Written by Sue Fuller-Good (MSc Physio WITS) Physiotherapist with a special interest in the mind-body connection
Here in South Africa, it’s warm and Spring is on the way. The air is full of jasmine and other fragrances and a general lightness of being is all around. Yay!
For me, I have a lightness of being as I find that day by day, I can walk more and more like I used to. I have a few leg muscles returning and I feel like an almost mobile, healthy human being again. What a treat! Going for a walk and getting into and out of the car without a thought, leaping out of a chair and sitting on the floor are activities not everyone can do, and I will never take them for granted again. The human body is a healing machine. You have heard me say this before and I will be saying it as they lower my body into the ground one day. The capacity we have for healing is incredible.
Sometimes it just takes respect, trust, patience, and support.
I wanted to talk about fear avoidance behavior today.
Often when something hurts us, we want to protect it. We feel we need to cosset it and keep it still. This can make us avoid moving, and since movement heals, it can delay the healing even although our intention is to protect whatever hurts and help it. The best thing you can do for anything that hurts is gentle movement. Test the water with what feels tolerable and how much is therapeutic. Even a tiny bit of movement can be enough to get the circulation going and pump away the inflammatory chemicals and damaged cells.
If an injury is very acute (this doesn’t mean serious, it means new. It’s just happened) then some total rest may be essential, but even as you rest, move the joints above and below the injury site, tighten and relax the muscles around the injury and move whatever you can without hurting the injury. But after the first few days (up to 14 days in a severe injury, but much less if the injury isn’t too severe), start moving gently.
Put it in water if you can. Cold water is brilliant, but hot water is also very helpful. If you can walk – do! Even a few steps will make a difference. If you can’t walk, try a bicycle. If you can’t peddle, try just lying on the ground and moving your legs in a cycling motion. Try going on all fours and lifting one leg backwards and then pulling it inwards to your belly.
In short whatever you can do, you must try to do. It doesn’t matter how bad it looks or how insignificant it feels.
Pain is a normal human experience. It is always going to hurt at times if you are alive. Don’t fear pain. I’m not suggesting you ignore pain and pretend it doesn’t exist. No, listen to it, but do your best not to be afraid of it and let it shut your life down.
I have seen this so clearly in my own recovery. For nearly 8 months whenever I have been able to walk on my foot (when I haven’t been recovering from surgery and on crutches), it has hurt terribly, but with persistence, I can now walk a little way with only minimal pain. I have cycled daily whenever I have been able to and it used to hurt like crazy and I could only do a few minutes, but today I did 45 minutes on quite a hard setting, and it didn’t hurt at all. I couldn’t put on cycling shoes, so I rode in a croc’ on one side and a cycle shoe on the other. I couldn’t do almost anything in a yoga class, but now I can stand on my leg and do some simple poses fairly well.
I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m a big hero, but rather to describe the journey of starting somewhere, wherever is possible. And then slowly pushing the edges out, tiny step by tiny step. I was sore after exercising, but I knew it had been good for me when I saw my mobility slowly increasing. When I saw my function steadily returning. At first, I had to walk with sticks and braces, but now I don’t need the support. When I did need the support, I made sure I found the very best support I could, to enable me to do what was possible.
It hasn’t only been my movement that has helped me get better. My colleagues have done loads of physio too and so I have taken my own medicine, many of you will glad to hear :-)
It has been painful during the sessions, very! But I can’t believe how much it has helped. Often, it’s a journey towards healing. It happens slowly and it’s hard to stay the course and trust the process, but it’s so worth it when you do. Please always remember, your body will heal if it possibly can. Give it your support and trust and do your part to enable this healing to occur. Keep moving, keep eating right, keep feeding your microbiome, keep sleeping plenty and stay patient.
I wish you healing and wellbeing as always!