Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fun with Physical Therapy

I'd like to say I have a healthy distrust of the medical industry. I try to read between the lines when doctors talk to me, and I like to research myself to understand what's going on. Anyway, a few months ago I tweaked my shoulder pretty bad in the gym. Then I played golf, which didn't help. I decided to give physical therapy a try, figuring that it couldn't hurt.

Well, it hurt. After the first session of physical therapy, my shoulder felt stiffer and worse for the next couple days. After the next session, it felt even worse. All we were doing in the early sessions was ultrasound, which some people believe doesn't do anything, while others believe it stimulates the tissue to heal itself. It certainly does something, because in my experience, I got a painful dull ache in my shoulder during the ultrasound, and I asked the physical therapist to stop. That dull ache carried on in my shoulder for days, and my range of mobility (without pain) got worse and worse.

I continued doing physical therapy for about two weeks, and then since I quit my job, I stopped. Moved to Korea and my shoulder was still quite messed up, which meant I couldn't lift weights or workout. Maybe five weeks after I started physical therapy, I was really annoyed that my shoulder wasn't getting better (rest didn't help, theraband exercises didn't help), so I decided unilaterally on a different approach to healing my shoulder - I'd stop resting and start working out again.

Yes, that's right. Physical therapy and rest weren't helping, so I decided to try very light weight-lifting in order to fix my shoulder. The theory was that some scar tissue had built up in the joint from the earlier inflammation, and light exercises might break up that scar tissue and improve circulation enough to help the shoulder.

Within five days my shoulder felt twice as good. Range of motion improved, dull ache was gone. It still didn't feel good by any means, but was definitely on the upswing.

I continued adding weight and doing more exercises, carefully, while continuing to do theraband exercises for the rotator cuff. Now, about 4-6 weeks later, I can lift reasonable amounts of weight without pain, can do pushups again without pain, and am generally pretty happy with how things are going. Certain overhead exercises still hurt (there's still some sort of impingement), but my range of motion is pretty good, and probably better than most people's natural range of motion. I plan to keep working out and slowly improving the shoulder.

The point of this story is not that ultrasound is evil. In my one data point, it seemed directly to hurt, but it may in fact help in other cases. Nor is the point that physical therapy doesn't work. I've seen physical therapists do amazing things with people. The point is that it's worthwhile to listen carefully to what your body is telling you, and even when the medical establishment fails you, your body is often times smart enough to fix itself.

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