Rebounding

You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By becoming a little better each and every day, over a period of time, you will become a lot better. John Wooden

Progress. Damn, it feels good.

Link to the post of Medium

Upwards Spiral

I’m making progress and this makes me happy. Every day, one step at a time. I’m feeling optimistic for the first time since The Fall.

For a while, I felt stuck in a rut with The Comeback, doing the same thing and not getting better. The same physical therapy exercises, not doing any cardio because “what’s the point”, and not bothering to see what else is out there as far as getting help.

A month ago I changed the plan:

  • (New) Physical therapist 1-2x a week
  • Acupuncture 1x a week
  • Saw an orthopedic surgeon – a shoulder specialist
  • Daily ice
  • Lower body – body weight exercises and cardio

Firstly, the surgeon – Dr. Bradford Parsons – had good news – minimal to no AC joint separation and I passed the shoulder tests. Phew. On to PT.

My physical therapist – Mike Zazzali – is having me hold my shoulders in place throughout the day and this alone is helping reduce day-to-day pain. Moreover the daily exercises are helping and I feel I’m getting stronger. I still have a lonnnnnng way to go. I just started using the lowest level band. But… I’m improving.

Acupuncture with Stephen Cohen relieves tension in the shoulders and upper back area. Being someone who sits/stands at a desk most of the day, this is essential. I approached acupuncture with some skepticism but I’m feeling more convinced after seeing tangible results. I feel noticeably more relaxed in the upper back after every session.

Daily ice – as I’ve written about before – relieves pain and may help healing process.

Lower bodywork has been ESSENTIAL because it allows me to a) get all of the well known benefits of exercise b) make tangible progress – i.e increase reps, duration, strength. At my absolute emotional and physical low, after rolling my ankle playing basketball, I started doing the elliptical for 20 minutes. This – interval training on the elliptical – has been a game changer and a gateway exercise to a world of lower bodywork. My mom and personal trainer – Mary Rawles – has assigned a myriad of lower body stuff like lunges, squats, glute bridges, etc. The lower body stuff brings me to the gym where I start with shoulder PT and finish with lower body.

I’m making progress and this is really exciting. Look, I’m not going to get too excited – I still can’t really lift my right arm above my head pain-free (I want to play basketball, BASKETBALL, did I say BASKETBALL??).

But you gotta start somewhere, right?

A major setback

Things got bad. Real bad. As in grade I – II AC joint separation. On my dominant arm. This is not what I had in the recovery roadmap.

Before I describe what happened, I must mention it happened in January – over three months ago. I’ve been avoiding writing here because it’s painful. Like it’s literally painful to type – especially after a long day of, you know, typing.

I fell snowboarding.

That’s what happened. It’s been really hard. The fall happened one week before I packed all my possessions and moved to New York. The move was rough and I had to be rather creative at the airport to get my luggage from baggage claim to the taxi.

It’s been really hard to process. It’s been harder lately because it’s not getting better as fast as I wanted (and secretly hoped for). I’m at three months+ and I feel I’m at a plateau. Overhead movements still hurt really bad and there’s a tinge of pain every time I put on my shirt. My other (left) shoulder is still hurting as well.

Is a very difficult when your job involves typing all day at the computer. I’ve had troughs and peaks of motivation and hope. Honestly one of the hardest parts is not continually feeling bad for myself. I know this sounds stupid but sometimes it’s all I want to do, although I know I need to keep moving forward.

I’m so f-ing sick of doing these stupid physical therapy exercises. I’ve been doing them for over seven years – on and off.

When your body is hurting, you go deep inside. There’s a dark shadow over everything because everything in the present is affected by pain. Almost just as bad and potentially worse, the future looks bleak. Frankly I’m not that excited about the future if I will have to keep dealing with this shit.

I’m still playing basketball though. I’m playing with my left hand and I’m actually getting better with it. Changing how I play the game in some ways – it’s kind of fun.

So here’s my current plan for getting my shoulder better. I’m seeing a chiropractor/ physical therapist and a personal trainer. The chiropractor, Dr. Kathy Dooley, gives me very specific exercises I’m to do twice today. My trainer Chris Coulson gives me a lower body program.

The word here is patience. I’ve come to realize over the past few years I’m not the most patient guy in the world. So this is good practice.

I’m mildly optimistic I would say. What makes me feel optimistic is that, right now, I feel good. Tonight, I just worked with my trainer Chris and went for a 40 minute walk. My body feels better, so much better.

I need to trust the process knowing I will get very frustrated in the coming weeks and months. Just keep putting in work, that’s the key.

The Habit

My physical health has progressed significantly in the past few months and I’ve followed a exercise routine:

  • yoga 3x/week
  • basketball 1x/week
  • spin 1x/week

Working out has become a habit that I can keep.

To my delight, I played in the Novato High alumni water polo game. My swim conditioning was lacking, but I had a great time and was not hindered my pain.

It is wonderful to reap the benefits of exercise: better sleep, increased focus, less pain, and overall well-being. Stay thankful.

At the beginning of the year, I had trouble walking a couple of miles without pain. Since then I’ve had spurts of playing the best basketball of my life and am in the best shape I’ve been in years.

The next steps for me are getting back on the PT bandwagon. My trainer, Mike Chaplin, gave me a clear set of exercises. They are immensely helpful albeit boring. I am aiming for 3x/week. In addition, daily ice and anti-inflammatory cream on foot and ankle and shoulders. The next milestones:

  • doing squats at the gym
  • vinyasa yoga with managable pain

Cautiously (very) optimistic

What a difference a month and a half makes.

My body feel the best it’s felt in years. Specifically, my feet are starting to function correctly for the first time in over a year. My shoulders haven’t felt this pain free for three years. Before I could barely walk without focusing on foot pain. My shoulders were am absolute wreck.

Today, I went for a run. I played full court basketball two days ago. I’ve been walking 10,000 steps nearly everyday. I have seriously surpassed my expectations for where I should be. How have I made such rapid progress?

The 3 things that have made an impact, in this order:

  1. Massage
  2. Strength training
  3. Ice

I’ve tried everything for the past couple of years and have made tiny gains in both reducing pain and increasing strength because I was limited by pain. In the past two months, massage has freed muscle and allow my body to start functioning as a coordinated system. I’ve tried massage in the past, but the key has truly been finding someone who is skilled.

I used yelp to find Psoas massage in SF and the staff – Michael Talbot and David Bacome – have been a game changer. Simply put, they know their stuff. I’ve been seeing Michael once a week and he has been employing his specialty – NeuroKinetic Therapy. Michael also showed me a good exercise to break up fascia – the ‘helicopter’. Seeing Psoas massage has single handily been the biggest game changer in my path to recovery.

In addition to massage, strength training at Sol Gym with Mike Chaplin has been a godsend. Mike and his staff know their stuff. What has been most important to me has been that Mike listens and wasn’t afraid to help me tackle my injuries.

We’ve been starting off very slow, but I have quickly noticed a change in my muscle structure and posture. Now, it’s not ridiculously difficult to standup straight and I can actually feel muscles moving in my back after years of atrophy. The 3 exercises we have been starting out with are: writing alphabet on the wall with a yoga ball, 2 lb T’s and Y’s, and 15 lb scapular punch-ups.

Before seeing Mike, Mary Rawles set me up with a customized workout that was a game changer in giving me a baseline level of fitness. She also made me realize I didn’t have to be stuck sitting on my butt all day. She’s a great motivator.

Finally, every night and whenever I have time, I’ve been icing my shoulder and upper back. Michael at Psoas turned me on to this. It’s made a big difference in reducing pain in the short term, and as Michael explained to me, it helps bring fresh blood in for healing.

edit: I forgot to add that I started taking 3,000 mg of the essential fatty acids (EPA + DPA) via fish oil and 2,000 mg of curcumin (tumeric) + bioperine (black pepper). There are studies suggesting both of these reduce pain and decrease inflammation. I would highly recommend this as well.

That’s what I’ve done to reduce pain and get stronger.

Like I said, I feel optimistic – for the first time in years. What’s also interesting is that my expectations in terms of rate of recovery have been surpassed. For the past couple of weeks, I have felt super guilty about playing basketball because I’ve felt it’s been “bad” for me and my healing process. But I’m taking it slow, icing after playing and it’s working. As Mike at Sol Gym said, you only live once. If I get injured again, we’ll deal with that. Whatever.

A big takeaway is that doctors, specifically surgeons are not to be trusted or rather, their word should not be held as gospel. I was diagnosed with bi-lateral labrum tears. In other words, I need surgery on BOTH shoulders. Back in Madison, I had a doctor tell me he wanted to cut my bicep and fuse it to my bone to ‘fix’ this problem.

I’ve come to realize that, while maybe the MRI did show tears to the surgeons, false positives are a huge problem in the medical world. There are numerous studies demonstrating this, where doctors are given MRI’s of both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. The outcome is that the surgeons observes irregularities or tears in both groups and if they were just going of the data, they would want to perform surgery on perfectly healthy patients. Think about that for a second.

I don’t want to dig into doctors anymore, but the valuable lesson is definitely to check all your sources. I’m far from ‘healed’, but I’ve made so much progress. I was dreading getting surgery for the past year, but it seems I won’t be getting it! Knock on wood.

One more note about the labrum tear diagnosis. The diagnosed anchored a specific condition in my mind from a very reputable source (a doctor), and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. When I experienced pain, I would literally think about a huge tear in my shoulder. But seeing the massage therapist has made me realize that was not what was going on. The muscles themselves were being overworked, while others were hardly being used. My body was just out of whack. Don’t believe everything you think.

While I’m nowhere near where I need to be, I’m making progress and that means everything. Thanks for reading.

Injections, massage, and strength training

Last week I received a cortisone shot. It didn’t reduce the pain, and it did’t make it worse. The doc wanted to try to hit the bursa, as he suspected bursitis. I think I’m going to avoid shots for now.

I saw a bodywork expert and we did NeuroKinetic Therapy. It showed promise and my therapist, Michael Talbot, really seemed to know his stuff. I will keep trying.

On the same day as bodywork, I saw a personal trainer – Mike Chaplin. He seemed to know his stuff. I was impressed.

How do I juggle different therapies? I guess it’s a good problem to have. There are solutions, and things will get better. I don’t feel like they will, but they logically I know this will help.

Scattered thoughts – focus on the process?

I’m discouraged. I’m scared that I won’t be able to ever feel better. Weak, in pain, not functioning at optimal efficiency. That’s how I feel

I just meditated for 20 minutes, but I couldn’t focus on the breath for the life of me. There is so much energy inside that I want to let out. I want to just run 20 miles flat and deplete myself. It gets tiring having to battle myself. I need to let it out, go for a hike. It’s fucking distracting man. I know I can be myself like this. I spend half my energy just trying to hold it together.

Patience is the key for now. Things will get better. The John Wooden quote. Everyday make a little bit of progress and you will see results. But the catch is your not supposed to look for results, but this is unbearable. I want to make clear progress.

How do I even make progress? I feel like God is teaching me a lesson that I deserve to be in pain. Jeez, why am I
so down on myself?

I’m making progress though. My shoulders don’t nearly ache as much as they did last month. My foot
it’s hard to tell. Pain has minimized, but I know if I try to walk and do something strenuous, it
will immediatley flare up again.

Maybe I need to keep slowly working it. Do the one foot balances, toe-ups, and heel-ups.

I won’t try to push it for at least a month. The tendons and muscles need to rest.

I’m trapped though. How much of this is just my mental fucking with me?

Ahhh, just focus on the process.

Taking a break

Mindset. I was in enough pain where it hurt to type.

At that moment I chose myself. I got up and did what I thought was best for myself. Some light stretches, took my mind off pain, and I felt relief.

Expectations

Expectations. I feel conflicted. Should I aim for the stars and pour myself into the problem? Or should I curb my expectations and hope for the best?

In other words, should I set myself up to fail? If I aim for perfection and I fall short, then I will have failed. In my mind, I have an idealized version of what my body should be able to do – what I should be able to do. Specifically, when I think of playing sports, I think of my 19 year old self running across the basketball court, not worrying about anything. Or playing water polo in high school. It’s hard to not steer towards the past.

But things change and I must adapt. But goddamn, it just feels so depressing to just accept that as you get older, you can’t do the things you are used to doing. I’m 25 years old for god’s sake!

So what’s so bad about failing? Why not try to be the best – achieving a healthy body and mindset. I’m afraid of giving it my best, not succeeding, and realizing I’m doomed. If I don’t go all in, I can always cling to hope. “That might not have worked, but hey, there’s always another thing I can do.”

But does this really make sense? I can try my hardest, not fully succeed, but make progress. And then pivot. Specifically, I’m thinking about strength training. I may reach a point where I’ve been working and not making progress in reducing pain and increasing strength. Throw out what works, what doesn’t. Try massage, acupuncture, MELT method, a new training regime, and read new books.

This makes sense, right? RIGHT??? Yes. I think I’ve mostly just talked myself into this.

A concluding note. Perfection isn’t required. If I achieve 50% pain relief and I can start going on daily walks, that will be a substantial improvement. It’s too hard to even imagine right now, but I know this will help.

So, why not give it my best? Shoot for the stars, stay present, win the day, collect data, and keep going.

Coming back

Physically, I’m at a low point. The shoulders hurt. Everyday. The fingers and hand hurt from typing. It hurts to walk.

Waking up every morning, the vague dread fills the mind, constantly thinking I’m “hurt” and the hopelessness settles over. The back hurts, the shoulders hurt, the left achilles, and on…. It scares the crap out of me to be 25 and feel like I’m 30 or 40 years older. This is freaking taxing, man.

I feel like I’m cursed. I have had surgery. I’ve worked at this for six years and am no better than where I there was before. My family and friends are sick about me talking about. And it hurts me to see them upset about it, so I’d rather not.

I can’t give up, though. A new city. A new career. Familiar friends. Loving family. Warriors in the Finals. Things are looking up.

The next 3 months I will work at this everyday and this will follow my journey to getting physically strong. I will start very easy. Consistency is crucial. Let’s go.