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Your Favorite Physical Therapist Hurt Himself!

Aug 19, 2022
ProForm Physical Therapist low back pain.

By: Nick Sienkiewicz, DPT, CSCS

PT's Can Get Injured Too

I know what you’re thinking… No way! Nick is a physical specimen, probably the most elite and stunning athlete I’ve ever laid eyes on… There’s no way he could get hurt!!! All joking aside, many of our patients and clients assume that we have the ability to avoid pain and injuries because of our knowledge about the human body and rehab. Here’s the reality. Pain and injuries are unavoidable. They are not preventable. We all must come to terms with that reality! What matters most is how we respond to them! 

So it was three days before I was leaving for vacation. It was a scheduled rest day for me. We were planning on going out to eat for Chad’s birthday. He declined (yes, he’s the only human on planet earth who refuses a gift of fish tacos at the Deck!). Nonetheless, I had extra time as a result. I decided to work out even though it was my day off. I was deadlifting and feeling pretty good, so I loaded it up. Things felt smooth, and the weight was moving, so I kept doing more sets. Then BOOM… I was coming up on the third rep of my 6th set and my low back tightened up. I experienced immediate discomfort and dropped the weight. The pain was significantly restrictive for the remainder of that day, and completely disrupted my sleep that night. So what did I do next?!?!

  1. I kept moving! - Barring a significant accident resulting in fractures or joint dislocations (if this is any iota of concern, play if safe and go be seen by a medical professional), progressive movement is most important thing you can do post-injury. After injury, you need to act like a detective. Explore your body’s movement to determine what feels better or worse. Early on, do more of the stuff that feels better. Gradually ease into the movements that don’t feel so good. For me, all movement eased the pain. Rather, it was the prolonged positions that irritated my symptoms the most. I combatted this by trying to continually move throughout the day. You can ask my wife. I looked ridiculous on vacation, in a busy grocery store swaying back and forth swinging my arms all over the place!! Motion is lotion!!! The human body, especially the spine, loves rhythmic, oscillatory movement. This gets blood flowing and facilitates healing. Walking and swimming are great options here. I also found that throwing a baseball felt fantastic on my back. I was fortunate to be on vacation with my brother-in-law who was willing to have a catch with me everyday!
  2. I did not panic - Fine, I panicked a little bit. I’ll admit, early on I was freaking out thinking the worst. I just blew out a disc. My spine is going to crumble on my next step. These thoughts are very much normal post-injury. This is just your brain trying to protect you! However, don’t let your brain be a helicopter parent over you! Come back down to earth, and begin the movement investigation process described above. Continuing to panic can result in prolonged pain that is misrepresentative of your body’s actual state. Your body is extremely resilient! It’s capacity to heal is amazing. Your body just needs to right mindset and environment to be able to heal itself. A state of panic and fear can disrupt that natural process!
  3. I did my best to control other variables - There will always be numerous factors at play with regard to injuries and healing. You cannot control all of them, so focus on what you can control and forget about those that are uncontrollable or unmodifiable. For me, this included getting to bed 15 minutes earlier and sleeping in an extra 15 minutes. Luckily, I was on vacation the week after my injury, so I was able to get extra sleep. This allowed me to get at least 30 minutes of extra sleep each night, which is when your body will do the majority of its healing and recovering. I also increased my protein and overall micronutrient intake for the next week or so. Your body rebuilds its tissues with protein and requires various vitamins and minerals for those processes, so increasing its stores of these compounds can be impactful. Additionally, I put extra emphasis on my meditation and breathwork practices, like my cold showers, in order to facilitate an enhanced parasympathetic nervous system response. This just means I revved up my body’s recovery system! The additional variables you choose to focus on during the healing process will depend on the individual, so this requires awareness, active participation, and troubleshooting through trial and error.
  4. I did not stop training - I fully planned on working out daily while I was on vacation (this is the norm for me! If this is not what you do, don’t worry about it), so I worked out everyday. All I did was modify. On the second day of vacation, RDLs (the same type of movement that got me injured 6 days prior) were on the docket. I was very apprehensive, but I tried them with a lighter kettlebell to start, and after the first few reps they actually felt really good. I would never have known that if I just completely avoided them. The key point here is that I modified the exercise and started light to explore the movement first. I certainly surprised myself. I also modified my training in other ways that I would not have if I weren’t injured, such as including two pool workouts, adding more isometric work (aka holds in certain positions), and utilizing more of the rhythmic, oscillatory movement described previously. 
  5. I got extra sunlight, on my bare back! - This was another more feasible one being on vacation, and an aspect of my rehab that may deter some readers because of the negative reputation the sun gets in our modern culture. The reality is that human beings evolved in the sun. It helps us heal in ways you could not imagine. The rays of light from the sun that are not visible and imperceptible to the human eye, like near infrared light, are able to penetrate through the skin and into deeper tissues of the body. When they do so, magical things occur within the body. These rays can accelerate healing within the body by stimulating healing factors and ramping up cellular activity. Obviously, we do not want sunburns, so this requires gradual exposure. If your skin is not used to the sunlight, then start small, with only a few minutes at a time. You can go under shade to get out of the sunlight then go back out again later for multiple repetitions if you want. Unfortunately, sunscreen blocks many of these positive effects of the sun. To combat this, I used minimal sunscreen on vacation. I would go out and lie on my stomach for 30-60 minutes (which I’ve spent all spring and summer working myself up towards) sunscreen-free, then seek shelter underneath the umbrella for the next 30-60 minutes. Then, I would go back out for another 30-60 minutes. If I started to feel warmer than usual on my skin, that was my cue to be done for that particular day, at which point my shirt would go on. I know everyone who made it this far in the blog is wondering… Nick didn’t use sunscreen. He definitely got burned. And I’m happy to report that I did not burn on vacation. The last day was touch and go, as I stayed out a little too long. I was more red than usual by the end of the day, but woke up and the redness was gone! It is certainly possible to enjoy unadulterated sunlight without smothering yourself in sunscreen!!! 

Nevertheless, I’m sorry about rambling on about my recent low back injury. It’s been about two weeks since the initial injury, and luckily I am feeling fantastic! My pain was notable for about 4-5 days, and gradually improved toward the end of the first week. This is by no means to boast about my speedy recovery! I wasn’t going to write this blog (it was supposed to be Chad’s turn!!!), but felt some of the big rocks throughout my recovery could be helpful to others dealing with a similar injury, or any pain at all.  You all know I love to talk about this kind of stuff, so please come see us at ProForm. We’d love to help you get back to doing what you love to do!! 

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