At the end of June 2017, I broke my neck while playing baseball with my kids. The recovery was a bit of a process with several revelations along the way. I discovered 10 things you should avoid while in a neck brace and created 5 tips for sleeping well with a broken neck.
After spending 3 months in a cervical collar, my neck finally healed. I was released from the collar and, to my dismay, without a script for physical therapy. After months of trying to do things on my own, I got a PT script from my chiropractor who was performing acupuncture treatments on me.
January 2018, I started physical therapy. In the first three weeks or so, we got rid of my constant pain and worked on restoring my mobility. I progressed to a point, but I felt like the muscles on the left side of my neck and upper back were completely shut off.
As I told my therapist, “It’s not like they’re not working. They’re not even in the building. Their cubicles are empty and they’re like outside on the longest break ever.”
My physical therapist assessed, and I agreed, that it was time to turn on my muscles.
Turn On My Muscles
As you can imagine, it’s not like a switch flips and functionality and movement are restored to your dormant muscles. There are several steps that must be taken in a certain sequence to get your body where it needs to go.
To continue with my analogy from above, in order to have people working, you have to find them outside the building and convince them to come in the building. Then, you have to talk them in to sitting in their cubicle and eventually doing something. (As someone who has worked in a cubicle, I have experienced this analogy with actual people.)
In the beginning of my therapy, we focused on achieving and maintaining my pain relief (which was my top priority). I regularly practiced Spinal rotation, Cat/Cow, Thread the needle, and various head movements. Whenever my head or neck started to hurt, I would use two lacrosse balls in a sock to massage the back edge of my skull.
Although these exercises also increase mobility, I felt like my body was lacking. When I twisted one direction, I could feel the muscles on the right work. However, when I twisted the other way, it was a void from C6-T1. Any rotation that might happen came from another spot.
Lucky for me, I have an amazing physical therapist. She started having me work on a foam roller. The first day we tried to turn on my muscles, she had me practice Arm scissors, Snow angels, and Hug a tree on the foam roller. Then, she performed some scraping (which is PT talk for massage with a plastic tool) and moved parts of my spine while I relaxed.
When she finished, she had me do a spinal rotation exercise from the previous week. It was still fresh in my mind how the muscles on my right side worked to rotate while the muscles on my left were no where to be found. To my delight, when I went to use the muscles on the left, they were there!
So, to go back to my office analogy, the left muscles came into the building, made it to their cubicles, and were sitting in a seat. They weren’t working quite yet, but they were there. And for the first time in a long time, I could feel it.
After I left my physical therapist’s office, I cried. I was so overwhelmed with feelings. I felt joy and relief because I had been reunited with missing muscles, and I felt pride and accomplishment because my therapist and I did something that I wasn’t certain was possible.
Although I had been hopeful that I could reconnect with my missing muscles, I wasn’t certain. The relief from discovering that we could do it made me feel like I had just achieved the biggest accomplishment of my life thus far.
Have you ever done physical therapy for an injury? How did it go? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
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