Fit to Be Tied

Fit to Be Tied

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain!

Fit to Be Tied

With a sigh, I picked up the sports magazine from the shelf in the waiting room. Over the years, I had delighted in playing volleyball and badminton. I swam in the college pool three times a week. I biked and walked regularly. Free weights, an exercise ball and stretch bands at home were my routine on days when rain or snow prevented outdoor exercise. Yet here I was at the physical therapist’s office again.

Sure, some of my previous visits related to sports injuries. I gave up swinging a badminton racket after undergoing a year of therapy for tennis elbow, but I continued to play in the fifty-five-plus volleyball league — my team went to nationals my final year of competitive play. Then I had torn a hamstring, sprained an ankle, damaged the miniscus in first one knee and then the other, and strained my rotator cuff. The hard reality was that diving for wild balls, tossing up hard serves and jumping to spike a ball over the net were joys of the past. I gave up playing and resigned myself to watching my children compete on their college teams. Each new injury I faced limited my options for an active lifestyle. Now my back was causing problems.

Would I have to give up one more activity? If so, how would I stay in shape? I fumed. I felt frustrated. I was fit to be tied.

Much as I appreciated Mandy, my physical therapist, I had no desire to spend any more time at her office. Yet here I was at her office again. When I rose each morning, pain radiated from my spine down into my left hip. Every step I took activated an acute jab that forced me to gasp. I could no longer stand at the sink washing dishes. Leaning over to do a simple task such as emptying the dishwasher or unloading the clothes dryer resulted in unrelenting pain.

Previous experience had made me wary of X-rays and MRI studies. Nothing of consequence ever showed up. This time, rather than go that route, I had decided to begin where I always ended up, at Mandy’s office.

“So what are we in for today?” Mandy led me into the small spare room with an examination table.

I handed her the forms the receptionist had given me to fill out. On the small illustration of a person I had drawn arrows to my hip and symbols indicating the type of pain. Another portion of the chart indicated my level of pain and how it impacted my daily activities. Suddenly the enormity of fighting pain for many years on a daily basis overwhelmed me. Tears began to roll down my cheeks.

Embarrassed, I mopped up with a towel and struggled to control my emotions. “It just seems that one thing after another falls apart. It is so discouraging. I try to stay in shape. After doing all the exercises you have given me, I still have pain.”

Part physical therapist and part counselor, Mandy nodded her head. When I was calmer, she asked me to bend forward and backward while she observed. Then, placing me on the examining table, she stretched me to the left and the right. She took measurements and asked more questions. As always her thoroughness impressed me. She confirmed that the hip pain stemmed from a problem in my lower back.

Over the next weeks, Mandy taught me to do push-ups in a way that arched my lower back and forced spinal disks into proper alignment. She worked on strengthening my core to support the weak area of my spine. She always amazed me when she could find one more way to stretch a muscle I didn’t know I had. Thankfully, through it all I was able to continue swimming. The buoyancy of the water offered a brief respite from my daily pain.

One day, as I watched, Mandy introduced yet another new exercise. To demonstrate it, she lay down on her back on the examining table. Lifting and bending her right leg in the air, she raised and bent her left leg at ninety degrees to place her ankle in front of the right knee. Then with her arms around her right thigh, she pulled both legs toward her chest. The motion turned her into a human pretzel.

“You’re kidding!” I gasped.

She laughed and assured me that she was serious. This exercise stretched the hip flexors. It took some coaching on her part but at last I was able to duplicate the strange feat. The muscles in my hip protested as I pulled them beyond their comfort zone. My limbs were tied in a knot.

More weeks passed. Slowly, surely, the pain subsided as my back grew stronger. The pain never disappeared altogether, but it decreased to a tolerable level. Today my hip only protests at the start of the day. By the time I have spent half an hour at the pool or on the track, my back has settled into place. I faithfully do all of Mandy’s exercises, including twisting myself into a human knot. With the help of my physical therapist, I’m once again “fit” to be tied.

~ Emily Parke Chase ~

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