How to Recover from an Injury: Hint…Don’t Try it Without a Movement Therapist (Part 1)

This is the first in a 4-part series where I’ll share why, after injury, working with a Movement Therapist is a must.

I’ll share what prompted me to see Jesse, what happens to your nervous system after an injury, and how Movement Therapy helps. I’ll also share how Jesse is helping me unlearn 5 years of constrained (or unnatural) movement.

No, Jesse isn’t paying me to write this. That’s not my style or his. My hope is that my experience will motivate you to recapture the movements that injury has greedily taken.


I met a Movement Therapist in October of 2013. We connected because our philosophies about injury recovery align. Over the years, we’ve guest blogged for one another, shared interesting conversations, and co-hosted seminars for injured athletes.

When I met him, I didn’t even know what a Movement Therapist was. I also didn’t know he would ultimately change my life and how I move.

His name is Jesse James Retherford, and, coincidentally, he refers to himself both as a Movement Therapist and Life Changer.

Like I do, Jesse believes every injury is an opportunity. And, also like I do, he wonders why playgrounds are only built for kids.

Envision all the different ways your body used to move on a playground–crawling, running, climbing, balancing, swinging, and touching different textures–and you’ve also envisioned Jesse’s philosophy.

Our bodies were designed to move through the playground of life, and we’re able to navigate things pretty well until our teenage years when we stop moving and start sitting…or even worse, we get injured.

When we get injured our nervous system freaks out. Pain and guarding lead to new and dysfunctional movement patterns. You don’t immediately lose range of motion, but you lose functional range of motion, which, given enough time, leads to tight muscles and joints that struggle to ever move normally again. Don’t blame your nervous system; it’s only doing its job compensating for your injured parts.

Time passes and your injury heals. Your limp goes away…or does it really? Movement limitations quietly accumulate, and before you know it, you’re in a cycle of chasing pain, and nobody can really figure out the origin.

Why? Looking at individual parts doesn’t reveal full body dysfunctional movement patterns.

Shoot, like me, you probably think you’re moving around brilliantly! I had no awareness of how my nervous system had fallen into a rut and robbed me of normal movement.

Enter Jesse. He observes dysfunctional movement and recommends new movements and activities to rewire your nervous system and regain lost mobility.

Hanging

Jesse pointed out a contracture on my right, non-affected side–most noticeable while I was learning how to hang properly. This explains the shoulder and back pain I’ve been having.

Painful movement is learned. In order to move pain free, we have to learn how to explore pain free movement. We have to give our nervous system a different experience to move pain free,” Jesse said.

Jesse explained that when you don’t move, your nervous system gets lazy and you lose flexibility (the end range of your motion), something I’ve experienced first hand.

Irrespective of how long you’ve been injured (my story is extreme, and I’m seeing benefits of practicing my movement therapy exercises after just one week), you’ll benefit from Movement Therapy. The less you wait, the easier time you’ll have restoring what movement you’ve lost.

How Jesse helped me (so far)

In November 2010, I suffered a catastrophic left knee injury. After 8 surgeries, more than 2 years on crutches, and thousands of hours laying in a machine that slowly bent and straightened my leg, my nervous system learned a new (dysfunctional) normal (that’s what Jesse means when he says painful movement is learned).

I’ve had right hip pain, and within the last year, my back has felt very restricted. My legs, despite being the same length, appeared to be different lengths when I lay on my back and rested my legs on a wall. My pelvis was twisted, I was told. But why? Nobody knew.

I’ve stretched and stretched (more on stretching in part 2), maintained a daily floor yoga practice, and developed a love of open water swimming–so my laying down was interspersed with movement.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I lost enough movement to cause daily pain.

How did it get this bad?

My body was not designed for crutching and limping, limping and crutching. Some muscles were firing overtime and some were on a beach in the Caribbean being served drinks with umbrellas.

leg length discrepancy

How about a little “leg length discrepancy?” The white stripes on my socks hit my ankle at the same location. The difference in the location of the stripes represents my “leg length discrepancy” that is related to the contracture in my torso (see photo above).

Yet, nobody could figure it out because nobody, until Jesse, paid attention to me–all of me–as I moved.

To help fix my issues, Jesse first taught me a series of movement restoration exercises. They’re fast, effective, and I can do them throughout the day.

The focus here is to start with small movements and be less concerned with end range motion (aka stretching as far as you can, even if it hurts a little), and more concerned with the movement in between (aka your non-painful range of motion).

The goal with these and all exercises is to give my nervous system a new (or rather, an old) experience. By explicitly focusing on movements that used to be second nature, you’ll cure those nagging pains and become more resilient

Next, we moved onto crawling. Never take for granted how hard it is to relearn something in your 30s and 40s that you first learned at 6 months of age! Fortunately, I’ve had practice crawling when I couldn’t walk and didn’t feel like using my crutches for short distance.

Nevertheless, when I followed Jesse’s instruction to crawl slowly, the challenge escalated.

The slower, the better. Why? It forces us to control the whole range we’re moving through. It’s a longer and more intense “new experience” for our nervous system.

How am I doing? Much better. I’ve been doing the exercises in both of these videos at the beginning of and throughout each day. I feel less restricted and more fluid in my movement. I’ve had much less hip or back pain, and I’m surprised at how much range I’ve regained in a short time.

Most people mistakenly believe they’ll just work their way back to normal after injury by just, well, acting normal–but the truth is, you can’t perceive what movement you’ve lost, so you’ll never get it back. Why risk returning to 80% and calling it good when you could return to 100%? You need someone to watch you move in order to fix what’s broken and capture all your movement potential.

Don’t be like me and think you’re moving just fine (it took photos for me to believe how much range I’d lost). Have a movement therapist take a look at you (in addition to any physical therapy your doctor suggests).

How do you find a movement therapist? If you’re in Austin work with Jesse. If you’re not in Austin, email me at [email protected], and I’ll work to find someone in your area.

I liken it to building a house. If you return to your sport without restoring healthy movement patterns, it’s like building a house on a foundation of quicksand.

What do we always hear? You need to walk (and crawl!) before you can run.

Stay tuned for part 2 soon.

Where do you experience compensatory pain? What do you think of Jesse’s work? As always, I love hearing what you think.

If you’re struggling with post-injury frustration and patience, email me at [email protected] I’ve been where you are and I can help.

Forward>>>Heidi

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