Is getting better supposed to make you feel worse? It’s not that physiotherapy isn’t working, I am experiencing slow improvement. There is a but; the recovery process isn’t linear and I am often questioning my progress.
On the plus side, I don’t feel the mind numbing pain which began this. I am no longer taking three medications to manage inflammation and pain. I am able to put on socks, tie my shoes, and even cook breakfast by myself.
On the minus, I still don’t feel my big toe. The top of my right foot and shin respond to light activity with fuzzy tingling sensations and numbness. Sitting, driving and walking provide a source of irritation sufficient to send me back to bed regularly. Wondering when I will get back to normal gnaws at me. Not knowing what the real limits are is emotionally agonizing. There is a real fear of causing harm to slow healing nerve tissue.
The physiotherapy sessions fuel the voice in my head with conflicting thoughts and emotion. Of course a medical professional is going to ask “do you have any problems with your knees?” before asking me to perform a joint straining squat. It isn’t a question of my self-worth when she asks “Do you have any shoulder problems?” In my head I hear an annoying and accusing voice, questioning my negative reply. That little voice knows about the arthroscopic knee surgery. It knows about the slight tear in the other knee. It knows about my occasional shoulder pain. The doubting voice is my ego.
I thrive on feeling productive. Summiting feels productive in a most exhilarating way! Pedalling my mountain bike 3,500 miles last year felt productive. The mileage empowered that voice to reward with a silent “Awesome!“ Resting during a set of therapeutic leg lifts embarrasses the voice, it wails “wtf?” asking when are we going to go for a bike ride, when are we going climbing, where is the paycheck? The voice doesn’t want the annoyance of doing a few leg raises or the humiliation of doing squats with a ten pound dumbbell. It wants gratification. There is an awareness however, that combats the voice. It understands that improvement comes from excellent form; light menial weights being vital to learn this proper technique. There will be no maintenance of core strength without the leg raises, even if it means pausing to minimize irritating a sensitive nerve. Intelligent awareness steers the course for recovery and growth. Its necessary, but not immediately satisfying.
Therapy is by definition, an act of healing. Training is kind of like the opposite of therapy. Training is an incremental overload combined with rest. It is meant to adapt the body to stress. The nagging voice cannot distinguish therapy from training. My physiotherapist, Carmen Lee, has repeatedly said “stop if you feel any pain.” My efforts to heal are unconsciously misguided in search of a faster route. Rushing the exercises with poor form only serves to undermine recovery. My awareness is awakened by numbness felt post therapy. It is difficult however, to determine if it is rushing, doing too much, or an unhealed injury that causes the numbness.
When we talked about my recovery, Carmen said “you can see the progress week to week”. Indeed, I can see progress in the past weeks, totalling much progress over the month. From day-to-day however, I continue to doubt and question if there is progress. She added “you may feel frustrated and discouraged, this is normal”.
I found some inspiration to help me in a Warriors Way post entitled Preferences for Weaknesses. In the post, author Arno Ilgner discusses our preference for comfort as a need of our ego to posture ourselves. The point he makes is that circumstances present a variety of characteristics, some pleasing to us and some not. To be effective, it is vital to be aware of all characteristics influencing a situation, not only those which we are comfortable with.
Specific to my recovery, comfort may be sought in contradictory forms. It may look like pushing through exercises with poor form. This false sense of accomplishment is taken in lieu of the intended benefit. This path leads to limited or no benefit, along with risk of additional injury. Comfort may appear in opposite form; avoiding intensity altogether. Clearly, the result being limited or no adaptation due to the absence of stimulus. Being aware of all characteristics is necessary to provide a suitable stimulus of the appropriate type and amount.This will bring about the most adaptation and healing.
Coping with recovery is testing. As I witness my progress, I am constantly reminded of the need for patience and discipline. Lacking awareness of my body or its reactions to therapy may lead to further delays or re injury. Frustration and challenge are therefore synonymous with growth. When I return to normal and renew active training, these lessons will be important to keep in mind.