Monday, April 1, 2019

What I Learned From Injury and Rehab

If you told 19 year-old me, that I would be a Weightlifter, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and business owner in less than 10 years, I would have laughed in your face. I had no interest in physical therapy and I couldn’t even lift my left arm. But sometimes, things happen that rock your world.

At 19, I had turned in my ballet slippers for some Reebok Nano’s. At that point, I had been doing CrossFit for a little over a year and was OBSESSED. I had completely drank (chugged) the kool-aid. I was training about 5 days a week, was committed to a Paleo diet, and had even changed my major to Exercise Science.

One summer morning, I went into the gym and we were doing a double TABATA.

Girl is #killinit and next thing I know, my shoulder dislocates. It immediately popped back in and I convinced myself that I was fine. I WAS NOT FINE.

That night, I remember being in excruciating pain; I couldn’t even move my arm. I remember checking how high I could lift it over and over again (I’m sure that was great for it). How could I overhead squat yesterday and couldn’t even lift my arm today?
Injuries Happen

The first lesson I learned is that, injuries happen. It’s no one’s “fault.” It doesn’t mean that CrossFit is bad or that I had a bad coach. It’s just something that happened.

When you increase activity levels, you also increase the chances of injury. As volume and intensity of training go up, you have a greater tax on the system. Although you may have a slightly higher chance of injury, you are also significantly decreasing the likelihood of heart disease or chronic illness. So, who is really winning here?

Injuries are simply feedback – you did something your body wasn’t prepared for and you now get to create resiliency. It’s a time that you get to focus on the areas that you were lacking. I had poor scapular motor control, weakness within my rotator cuff, and quite a bit of anterior shoulder laxity. Had these things not been present, maybe passive structures could have given my body the feedback it needed to self-correct.

The important thing to understand is that injuries happen. My first piece of advice is to work with educated and experienced coaches; they have the ability to help you identify major problems that could predispose you to injury in the future. If you have not exercised in many years, it may also be a good idea to have a biomechanics assessment with a physical therapist; we have the ability to look at mobility and stability throughout the body. We can give you lots of tips and tricks to address the deficits you may currently have!

You’re Not Destined to Live the Rest of Your Life Riding the Elliptical

This may make me sounds crazy, but I literally remember thinking “Oh no, I’m gonna have to ride the elliptical for the rest of my lifeeeee.”

During recovery, you’ll most likely have a moment where you think you’re never going to get back to normal. I remember feeling heart broken. All I wanted was to do something simple like squat again.

Athletes have extra challenges in recovery because it feels like a huge part of their life has been taken away from them.

I was told to completely stop CrossFit. In theory, I get it, but “stopping CrossFit” meant much more than stopping an exercise program. It challenged my ability to cope and it also took away a huge part of my social life.



As an athlete and physical therapist, I understand that it’s important to stay connected to what you love and also, to maintain your vision for the future. I was committed to coming back stronger.

Although I was told to “stop CrossFit,” I technically stayed away from the gym for a week, maybe. At first I just went to the gym to do some mobility work and talk to my friends. I slowly started doing exercises that didn’t involve my shoulder. Then when I couldn’t take it any longer, I figured out the best substitutes that I could.

Today, I’m able to snatch double what I could prior to the injury. Had I not made the choice to stay connected, this likely would not be my reality.

At the lowest lows of your recovery, remember that you just have to take one step forward every day. Maybe things won’t look exactly the same, but that could always be for the better.
Not All PT’s Are Created Equally (And That’s a Good Thing)

After I saw an orthopedic surgeon, we decided to go the conservative route. I had a cortisone injection and was instructed to begin physical therapy.

I remember being relatively unimpressed with my first day of PT. We did a bunch of tests and I was given a cute little band with a sheet of boring exercises.

I later found out that the person who evaluated me specialized in geriatrics. Geriatrics is a vital specialty… ya know, if you are treating someone of age. It’s not vital for the 19 year old that wants to do CrossFit again.

So, my second piece of advice is to be selective when you ask for help. Don’t just take whichever therapist works the evening shift. It’s not worth your time or money if they don’t have the skills necessary to progress towards your goals.

Personally, my purpose is to help people, like 19 year-old Cara, get back to their sport. It’s what gets me excited and it’s what keeps me up at night. I’m obsessed with this stuff.

There’s someone out there obsessed with joint replacements, there’s someone obsessed with pediatrics, and there’s someone obsessed with wound care. Find the person that’s obsessed with you and your needs.

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