Paul’s story: the stiff posture I adopted actually slowed my recovery

Back in September 2014 I was delivering heavy boxes of printed material. My small van was loaded to the max. I even had boxes in the front passenger seat and foot well. When I took out a heavy box from the footwell I somehow twisted, probably because it was in an awkward position. I immediately felt severe muscular pain in the upper left side  of my back. I had to pause for a bit before I could carry on.


As the day went on using my left arm and turning my head became painful. I reported the accident at work. That evening I put ice on my upper back and started using Ibuprofen. I wasn’t overly worried because I had managed to shake off pulls and sprains within a week or so before. I took some time off work. I kept trying to go back to work on light duties but there wasn’t much I could do. The doctors and occupational health suggested I was better off at home.  As the weeks went by it only seemed to get worse. I found the only way I could be pain free was to basically not use by left arm, keep my head bolt upright and not move it. I ended up taking numerous tablets that didn’t really help.


For six months I stayed like this. I tried seeing different doctors, physios, chiropractors etc. I spent £100’s on private treatment. It wasn’t until the spring of 2015 that my symptoms gradually began to improve.  I eventually managed to get a hospital appointment with a physio at the general hospital a year after my accident. He looked at me and my MRI scan results and couldn’t find anything fundamentally wrong. He felt that the stiff posture I had adopted had actually slowed down the recovery process. He suggested I try to return to normal activities as much as possible like going to the gym. He arranged for me to see a Senior Physiotherapist at the hospital who he felt would be able to help me gradually loosen up.


I must admit I was skeptical going to see the Senior Physio. I had been to see other physios earlier in the year and had just ended up poorer for it. However, I immediately liked him and felt comfortable with him. He quickly observed a lot about me including how I breathed, that I had been to the gym a lot in my past and how I held my posture etc. He identified that I would have probably been further down the road to recovery by now if I had been a more relaxed person, someone  who didn’t tense up a lot and hold a rigid posture. He could tell that I had previously been to the gym a lot and it had left me with robotic motions and posture.


He gave me a few exercises to do each day. But surprisingly a lot of what he wanted me to do was not physio type exercises. It was to just try and relax, try to let go of the rigid posture, try not to hold my breath and take short breaths. Try to be floppy and dance and just loosen up. I must admit I still felt a bit skeptical as I was sure I had something seriously wrong with my back and neck. But what he said did make a lot of sense and I had nothing to lose by giving it a try.


So I went away and each day I tried to relax, not hold my breath, not tense up, not be robotic. The biggest problem for me was that I had been behaving like this for probably 30 years, maybe more. I am 44 now and I started going to the gym when I was 15. All my friends were there and I had spent my whole adult life immersed in the gym culture of bodybuilding and weightlifting. I worked hard at this loosening up. I used a lot of music to dance to and tried to use circular motions I wasn’t used to. This gradually seemed to help my problem. Every few weeks I went back to the physio and we discussed how I was getting on. Eventually after about 4 months I had improved significantly. So much so that I felt I no longer needed to keep seeing him.


Right now in the present day I still have not totally recovered. But I am living a normal pain free life. I do still get  a bit of discomfort, but this is no bad thing as it reminds me I need to loosen up again and relax. It then settles down again. I have a lot of work to do still and I think this challenge may be on going for the rest of my life. Its not easy to change habits that you don’t realise you are doing. I have a long way to go if I want to reverse these traits. I go to the gym again but I no longer need to show off lifting heavy weights as I am older now and have done that. I like going to the gym still, but I seek a more balanced approach of fitness and wellbeing. I try to focus on a broader approach with more flexibility, cardio and higher reps when I use the weights.


My employer couldn’t keep my job open forever. So now I am free to pursue my ambition of having my own business. Fortunately my wife’s wage has been able to support us when I have not been earning. I am now on a new path. Sometimes things happen that seem a disaster at the time. But when you look back it is life giving you a push in a new direction that you wouldn’t have been brave enough to consider before.

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