A Spotlight for Sarah Smith!
This spotlight is an important one, especially for those of you who, like myself, struggle with back pain and are frustrated at not making progress or constant pain. It is a longer spotlight but it is 100% worth the read, find the time to sit down. I’m extremely proud of Sarah and how far she has come, read her story here:
“Pain sucks. No one wants to physically be in pain and that’s been me for the past three years. I am not a person who wants modifications or to bother someone to ask what I should be doing since the workout provided causes me pain. I want to be that person who walks into the gym for the first time and just grabs 75 lbs. to do a goblet squat without a second thought because why not but unfortunately that is not where I am at these days. I started working out at Get Fit NH two months before I got pregnant in 2014. I was overweight and willing and ready to make a life style change to fix that and get healthy. I worked out all throughout my pregnancy which threw the healthy journey I started on a little curve ball when all the normal pregnancy quirks set in like food aversions, nausea for days, back pain, etc. But I continued to show up every morning at 6:15am and chalked up the severe discomfort and pain I started to feel in my back in my second trimester from moving a certain way, sitting, riding in a car or really anything to what I thought was normal back pain that would go away once I gave birth. Birth. Well that’s a story for a different day but it was not good. 48 hours of labor that ended in a not great C-section. So…there I was, baby out and in way more pain than when I was pregnant.
I found new challenges in life I had never thought about after birth; walking in general but also while carrying anything in my hands, sitting or getting up out of chairs, stairs, lying down in bed or getting myself up from bed. All these things I had always taken for granted I now needed help to do and caused me considerable pain. Maybe it would have consumed me if I didn’t have a sweet little baby girl to show for it or maybe that made it even harder because I really didn’t feel like I should care for myself and try and recover. I went back to working out eventually, though it was not 6 weeks out as planned as I was not recovered enough then. It took at least a few months to even feel like I could move semi-comfortably. Once I did go back I remember my husband telling me to “cool it” and me thinking what did he know - I wasn’t pregnant anymore I could do anything! I was SO excited to be able to do a squat thrust again after not having that huge belly that I tried and fell flat on my face – I had a C-section, I had no abs, what was I thinking? Idiot. However, things that I should have been able to do without pain still gave me pain. For instance, just being able to get up off the floor didn’t happen without back pain. I finally came to the realization that something was not right and sought out a physical therapist that specializes in woman’s post-partum back, neck and pelvis pain and was given the answers to my questions. My hip and pelvis on my right side were considerably out of alignment and rotated as compared to my hip/pelvis on my left side. There were some definite complications during my C-section on my right side so it made sense they were not in alignment – quick fix I thought. After quite some time of physical therapy, and these parts not staying in place as they should, it was determined that this had been an underlying issue that was just exasperated by pregnancy weight gain and the eventful birth of my daughter but it was not caused alone by childbirth. It now made sense why I was in pain so early on in my pregnancy. This was not going to be a quick fix. I was not going to be able to go into the gym and just do all the trainings without modifications. Modifications where going to be my life for a while.
The last two years I’ve spent seeing my PT weekly but I am in communication with her multiple times a week; we’re best friends at this point! I was waking each morning doing my PT exercises and ending each night before bed with exercises. You might have heard me and my friend Stacey, who has similar struggles, joking about making sure to “tuck” our hips/pelvis to hold ourselves in the right position to protect our lower backs and sharing stories of all of our PT exercises and how to hold our positioning. It wasn’t until recently that I didn’t need to do those PT exercises anymore to stay in relative alignment. This spring I was starting to feel better, my abs where strengthening and I was doing a better job about keeping myself in alignment. It made sense to start working towards doing the exercises I had been staying away from for years so that I could progress. Wouldn’t it be lovely if that’s where the pain story ended? It was at this time that I digressed and anything I tried to do at the gym caused me pain. Adding in even the smallest unilateral movement blew up my back and made even the exercises that I used to do without pain, very painful. My PT and I talked about me taking a short break from working out as I was losing my mind. The pain just kept getting worse, especially after experiencing a time when I had started to get better to go backwards was just heartbreaking. In a mere month, I went from downgrading my PT visits to twice a month to upping them to twice a week just to correct my alignment so I could try and function properly with some relief. I was getting so frustrated that I wasn’t getting better and it just seemed like I was getting worse every time I tried to do something to progress back to the point where I used to be. Coach Adam noticed this and pulled me aside to ask if I could have my physical therapist write him an email explaining to him, from the beginning what was going on with me. He wanted more than what I could give him which was “I can’t do anything unilateral” or “I know I’m out of alignment and that hurts my back; I need a modification”. He wanted to know in more technical terms what was going on so he could try and help me progress without pain. I think he thought if I could progress it would help to keep me more positive about continue to recover and in turn more accountable about coming to class.
So, for the last four months, my PT and the Coaches at Get Fit have been in communication about my progress, what has set me back and what I need to avoid for now or what I can slowly add in again to build up my tolerance. Coach Adam has been drafting up training modifications for me (if you all have seen me with a white piece of paper in hand!) and has also had me do exercises at the gym to keep my positioning in check, using a DS band to get my glutes to fire as they should and taught me breathing exercises to additionally learn to tuck my ribcage. I remember the day not long ago that I felt my abs fire while doing a regular body weight squat and I got so excited. That meant I had finally found the right positon to be in and my abs had finally come far enough along to support and hold me in that correct position so that my back wasn’t in pain. I totally downplayed my excitement but I made sure to tell Coach Adam because I wouldn’t have got to that point had he not worked on the breathing exercises with me that enforced tucking my ribcage to engage my abs. Breathing, we all do it - seems silly to teach or talk about, right? Well it taught me how to hold myself properly and move without pain. Not silly to me now.
Now to the point. My pain journey has been all about stepping stones. I progress, push myself a little too much and I digress and re-asses with a lot of help. I think the hardest part about all of this for me, besides the pain, is that I couldn’t be doing what everyone else was doing and I have learned I have to be ok with that. I needed to hone in on certain parts of my body and build them up so that I could support myself properly and I just needed to show up to training because people were there to support me. I needed to essentially re-train my body and the coaches have been so great at making it happen (had to throw that one in – right?).
These days you can find me at 6:15am (or sometimes 8:30am class) happily ‘trying’ to do all the things I could once try without a second thought. I won’t be “making poor life decisions” (like that Coach Meagan?) by pushing my body too much but I will be trying to progress to get back to a new normal. I still will have pain some days as I retrain my body how to do certain exercises that will allow me to progress and get healthier. I have to be ok with that fact and keep at it to work through it the best I can. Through the help of several amazing Coaches and an amazing PT (my very own dream team!) I’m progressing and starting to feel better. It’s seemed like such a long road for this perpetually impatient person but I’m showing up and I’m feeling better than I have been in several years.”