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Getting Through Physical Therapy and Coming Out Stronger

Let’s turn the clock back to 2008. I was sixteen, living at home, still in high school – years away from learning game. I was a bit of a speed demon, growing up racing go karts and dirt bikes. One day, my friend invited me out to ride his bikes, which had quite a bit more get up and go compared to my usual bike. I was not as comfortable on two wheels as I was on two, and it showed when I hopped on the back of his bright blue Suzuki.

The conditions were terrible, but we had fun. It had been pouring rain for days, so the trails were muddied beyond belief. Several times, one of us got stuck, and it took the manpower of two people to remove the marooned bike from the pit. Regardless of the shitty weather, it was a fun day.

Until disaster struck.

I took a corner a little too fast, and didn’t have enough traction. I lost control of the bike, managed to save it, but then barely nicked a fence. This sent me over, crashing my left shoulder into the ground. Unfortunately, my impact point wasn’t soft mud, but instead a hardened clay. I immediately knew something was wrong. I couldn’t move my arm at all, it was some of the worst pain I had ever experienced. I managed to move it around until I felt something slide back into place.

It was tender, but being sixteen years, I didn’t think much of it. The wheel alignment of the bike was too mangled to continue any more, and I wasn’t up to it anyway. We put-putted back to the truck, packed things up, and were on our way. My shoulder was definitely sore, but I went to sleep peacefully that night.

Then I woke up screaming.

Somehow my shoulder had come out of socket in the middle of the night. I woke up at 3:00am, unable to move. Finally after rolling around my bed, it popped back in. I managed to fall back asleep.

Over the next four years, that shoulder came out of socket no less than a dozen times. A couple of times while I slept. When I went up to grab a rebound in a basketball game; I then had to slam it into the wall to get it back into socket. The spectators thought I was nuts. Once when I was involved in a go kart accident with someone driving over the top of me. It was a constant state of worry – how hard can I push this thing? I finally decided to have surgery to fix it.

Of course, what was supposed to be a simple arthroscopic surgery resulted in them having to slash my entire shoulder open. To this day, I have about a four inch scare, right between my pectoral and arm. I like the scar though. It reminds me of what I endured to get that shoulder back into shape. Here’s how you get through physical therapy and come out even stronger.

You have to go.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Physical therapy isn’t pleasant though. Your brain body part you’re rehabbing thinks it’s capable of much more than it actually is in its weakened post-surgery state. It is extremely painful to push that weakened part to it’s very maximum – it’s not the “pleasant burn” you get from lifting weights. It’s sharp, shooting pain, the type that makes you stop lifting weights and re-evaluate your form. However, assuming you are in the safe hands of a good physical therapist, you have to push through this.

This means that you have to go to your physical therapy to come out stronger. It’s extremely easy to skip out when you have three appointments a week. “Oh, but missing one session won’t hurt, right?”, is what people say. Next thing you know, it’s a weekly thing. Do you think professional athletes get to miss a third of their practices? Think again. You will have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t come back as strong as you were pre-injury.

Find a good physical therapist.

If you go to a session or two, and think they’re incompetent – get your ass out the door and find someone who is. This is your body and rehabilitation on the line. This will completely dictate your future health and quality of life. Do you want to be the dad who can’t bend over and pick up his kid when he’s 40 years old, because his physical therapist didn’t know how to rehab a knee properly?

A good physical therapist will push you into the pain zone, but will be able to recognize your limit. They will stop you when you are too exhausted to maintain proper form. Most importantly, they will hold you accountable for your…

Do your exercises at home.

I spent nearly 40 minutes a day doing basic shoulder stretches when I was going through physical therapy. You must do them each and every day to come out stronger. They are designed to get the blood flowing, and acclimate you to everyday movements just needed to survive. When I had my shoulder surgery, I couldn’t even lift a five pound weight when I started. This made me incapable of doing simple things such as putting on a backpack – I had to re-learn it all.

The best part about the home exercises is that you do them on a daily basis, so it’s easy to see progress. Aim to do one more set, or add 1% more weight, every day. If you’re a motivated individual, a little self competition always helps.

Get the voices out of your head.

I was terrified that my shoulder would come out of socket again. Every time my physical therapist bent my arm into a position I didn’t like, I wanted to faint. You must learn to relax your body and allow them to work on you properly. If you are unable to do this, you will be tense, the muscles won’t heal, and you won’t come out of physical therapy any stronger. Like many things in life, it is a mental game. Get your head into the game, and you’ll win.

Read More: Your First Triathlon: Part 1

  • December 4, 2014
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