The road to fitness is a bumpy one, filled with potholes, bad directions, crappy weather, and wrong turns. And sometimes, illness and injuries.
A fitness blog isn’t much help if all we talk about is workouts, recipes, rainbows, and unicorns. Sometimes the shit hits the fan. When that happens — WHEN, not if — and we need a good doctor to help us out, how can we find the right one?
This is really important because many competent, otherwise great doctors still don’t “get” the fitness lifestyle. So today I want to talk about problem solving as a fit life essential – specifically, how to nurture our ability to navigate health-related roadblocks.
The story of how I found my awesome chiropractor might be useful.
Several years ago, my right shoulder started hurting during workouts. At first, it was just a little achy, not in a good way, but as in hmmm, that doesn’t feel right. One day, after an especially intense workout, the pain went from nagging to serious. I had a sinking feeling about it and went to my doctor for help.
My doctor told me I had hurt my rotator cuff and needed to take a break from exercising. The good news is that you didn’t tear anything, so you’re not a candidate for surgery, he said. Stop weight lifting for at least six weeks and see how it goes.
That’s it? Well, we can order some physical therapy if you want. Ok, you can work out your lower body – but no upper body anything.
It felt cut and dried. No insight, and no plan other than rest and hope.
Instinctively, I didn’t feel I was on the right path. I knew not to exercise through pain, but also felt very strongly that there was more to it than just rest. I had so many questions:
What exactly did I injure? The “rotator cuff” is four muscles.
Why did it happen?
If it heals and I don’t do anything differently, will it happen again?
Is it really true that there’s no treatment available?
The questions were really important to me because my workouts are the #1 way I manage stress. I could do lower body stuff for a while, but knew I had to find a way to keep everything moving to feel good.
I don’t want to present this like an episode of CSI, where the crime is solved in about 20 minutes of air time. It’s not like I did a simple google search and found exactly the doctor I needed right then and there.
No, I followed my doctor’s advice of rest and a round of physical therapy. The shoulder improved, but continued to nag me.
I knew I needed more help, but where to go? I asked around. I did tons of google searches. I got creative and thought about professionals beyond MDs who might be able to help. Maybe a physical therapist who worked with athletes? A chiropractor?
I thought a lot about professional athletes who get injured. I suspected that they don’t “just rest,” but almost certainly get expert insight and a concrete action plan. Their livelihoods depend on it.
Could I find a doctor who worked with professional athletes? It seemed like a stretch.
Did I want to go to a chiropractor? I didn’t have the greatest impression of chiropractors – not that I knew why. But I had lingering pain and was open to trying anything.
By asking around, I got the name of a chiropractor who was highly recommended – Dr. Josh Akin. I looked him up and saw that his practice was called Chicago Chiropractic and Sports Medicine. He works with both the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cubs. He also played football in college.
Sports Medicine! Yes! That felt right. If he could help professional athletes, surely he could help a mom who likes to lift weights.
What happened next was the most interesting medical experience I can remember, short of the day Stella was born.
After the usual chit-chat, he had me move my shoulder in different ways.
Does that hurt? Any pain there? Yep.
Torture ensued. Technically, it’s called Active Release Technique®, or ART. It’s a method of manipulating soft tissue – think muscles, tendons, fascia, etc. – for the purpose of breaking down scar tissue and other damage. It hurts like hell. I’m pretty tough, pain-wise, and I was squirming.
After a few minutes of that, he had me stand up and go through the various movements again. Any pain?
Whoa. The pain was noticeably better. Not gone, but much, much better. I was amazed.
No, really. That word – amazed – gets misused all the time. I was really, truly, honestly amazed.
Over the months that followed, Dr. Akin helped me not just with my symptoms (i.e., pain), but also the underlying cause.
I don’t want to get too technical here, because this is already too long. Suffice it to say that decades of sitting hunched over computers led to me moving poorly.
*Sits up straighter*
- I had poor MOBILITY – meaning I was stiff and bound up in all the wrong places due to tissue damage and other issues.
- I had poor STABILITY – meaning various muscles I needed to maintain a good posture and good form were too weak and not doing their job.
Poor mobility + poor stability + intense exercise = recipe for injury.
TOOLS FOR PROBLEM SOLVING SUCCESS
Through ART therapy, corrective exercises, education, and time, Dr. Akin helped me heal the shoulder injury and keep it healthy. As much as I love all of that, the point of this story is problem solving.
On that topic, there are two fit life tools we can turn to again and again, for all kinds of roadblocks:
- Curiosity – why, why, why did something happen? We’re always better understanding the root cause if we can.
- Critical thinking – to think critically, we break a problem down, examine it from various angles, and decide on an action plan. I think of it as having a few key elements – how we feel; what we “know” as true/not true (i.e., facts); how we evaluate all of that; and the plan or plans we develop as a result.
I didn’t intend this, but these four elements align with an assessment tool that health professionals use to document information in medical charts. It’s called SOAP, which represents four aspects of problem solving:
I wrote “SOAP Notes” many years ago as a dietitian, and now find the acronym helpful for organizing my own critical thinking.
Importantly, the point is NOT to start practicing medicine on ourselves via Dr. Google. With a medical issue we cannot solve problems alone. Qualified, trustworthy experts are essential.
The goal is to be active participants in our own care. Tools like SOAP can help us organize our thinking, evaluate information and advice, and ultimately keep searching until we reach a good place – one where all the key elements of a problem are being considered and addressed.
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