Wednesday musings, 1/18/17: pushing through pain

Wednesday musings, 1/18/17
This is a story of three clients, who had similar things happen to them at the same time. They each chose slightly different paths, with very different outcomes.

A client named Greg (not his real name), injured his hamstring hiking. He’s a fit, 70 something and an avid golfer. He asked me what he should do. “Rest it, don’t play golf for about a week, and see how it feels.”

He ignored me, played in a golf tournament, which not only made the hamstring worse, but also changed his swing enough that suddenly his left shoulder was feeling achy. “Remember how you fixed my right shoulder?” he asked me the next time we met. “You need to do the same to the left shoulder.

It was quickly obvious his left shoulder was not responding like his right had. He went to the doctor, who upon reading the MRI, gave him the option of no more golf or surgery. He opted for surgery. When the doctor began operating, there were more bone spurs and tears than he originally thought. After surgery, the doctor said to him, “it’s amazing you weren’t having pain sooner.” (Side note: just because there is a tear or bone spurs doesn’t guarantee there will be pain).

Amber is an energetic woman in her 70s. While doing volunteer work, she injured her knee. She asked me what she should do. “Rest it for about a week and see how it feels.” 

She went to Tai Chi two days later, and did more volunteer work, involving bending and getting up and down. This made things worse and after tripping on a stair, she went to the doctor who diagnosed bursitis and told her to stay off of it for two weeks. While recovery is slow, she is feeling a little bit better each week.

Michael is an active golfer in his 60s. He came in looking quite worried one morning. “What’s wrong?” I asked. 

“I injured my back yesterday doing yard work. What do you think I should do?”

“Rest it for about a week, do gentle, pain free movement like walking, and see how it feels.” 

After showing him some movements that were pain free, he felt cautiously optimistic when he left. He followed my advice, laid off of golf, and went to the gym, but did basic mobility work instead of heavy strength training. Things were much better the following week, so I added in exercises that provide a gentle load on the spine with a very low risk of injury. He is back to his full activity, and his back is the best it’s been in years.

Moral of the story: ask yourself your long term goals before you push through pain. Both Greg and Amber told me recently this entire process was definitely a learning experience. Will the choice you are making today affect your ability to do the things you enjoy tomorrow? If the answer is no, is it worth it?