How To Carry Groceries
This past week, I took myself to the grocery store with lofty intentions. I got a full bounty of goods to last Bucky and me for several days. I couldn’t wait to take them home and get to cooking. There was one problem. My grocery bags were hopelessly heavy and there were no walkers at the Park Slope Coop to help me roll my goods home. So I decided to swing it all on my shoulders and venture the 15-minute walk up 6th Avenue to my apartment. Within 2 blocks, the bags were swinging at my wrists and I was tripping over them, unable to balance against the shifting weight. I dropped the bags and called Bucky who quickly met me. With only 2 heavy bags on my shoulders, the walk was much easier. But by the time we walked up to our second floor apartment, we both were desperate to drop everything.
As soon as I did, pain flooded my lower back, and I felt myself going down
to the ground.
From the kitchen, I crawled to my yoga mat to lay in child pose for a while and figure out what to do next.
The pain was not unfamiliar — I’ve thrown out my back several times in several ways in my adult life. The dull throbbing persisted around my Sacroiliac joint while all the muscles along my right side gradually began to freeze or grip. Any bending or twisting was out of the question. I did my best to keep my spine straight so that I wouldn’t make anything worse!
Once on my yoga mat on hands and knees, I rocked into my hips, swayed side to side, raised a leg behind me. I played around with what movements didn’t hurt at all, which ones hurt somewhat, and which moves would enflame my symptoms. I searched for whatever brought my back relief.
Pain is a powerful tool for understanding what limitations the body needs to impose while it heals.
I rolled tight muscles out on my Yoga Tune Up balls, stretched my calves and outer hips, took deep breaths. I kept gently moving to keep from getting stiff.
The next day, a friend of mine who’s a physical therapist used some hands-on techniques to both relax and stretch the areas in need. By the end of Day 2, I was walking and moving normally. And that’s that. No drama. No more pain to speak of.
This whole experience got me thinking about those first 24 hours after we incur injury. They are the most crucial hours for healing and supporting an injured site. So often, that time is used in ineffective resting states that stiffen the body and suppress circulation. Good circulation reduces inflammation and draws out toxins that hinder the healing process. The longer we wait to do this work, the more embedded the injury into our movement experiences. The more embedded the injury, the more hindered our movement becomes, which has a snowball effect on overall versatility.
I understand the argument for putting your feet up when you’re in acute pain! It seems like the only thing to do is lay down on the couch and zone out with some Aspirin while waiting for the pain to subside. And sometimes that’s exactly what the body needs.
There is no Right & Wrong scenario, only the ability or inability to listen to what the body needs in a given “moving moment”.
Depending on HOW you injure yourself, certain actions within the first 24 hours can dramatically lesson the pain and limitation you feel from it. For our purposes, I’m discussing soft tissue injuries commonly referred to as sprains or strains. Sprains result when ligament (connective tissue that connects bones at our joints) is pulled beyond its natural limit. Strains result when tendon (connective tissue that connects muscle to bone) is pulled beyond its natural limit. In both cases, the connective tissue becomes pulled or torn from its insertion points which can lead to pain, instability issues, and long-term dysfunction if ignored.
In order to help you recover faster from any soft tissue issues, I've put together the following summary for dealing with acute pain. These are tips you can use to determine WHAT your body is asking for and HOW you can dramatically reduce your injury's effects within 24-48 hours.
8 Strategies for Injury Recovery
1. Get Down
Get low, preferably to the floor. Have someone help you get comfortable with props under the injured part. Avoid any sudden movements. Take a few deep breaths to bring you into a more relaxed state.
2. Let Your Pain Speak
If the pain is shooting, stabbing, piercing, sharp, unrelenting with every move, then it’s telling you to stop everything and rest for a while until those spasms calm down. It’s possible the muscles are in shock and only can handle a safe, warm place to recover, so stay right where you are.
If and when your pain becomes dulled, pulsating, aching, gripping, and sharp only with certain movements, then it’s safe to get in a comfortable position and explore your movement range.
3. Let Pain be your guide
Pain is a powerful tool for understanding what limitations the body needs to impose while it heals. Rather than pushing your pain away with anti-inflammatory drugs, meet it with your steady breath. By working with it, you’ll learn which ranges of motion feel the best and which ones you’ll want to avoid. The trick is not to exacerbate the pain but to use it find what feels GOOD!
When exploring your movement, move toward slightly dulled pain and away from any sharp pains. That said, this process requires a lot of guesswork. Move slowly and with curiosity. If the pain gets worse, stop. Work less. Soften your body as you move.
4. Practice with Planes
When assessing your ROM (range of motion), it’s easiest to move along the 3 spatial plans: Sagittal (front to back), Horizontal (right to left), & Vertical (up & down). They are excellent for testing which directions are the weakest and which are the strongest. To support the healing process, try exploring as much range as possible gently and without force.
For example, if my wrist has become incredibly sore and unable to bare weight, I can flex and extend my wrist up & down (vertical), side to side (horizontal). With my other hand, I can gently lengthen and retract my hand against my wrist joint to create more or less space (sagittal). I can check in with which of these directions feels the best and only gently move into the sore places. Doing this several times over those first 24-48 hours will keep the injury warm and the muscles loose.
With any musculoskeletal injury, the surrounding muscles rush in to protect it, building up a defense of dense, tight tissue that buries the injured part underneath. While it means well, this muscle tissue can create more mess over time, especially if it isn’t taught to let go as the injury becomes less acute. If it doesn’t, then the injured part will never be integrated back into your everyday movement.
Use a ball, the corner of a wall or even your hands to get in and around the injury. Lightly press against the dense muscle and spread, roll, twist, & jiggle it several times or until your body tells you to stop. While you’re releasing those sore muscles, throw some Tiger Balm, Arnica or other topical balm to soothe the achiness.
NOTE: Muscle releasing must be done carefully. DO NOT PRESS TOO HARD OR TOO DEEP. I know it’s tempting to wanna really get in there. But remember, those muscles are still protecting the injury. It should be a slow process of release over time, to support the injured part as long as needed. A little jiggle a day keeps the osteopath away!
6. Ice versus Heat
If your acute injury comes with swelling, you might consider the benefits of ice and heat to reduce inflammation. While ice is widely considered the best way to reduce inflammation in allopathic medicine, both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine strongly advise again it. In these traditions, it is believed that ice restricts the natural inflammation process the body engineers to protect and repair the injured tissue. It also pulls healing blood flow away from the site while sending the toxins found in lymph flow toward the site.
Heat is believed to bring more blood flow, opening up the blood vessels to allow for more nutrient-rich blood to the area and to pull toxins and waste away from it. Check out the arguments for both ice & heat and decide for yourself.
Move, Jiggle, Rest. Repeat.
While movement is paramount to encouraging healing, so is rest. In fact, any strain or sprain is a common body signal that you're moving too fast. Injuries are our chance to rest and restore when our minds keep us pushing beyond our limits.
Once you’ve finished working with your injury, it's time to let it be. Take a few minutes to lie back in a comfortable position and do a body scan.
If you're not sure what a body scan is, check out my simple version below! You can practice this before you fall asleep at night, when you need a moment in the middle of the day to re-center, or when healing from injury.
Exploring your own movement is a great way to promote healing. But we can't do it all on our own. Ask a skilled friend or a professional bodyworker, physical therapist, or movement coach who you trust to meet you for restorative bodywork. While it seems counterintuitive to see a practitioner at the height of your pain, it's actually the best time to steer your injury's outcome.
I'll reiterate that this should be done by someone you trust who appreciates the highly vulnerable position you're in. This is a particular kind of treatment that I feel called to do, myself. My hands-on bodywork calls up the subtle healing energy of the body. My hands are there only to listen and respond as the body requests.
It's great to heal an injury quickly, but what about preventing future run-ins? Here are a couple ideas to get you started!
1. Assess the Damage
After any injury, quickly determine what is causing you pain. If you’re dealing with broken bones or organ malfunction, see a doctor right away.
If you’ve discovered it’s some kind of strain or sprain, note whether it was caused by a sudden movement or a recurring pattern that weakened this area of your body over time. This demystifies the scenario and potentially keeps from you from further damaging the injured tissue.
2. Follow the Familiar
What do you recognize about this pain/injury? Have you done something like this in similar situations with similar movement? Are you holding your body in a way that reminds you of similar limitations?
Knowing whether this is a common occurrence can help you get to the root causes of the pain. Are you aware of yanking on your left shoulder every time you go up the stairs? Do you tend to sink into your right side when carrying heavy things? Noticing your patterns will help prevent similar movements (and injuries) in the future.
Now, I wanna hear from you. Do you find that you're prone to a certain type of injury? What techniques do you employ when an injury arises? Jot your comments down below this post.
Wishing you all a move-mentous month ahead!
In a comfortable, reclined position, sense your weight falling with gravity. Start at your feet. Imagine your feet getting heavier each time you breathe.
Move up to your shins & calves.
Thighs & pelvis.
Rib cage, shoulders, & arms.
Neck & head.
Breathe in and out once more, letting all of your weight melt into the floor.
Slowly come back to the world around you.
Speak out loud one thing about your body that you are grateful for.