Restarting At Zero

A while back, I strained my shoulder while lifting weights. I lifted too much too quickly, and I didn’t give my long-term injury enough time to heal, or enough build-up to what I was trying to do.

I’m not in serious trouble with the law offices of Left Shoulder and Buttkick; I can still lift my arm above my head just fine, I can still wear my bras, and it doesn’t hurt when I shrug. But I can feel soreness again, an all-too-familiar pain, when I have carried something that was too heavy.

So it’s time to start building up my strength again and stretching those ligaments and muscles. This is my “Super excited to be shackled to this routine again” face. But like I said, this isn’t me trying to talk my arm into moving normally again; now, I’m just building up strength and stamina. And it’s been far too long since I stuck to an exercise routine.

Last fall, while I was doing at-home physical therapy workouts 2-3 times a week, I was also pretty good about throwing in walks, pilates, and other kinds of workouts on the other days, giving myself one or two rest days a week. This routine gave me stamina and strength, but it wasn’t really budging the scale, mostly because my diet was still crappy.

There’s nothing more boring, though, when you’re not aching for physical relief, than holding a stretch for several seconds. I had 7 exercises of stretches to do, each 5 sets of 15-20 second holds, and as I lay on the floor this evening with my elbow perpendicular to my body, pushing my forearm arm down parallel to my body, and holding that gentle push for 20 seconds, I thought, “Oh, my god. I am never going to get through these.” There aren’t that many? Yeah, I know! But doing them twice per day? You mean, I have to exert myself? The horror.

Doing the wall push-ups isn’t so bad, as there’s a lot of coordination involved in keeping me upright enough, pushing off, breathing out when I push, all that crap. There isn’t time for my mind to wander, and my sets are counted with completed push-ups, not arbitrary seconds that I can shave or bloat based on how quickly I count. Not so when I’m sitting in a chair trying to read my screen as I pull my head slightly forward, wondering how long I can take sitting there before my pose is over and I can finally scroll down the screen.

Cartoon of a woman struggling to get through timed physical therapy stretches.

Resolute stretching: “I am going to get through this, damn it. Why do we never vacuum this stupid rug! The dog is licking my knee!!! …Oh, hey, set’s over.”

I’m a quiet, patient person, and I can contentedly sit in silence letting my mind wander if there’s the leisure to do so. I’m the only person I know who can go on long road trips with nothing but occasional radio to keep her company; letting my brain chew on threads of thoughts and digest others without the interruption of distraction is something I rather enjoy. When I have uninterrupted periods of idleness, I can adapt much more easily to doing nothing than if my concentration lasts only 20 seconds before I have to move. These exercises I’m doing are small oases that I don’t have time to appreciate, little meditations on the value of taking recovery slow, but I occupy my space, get into my position, and count down the seconds, anticipating the change and wanting to be done already.

I should be more grateful that I have the tools to repair myself, that my body is adaptable enough, and that I’ve had medical advice to get me back to where I want to be, and all I have to do is exert myself just a little, no matter how boring.

It’s going to be worth an hour’s worth of staring at the carpet to not have to worry that the longer I ignore the twinge in my arm from sleeping on the affected shoulder, the more likely it is that my injury is going to slowly creep back into my life and make it incrementally harder to move that joint and more painful to do everyday activities. I have to take it slow. I have to make myself take it slow, and make myself take the slow route of careful, measured steps toward increased strength. There’s no fix besides effort, so like it or not, I have to suck it up and get it done.

I’ll probably give this recovery, if I can sustain the necessary energy to continue with my stretches and some exercises, till the end of the summer, then go to my doctor and get a recommendation as to whether I can start lifting weights again. I might even consult my old physical therapist to seek his advice.

My life has been drastically improved by seeking help for my injuries and sticking with a recovery program of physical therapy and rest. I will honor the time, money, and energy I’ve spent so far on making myself better by continuing to take care of this body as best as I can.


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