wasn’t just a patient; I was a partner.
Train your mind and your body.
Equipped with a smart training plan, I was all set to conquer the run. However, I soon found that there was a piece of the puzzle that was still missing. It had to do with training my mind. I stumbled upon this connection when, out of curiosity, I had done some research on pain and discovered how big of a role the brain played in anticipating and experiencing pain. Kristin agreed.
“New scientific research is showing that chronic pain is a signal from the brain to the physical location, not the other way around,” she explained. Seeing that training the mind with meditative practices was going to be beneficial, I set a goal to practice for 5 minutes a day. Even though I wasn’t sure what the exact results would be, it seemed like a simple step I could take without any negative side effects.
Reap the rewards of healing.
Still on the phone, I turn the corner and feel the icy wind at my back. My conversation with Kristin is coming to an end. “All your hard work paid off,” says Kristin. And she’s right. On New Year’s Day, I ran my first run in the snow and the farthest distance since my injury. I feel good, strong, and invigorated.
My body is not the same as when it was 20. My shoulder isn’t the same shoulder as it was but I am able to reap the rewards of greater health because of Kristin. That’s what I want for everyone. Don’t give up. Don’t just power through. Find the right partner, get more information from the right places, stay inspired, listen to your body, and persevere. It’s worth it.
I had mastered to evolve my relationship with pain and from this all-too-common experience of being injured and my journey through it, not only did I gain a friend, I gained my health and strength (even better than before) and now I can connect to thousands of people who want to do the same and reap the rewards of healing.
I’d love to hear from you. Are you experiencing pain or injury? What is or has been your healing journey through it? What have been the lessons, obstacles, and rewards? Share your thoughts with us so we can keep this conversation going.