Is it Physical Therapy or Torture?

Lying on a sleeping mat, tucked inside my Big Agnes sleeping bag, just after turning off our headlamps as we are lying down for the night, in our tent on Vancouver Island, at Telegraph Cove, BC.

This unimaginable sharp pain shot like a lightning bolt from my lower lumbar all the way down my right leg and rebounding in my toes. The pain literally had me in tears. I had never experienced pain like this.

My wife was ready to cancel our 2-week, Island trip, as the pain would subside during the day and explode during the night, while I was trying to sleep. And every time the PAIN would enter into our sleeping quarters, it would literally wake us both up, whether it be from the screaming into the pillow or the sudden jerking movement as I stood up onto my knees, trembling in pain.

Upon our return, I went straight to the Family Doctor’s office. He listened. Then scratched on his prescription notepad, for me to see a physical therapist. As soon as I departed his office, I phoned the physical therapist across the street, to set up the consultation appointment. As I had a recommendation that Parkland Rehabilitation was an exceptional place to go.

Upon meeting my new Physical Therapist a few weeks later, I was both paranoid and unsure what this experience would lead to. I knew I needed the assistance in learning how-to combat the pain. And I knew, from hearing about others experiences at the Physical Therapist, that its not a walk in the park.

During the consultation, I met, Emily. A woman about the same size as my wife, 5′ 7″ and 135-lbs. I spoke frankly about the pain, when it occurred, my history with motorcycle accidents, skiing and bad habits over the years which probably lead to this lower back issue. I spoke about the MRI which the family doctor had me complete earlier in the year. She had me consent, to release the MRI results to her. And she gave me a couple of easy exercises to perform while I waited for my return trip to see her.

A week later, I stepped back into the physical therapist office. The first thing they did was lay out a very hot blanket to warmup my lumbar area. After 10-minutes of resting on this hot surface, it was removed and Emily appeared. She had me roll onto my stomach and this is when the “therapy” or “torture” began. She leaned into her hands, as her fingers pressure pointed into the left side of my L4 vertebrae. My entire body exerted a reaction, jumping off the table. “Is that too much?” she asked releasing some pressure on my spine. “yes, that is a bit much,” I replied. She moved along the left side of my spine, hitting the pressure points. Then rotated around to the right side and hit repeat with a reaction 10-times that of the left side. This time, it took everything I had not to punch the therapist in the leg.

After her initial pressure point “massage” work, she had me place a softball on the pressure points that she had been working on and roll around on the ball for five minutes. Next up, I was shown a handful of simple exercises to assist with rehabilitating the space between the L4 and L5. Finishing up the 9-sets of exercises, I was asked to lay back on the table, where three electrode pads were stuck around my spine. Each pad shot an electric current across the spine vibrating, relaxing and messaging the areas which were worked on. Fifteen minutes later, these pads were removed and I was asked to schedule my next two appointments with Emily.

At the front desk, I contemplated walking out of the rehab centre, as the pain experienced inside by the therapist was almost as terrible as the pain experienced on the island . It was truly an experience in understanding my pain tolerance and personal thresholds, as I wondered, “is this really going to work?” and “am I going to benefit from this?” 

Reluctantly, I forced myself to schedule the next two appointments, and I have returned twice. The toughest part about physical therapy is not the sessions themselves, as I am learning more about how my body acts, reacts and defends itself. What is surprising is how the body responds in the days following these sessions. The new bruises, the new pain, the additional sleep required for recovering, and ensuring that I keep up with the daily exercises. Today, I am still not convinced that this should be classified as “therapy” as it still feels like “torture.


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