What do you do when you get injured?
You got injured. Now what?
Have you ever been there? You are doing your thing, whether it’s playing a sport, doing a particular exercise or taking a class, and you get injured. Maybe you hurt your back, tore up your knee, strained a tendon, etc. — anything that makes you have to change the way you do your thing.
A lower back injury actually shortened my competitive Judo career 27 years ago. I recovered from it with weight lifting and time, but about 12 years ago, I had a disc in my neck “blow up.” I remember it like it was yesterday — I was warming up our young YMCA Cheerleaders in the gym at our “Old Y” on Fulton Street. I was helping with cartwheels, and since I was pretty good at tumbling, I was showing them how to do numerous cartwheels in a row. On the third cartwheel, I felt something tear. Actually the kids heard it too. The pain was very bad — I thought I tore a muscle in my shoulder. The pain in my shoulder was horrible and was going down my arm. I went to see Dr. Laufenburger (a shoulder specialist at the time in Salisbury), and he suspected a cervical (neck) disc issue. I said, “Not my neck, my shoulder!” He said, “Yes, I think it’s a cervical disc.” After an MRI, he was right. The worst level was C6-7 (the disc between the vertebrae 6 and 7), but my whole neck was in very bad shape. If it was just one level, surgery was the way to go. But since it was so many levels and I was (still am) young, surgery was my personal last resort. Boy, was that a wake up call. I was teaching many (honestly way too many) exercise classes a week, and now the only thing I could handle was the back stroke in the pool. It was very tough physically, but especially emotionally draining dealing with these new limitations. I definitely had to change my ways of an exercise program. I felt like I had to start it all over again. Fortunately, I am a very positive thinker and after a couple of weeks of “poor me,” I said to myself, “Suck it up and start rehab!” “It’s not the end of the world and it could be so much worse.” Thinking about Christopher Reeves (Superman) being paralyzed after a fall off his horse, and my very dear colleague and friend, Kenno who got paralyzed after a dive in shallow water helped put things in perspective.
What do they say? Life will throw you lemons, now just make lemonade with them!
It took a long time of trial and error to find what was not aggravating my neck; to a point that seven years after my injury, I had to have a cervical fusion of C6-7 (one plate, four screws. All made of titanium — just like a Stealth). Surgery was a great success, but I still had a lot of rehabbing to do and finding a way to exercise without paying for it later was a big challenge. One level was fixed but I still had/have a messed up spine. I was fine exercising doing pretty much anything — it was afterwards where I had to pay for it when something didn’t agree with me. With time, patience and an open mind, I am doing things that work for my body but also my mind and spirit. Whatever injury or limitation you may have, there is something that you can do that will enhance your physical health but, almost more importantly your mental health. This past week, I spoke to a couple of our Y members who have had things happen and cannot do the things they used to do. It’s very tough finding out that you can’t do everything anymore. I know it was for me. I had to realize that I am not indestructible.
That was a rude awakening. One of the reasons my classes are called Esterciz (cardio mix, interval, strength, etc) and Estelatte (yoga and pilates moves, some tai chi and stretch and core strengthening) because my main motto for my participants is, “If it doesn’t feel good or hurts where it shouldn’t, don’t do it! Make it work for you.” That is what I did and still do. Exercises that worked/work for me and my injuries/ limitations. So, when you can’t do something anymore, try something else — you will be amazed how many awesome things are out there. Stay positive and keep an open mind. Yes, there are many of you with severe limitations, but I bet I can find something you can do to work your body, mind and your spirit. As long as you are willing to try, the sky is the limit!
Ester H Marsh ACSM Cpt
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