Not So Bad, Maybe
I went to physical therapy today. Already my back was feeling better, so I began to wonder if the nurse practitioner had been right after all. Maybe it really was a muscle strain, instead of the disc herniation diagnosed by the emergency department physician.
When I entered the PT office, I saw a familiar face. Nine years ago, I injured my shoulder in a wrestling match with a heroin addict. The damage was pretty severe. Not only were the rotator cuff and the head of my biceps torn, but the labrum--the structure that holds the top of the arm into the shoulder joint--was ripped apart as well. I needed surgery in three places.
It took at lot of work to reach the point where I could use my shoulder at all. Three times each week, for more than nine months, the physical therapist put me through my paces. Strength workouts, flexibility workouts, manual stretching, ultrasound, heat treatments, cold treatments, deep tissue massage--he used every tool imaginable.
There were times when I felt like giving up. My shoulder ached constantly, and it didn't seem to be getting any stronger. But in the end, his hard work paid off. My shoulder will never be quite as strong, or quite as flexible, as it once was, but it feels pretty good right now. I can throw a baseball, and I earned a perfect score on my most recent Army physical fitness test. Not bad for someone who couldn't turn over in bed for a long time without gasping in pain.
And that's who I saw when I walked into the physical therapy office today. The same therapist who restored my shoulder nine years ago was going to treat my back.
He began with a complete evaluation. While he couldn't completely rule out the possibility of a disk injury--to the contrary, he said that many back injuries involve a small amount of disk herniation, even when that's not that the primary injury--he seemed to think that my injury was primarily muscular, and would respond pretty quickly to treatment. For the next hour, he used many of the same techniques on my back that he'd used on my shoulder.
At the end of the session, I was sore. That's to be expected, I suppose, since ultrasound and deep-tissue massage don't work unless you can feel them. But I feel as if some progress has already been made. I've got a feeling that recovery will occur pretty quickly, and that I'll return to work faster than I ever would have imagined.
Credit where credit is due: The physical therapy center mentioned in this post is The Boston Center for Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine, located at the Boston Athletic Center in South Boston. The therapist is Declan Fennell.