By Tracy Greenhalgh
Like most of you, I’ve counted on my body to propel, or at least roll, me out of bed in the mornings and move me through my busy days. Physical activity has always been a given for me and I’m like a puppy who needs to get outside and “play in the yard” on the daily. I just assumed I’d always be able to pursue any activity, sport or movement I wanted, and that my body would automatically cooperate, like a faithful, fit golden retriever.
Facing into surgery
Four years ago I discovered that my repetitive movements and compensating postural affects plus my hereditary bone structure had led to a labral tear in my hip, and pain during my favorite activities. The labrum is a piece of fibrocartilage that surrounds the hip socket that helps stabilize and protect the hip joint. I chose labral reconstruction surgery so that I could hopefully avoid a hip replacement in the distant future.
I knew I was in for 6 months of rehab and that I wouldn’t be able to ski that season, so I strategically chose my surgery for late fall so I’d be ready to hit the road cycling and the hills hiking by April to prepare for the next ski season.
Stepping into rehab
I began physical therapy at home just a few days after surgery with micro movements that seemed really boring and useless, but necessary. About a week after that, when I was done lying on the couch and icing for hours each day, I grabbed my crutches and hobbled out to freedom (my car) and drove to physical therapy twice a week, already longing for the day I could retire those pesky sticks.
I finally graduated to physical therapy once a week, diligent with my arsenal of exercises as I gained strength daily. Each new activity I could resume was like a shiny new thing I felt I was experiencing for the first time. I was grateful when I could finally retire the crutches around 6 weeks and push a shopping cart with ease, or not have to slog through the snow with them. Just squatting down to pull the clothes out of the washer and toss them into the dryer was an accomplishment not lost on me.
Developing a learner’s mindset
I finally graduated to Pilates, something I’d only dabbled in before, and it was a game-changer for me. My new goal became to really learn how to move mindfully and correctly, something I never gave an ounce of thought to before. I worked with physical therapists who were also Pilates instructors who taught me how to develop strength in my deep core so I could protect my cartilage and joints and move with more efficient strength. More of a practice and a journey than an outcome, I’ve been learning how to perfect smaller movements and memorize them into my muscles so it translates to my functional, daily movement and into my skiing and other sports.
Recovery isn’t always a straight road
One thing I’ve realized over these past four years is that my rehab has not been entirely linear. I was able to ski again that next season as I planned, but I had to be careful about things that stressed my weakened hip flexors, like snow shoeing and extreme hiking and sometimes even skiing and cycling. When I overstressed my muscles and I got out of sync, I’d have to take a step back and make corrections on my smaller movements again. I’ve learned that pelvic floor strength affects every movement we make and how our transverse abdominis muscle (underneath our oblique ab muscles) is our best friend when it comes to stabilizing all our movement.
I’ve also learned to go easy on myself if I’m having pain, and that it won’t be permanent if I go back to the foundations of my strengthening regimen. I’ve learned to get curious about pain and fatigue and see what it’s telling my body for that day. I still get to be a puppy and do the things I love, I just have to listen and pay attention to my body and my mind and not take their balanced synchronization for granted anymore.
Depend on the experts
Last season I took a ski lesson for the first time in my life and it gave me huge insight. My instructor confirmed what I’d been doing well all these years, but he also shed light on how my movements could improve. With the knowledge base I’d gained through Pilates and physical therapy, my ski instructor’s tips sunk in even more effectively.
If you’re recovering from an injury, seek knowledgeable health professionals and trainers, and be purposeful and stick with your rehab protocol. You’ll be out on the mountain again in no time and you’ll be even stronger for it.