The year is 2000, I am 5 years old. A therapist rolls me back and forth on a huge ball. My back stretches and pops. My legs ache, burn and throb with pain as she hoists my foot up onto her shoulder. “Do you feel a stretch?” She asks. “Yeah,” I reply flatly, wincing in pain.
These are not terrible childhood memories, but they are some of my first. I’m just in physical therapy. I would repeat this process two or three times a week, every week for months on end, then I would be discharged for about six months before going back.
This year, I turned 21. For the first time ever, I had about a year-and-a-half with no physical therapy. Over the course of the past six months, my body has become stiff and rigid. My legs ache and burn all over. It’s difficult to walk. My body pulls inward on itself, making me feel small and bent over when I walk. Every step is labored and requires thought and concentration to actually balance. I can’t stand for long. In fact, I can walk longer distances than I can stand still, and doing nearly any task independently seems horrible. The pain is extreme. I have never been in such bad shape.
A few doctor appointments later I find out I need intensive physical therapy to try to loosen my muscles so I may seek other treatment. I confess that my first feeling, once the fear subsided, was dread. I have always hated physical therapy. I don’t really know why. Yes, it was painful and boring. But I remember also carrying negative feelings toward my therapists. I’m not sure why, but maybe it was because they were pushing my body to do things that were painful to make me better. That’s hard to understand as a child.
First Day of Physical Therapy
Monday I started my first day of physical therapy, I walked in stiff and in pain and I walked out pain-free and loose. Before therapy I was, for only the second time in my life, non-mobile. I was being stretched at home in the meantime by my other half as he followed instructions from my mother. This is the only reason I was able to walk into the therapy building Monday.
Today is Wednesday. It was my second day in physical therapy. I walked into the building in pain. I left armed with new low-impact stretches I can do myself, less pain and a feeling of satisfaction after putting in hard work in my session (when I would have normally found ways to cheat!). For the first time, I’m asking questions about what I can do to take care of myself, actually staying tuned in for the response, and then following through with the suggested answer.
I’m not sure how I’ve become positive about physical therapy, or why I felt so negatively about it in the first place. But I do think it’s probably a sign of growing up. I know that giving into the program and committing to it is better than being in pain, unable to do basic tasks on my own.
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