Thursday, August 18, 2011

Remedial Therapy

I had physical therapy today for a problem I’m having with my shoulder. Interestingly, I’ve had three sports injuries in the past four years and three different therapists have diagnosed each discrete problem the exact same way. Apparently I have a habit of building up the large muscle groups in my body while managing to completely ignore the little supporting muscles. I had a problem with my neck that was resolved by doing exercises with 5-pound dumbbells for about two months. Same thing with my back issue. Those situations occurred in NYC. Now I’m in San Diego and it’s a different problem – shoulder pain – with the same solution. I believe the expression that’s needed here is, “I never learn.”

That statement is true even at a cellular level. All three physical therapists have discovered the same thing the trainer I worked out with ten years ago had to deal with. My body and my brain speak completely different languages. And neither of them is bilingual.

Twice a week for about two years the trainer at the gym in Philly would tell me to “arch your back” while I was doing some nonsensical exercise. And every time I would freeze, deer-in-headlights style and wait. (I hope I get this right now) “Shoulders back, butt up.” The look would then go from blank to pinwheels spinning in opposite directions. Finally, he would just grab my shoulder and yank while pressing on the small of my back. OHHHHH. Well, why didn’t you say so?

Both the therapists in NYC were more annoyed than amused by my “deficiency”. They would stand scowling while I struggled. I’m guessing that it probably looked like a scene from a Jerry Lewis movie and they thought I was putting on an act. Sadly, that was not the case. For both issues, I saw the therapist twice a week for four to five weeks. And in both cases, they had to reteach me the same exercises every session for the first three weeks. Eventually, the neck guy would just walk away and make someone else keep an eye on me. Sorry. I’m really trying. He would just nod his head with that weary, why-me look.

But this shoulder problem. This is totally kicking my ass. Fortunately, the female therapist I have seems to have a decent sense of humor about it because she hasn’t lost it on me yet (three visits so far). “OK. I want you to move your shoulder blade down to where my finger is. Your shoulder blade. No. You’re shoulder blade.” Well, what am I doing? “You’re lifting your elbow up.” Oh. That’s probably not right then, is it?

“Let’s try this. Keep your shoulder blade still and lift your arm. [Pause] OK. How about this. I’m going to hold your arm here. Can you just try to keep your shoulder blade still? That’s GREAT! Yes, that’s it.” I thought she might give me a cookie for not moving my shoulder. She was thrilled that I was able to lie still and not do anything. And honestly, she had good reason.

“I’m going to try to get your shoulder loosened up. Just lie there and relax. No, relax. Just let your arm hang. You’re tensing your neck. Just relax.” I would like to do a study on language and stress. I think we would find that the word relax causes more tension in people than any other word in the English language. The second I hear it I feel my entire body go completely rigid. You could almost snap me in half. It’s no wonder I’m always hurt. It’s really a miracle I haven’t crippled myself trying to walk up a flight of stairs or something.

She’s given me a list of exercises to do at the gym in between visits. She could see my apprehension and tried to reassure me. “You don’t need heavy weights to work out. Don’t worry about the fact that you’re only using five pound weights.” Really? You think that’s what I’m worried about. I’m not worried that someone will see me using sissy weights. I’m worried that I’ll put someone’s eye out or dislocate my elbow or fall down a flight of stairs trying to move my shoulder blade without moving my neck.

I wish I had some big finish for this post, but all I have is a warning. If you live in San Diego and you see me getting ready to do anything at the gym other than cardio, give me a really wide berth. And try not to stare.

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