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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Learning from Injury


Last summer, I cried when the persistent pain in my shoulder was diagnosed as “long thoracic nerve palsy.” Hearing the clinical terms scared me as I associated “palsy” with “something really, really bad.” The nerve damage greatly reduced my range of motion of my dominant arm and made lifting anything over three pounds impossible. I felt defeated on the weight room floor as even the lightest dumbell was too heavy; just a week ago, I had been able to press 20 pound dumbells over-head with ease. Even with the reassurance of  my physical therapist, I worried that I would never regain the strength that I had worked so hard to build.
After the initial mental/emotional sting of being injured subsided and after doing research on my condition, I was able to see the shades in between the black and white. Since I had always been active, my body would theoretically respond and repair quicker than if I had led a sedentary lifestyle. Looking for the universe’s message in the situation, I realized I had not given my muscles a prolonged break from constant weight lifting in years. So, I resolved to take a one-month weight lifting hiatus, as much as it pained me to do so, sticking only to cardiovascular training. In the mean time, I would experiment with different forms of cardio while I attended physical therapy.
Performing my exercises in therapy, I felt embarrassed that my shoulder blade winged out under the slightest pressure of lifting a three-pound handweight. When I reached for something above my head, my right arm laid limp and useless beside me. Even the weight of my own arm was too much for my shoulder to handle as I had to assist it upwards with the help of my uninjured arm. The frustration was endless, but I kept telling myself to trust in my body’s ability to heal and to be kind to it in its weakened state.
Over months of work, I slowly climbed the weight stack. I learned to recognize the smallest of signs of progression; Reaching for a bowl without having to assist with my good arm or bringing my hands to touch overhead during yoga were celebratory feats. The gratitude I had for the human body’s musculo-skeletal system grew with every menial task I was able to accomplish.
Almost a year later, I still catch myself babying my shoulder, afraid to undo any prograss I had made or, worse, reinjure it. With kindness and trust in my body’s abilities to heal and grow stronger, I am back on the weight room floor, setting personal records and attacking new highs with more intesity than every before. I relish in my abilities to do an unassisted pull up and hold a flexed arm hang for moments at a time. Just months ago, asking my shoulder to support such movements was laughable. I am not at 100% recovery, but I am very close. The progress is still slow, but that is okay.The lessons I’ve learned along this path have been worth the frustration. I’ve learned to be patient with as my muscles would only let me inch forward no matter how badly I wanted to leap. My ability to let go has been tested as I never discovered where the nerve damage came from, and I probably never will. I embrace that my body is the only one I will ever live in and I must treat is with love, compassion and care in order for it to bring me through a (hopefully) long, strong and healthy life!

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