Or…some thoughts on recovering from an ankle fracture.
Yesterday during physical therapy, I was basking in the glow of being praised for doing “so well” on an exercise after one of the employees realized that I was at a much higher level than most people are at this point. The competitive side of me beamed because, yes, I can’t even seem to do physical therapy without it turning into some sort of a competition. (Note: this is why I no longer play Scrabble or air hockey. I have found that I’m a lot better off when I don’t indulge my competitive nature. OK, so I will still play air hockey, but with my dominant hand behind my back. OK, so that might be a little competitive…)
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about how overall health plays into injury recovery. I had become a bit cynical after watching Mom’s disease progress because there was nothing we could do to stop it. She wasn’t in the best shape before she became ill, but she was still incredibly strong due to decades of moving her arms and legs at the organ. It certainly made a difference in terms of how long she was able to maintain strength as her muscles deteriorated, but ultimately, the disease still won. Yet, I knew deep down that the vast majority of people will never face such a cruel fate. Most injuries and illnesses have at least the hope of recovery.
But the thing is, we do a lot to sabotage the ability to recover. We eat lots of junk, spend way too much time sitting down, and “exercise” our minds by speculating about the cause of death of major celebrities. None of this prepares us for recovery from adversity. And that’s to say nothing of the small emphasis placed on spiritual development. I’ve seen it at the place where I go for physical therapy. Granted, some of the clients are teenagers and young adults who have experienced sports-related injuries that are treated not only with rehab but by education about proper form and injury prevention. That’s pretty easy to deal with, relatively speaking. And then there are the elderly folks whose bones and joints have become less resilient. But then there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be there if they had taken better care of themselves. I say this recognizing that there is a certain amount of judgmental-ism in my statement, but so be it. I’m being judgmental toward myself as much as anything, in that I wouldn’t be dealing with an ankle injury if I hadn’t made an impulsive, careless decision to attempt to balance on an object that I knew was unsteady.
Yet, the reason my recovery is going relatively smoothly is that I’ve been taking care of myself overall. When Mom first became ill, I neglected my health quite a bit. I felt that I didn’t have time to work out, and I wasn’t eating well. Plus, I was drinking way too many soft drinks, which is something that I had almost completely avoided for the decade or so before her illness. I remember looking in the mirror one day and thinking, “This has to change. Now.” So I forced myself to schedule time at a gym, hire a trainer, and be more mindful about what I put into my body. I lost quite a bit of weight, but I’m still not anywhere near my “happy weight.” It’s difficult because I can become rather obsessive about weight, so I have had to learn how to treat myself with grace and patience, especially since I’ve also been dealing with thyroid issues that slow down my metabolism and make it more difficult to lose weight. The biggest change, though, is that I can carry more weight (um, gravitational pull) while wearing smaller sizes than what would have been the case when I was younger. Muscle tone is an amazing thing.
And that’s where physical therapy comes into play. It’s so important to take care of one’s body on a daily basis because it will make all the difference if an injury or illness occurs. I was so excited when my therapist told me that I could start using a stationary bike and then eventually an elliptical machine. I can’t wait to get on a treadmill and start preparing my body to run again. I miss running. I can’t imagine what it would be like to show up for physical therapy and have to learn how to use those machines for the first time. It’s hard enough for me now, in spite of that equipment being familiar to me. But to be learning it for the first time in a compromised state…yikes! No wonder so many people have such a difficult time recovering from injury! That’s not to say that struggles with injury recovery are always due to lack of physical activity prior to the injury, but let’s face it, there is often (although not always) a correlation. I finally encountered an activity last week that actually felt painful, but that was after several weeks of therapy. Granted, I have a high pain threshold (I walked into a minor emergency clinic more than 12 hours after I broke both bones in my ankle, walking on both feet…in flip-flops…with absolutely no lateral support on my left side…and rated the pain level as “6” on a scale of 1-to-10…I still have absolutely no idea what “10” is supposed to be). But all the same, general muscle conditioning and physical activity have definitely played a role in my ability to recover quickly.
So, all of that said, here are some thoughts on how to take care of oneself in order to minimize the impact of injury.
1. Work out. Regularly. This includes both cardio and strength training. We hear a lot about cardio, but strength training is equally important. Ladies, I know that you might be thinking, “But I don’t want to have bulky muscles that look like a man.” Baloney. If you are training properly, trust me, you won’t look like a man. Use lighter weights. Don’t take steroids. Don’t overdo your protein intake. Problem solved. Muscle conditioning helps burn fat. Doubt me? Look at my friend Cari Shoemate and try to argue that she isn’t smokin’ hot. Pilates is great for core conditioning. Cardio is also important because it’s good for the heart and also for good breath control. It doesn’t have to be high-impact. A stationary bike or vigorous walk is a good start. Eventually, I suspect that you’ll want to do more, but anything is better than nothing.
2. Eat unprocessed food with an emphasis on fruits and veggies. This always sounds so obvious to me, but then I think about the typical American diet. Limit meat, dairy, and processed foods. Eliminate high-fructose corn syrup and sugar substitutes. That stuff is sheer crap.
3. Drink lots of water and very little of anything else. Wean yourself off of sugary (or fake-sugary) beverages, or “liquid candy,” as it’s been called. The fake stuff is no better than HFCS. Seriously. Cannot emphasize this enough. Aspartame and Splenda do not equal food.
4. Practice yoga and meditation. Not just “gym yoga,” but an actual spiritual practice. This is really important for concentration and body awareness. Yesterday I balanced for an entire minute on my injured side–with my other foot in the air–on top of a wobbly mini-trampoline–because I had a focal point and was able to tune out my environment. Someone was actually talking to me without me even noticing it. Meditation is, of course, typically (but not exclusively) associated with Eastern religions, but a similar practice called “centering prayer” has a long tradition in Christianity as well.
5. Don’t give up. It’s easy to say, “I can never run a mile” or whatever lofty goals you might aspire to. First of all, most people can run a mile with proper training. But that’s not necessary if you don’t enjoy it. Just do something. Dance around the house…it’s fun! And don’t quit. No matter what. You deserve better.
6. Don’t make excuses. So you’re busy. We’re all busy. It’s hard to find time to work out or plan meals in advance. But when you’re sitting in a physical therapy office filling out paperwork…or lying on a stretcher in the emergency room…you’ll wish you had taken the time to take care of yourself. As I said earlier, it’s easier to recover from injury or illness if you already have a regimen of self-care. Even if you have found yourself in a doctor’s office or emergency room, still no excuses. Keep trying. I promise that you’ll be thankful that you did.