We moved to a different part of town recently and I’ve been discovering new places to walk my dog. Since the trails and terrain are unfamiliar, I’ve been a little more aware of my own gait and posture and it’s reminded me of how I used to walk.
My first symptom of what would evolve into years of chronic, widespread pain was pelvic pain. I had a pelvic infection and surgery, followed by pelvic inflammatory disease, which was followed by a diagnosis of the unrelated bladder disease, Interstitial Cystitis. This was followed by yet another painful condition, fibroid tumors, which resulted in a hysterectomy.
I hurt deep in my core and over time the pain leaked out of my center and spread up my spine and onto my limbs until I hurt all over and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Once I got through the long search for diagnoses and related surgeries, my physicians and I began to look for ways to improve my health. One tactic was physical therapy, more specifically gait training.
In our first meeting, the therapist explained to me that years of pelvic pain had reshaped my posture into a “C.” My shoulders were hunched forward, my neck thrust out. My hips were tucked under, my spine bowed. All of this, he said, was my instinctive attempt to protect my center, to curl my body inward around the area of distress and hurt.
Then he asked me to walk across the room. He noted that maintaining this stooped posture had caused my stride to become very short, and showed me that the muscles from my knees to my hips had actually shortened and would need therapy to be stretched back out so I could have a normal stride.
He also showed me how thrusting my head forward and down had affected my spine, increasing pain in my neck, lower back and sacrum. He helped me to see that my intuitive attempt to protect my body with this sheltering posture was actually exacerbating my symptoms.
I embarked upon the long and difficult task of learning to walk, stand and carry myself differently, to set my head squarely on my shoulders, to lengthen my stride, to straighten my back. Over time, it helped me get better.
Fast forward to today, as I am walking my dog on new terrain. I glance at my shadow on the ground, and note with pleasure what I see. It is the silhouette of a woman with a long stride, and a proud posture. This woman moves more like the ballerina I was as a girl than the slumped over, defeated woman that first went to see that physical therapist.
Sometimes the change comes so slowly, as this one did, we may not give credit to what and who has helped us until something triggers the memory and brings a reminder of how life used to be.
So now, I will stop writing and see if I can find the name and address of that therapist, so I can offer him a belated, but deeply felt, thank you.
Joy Selak lives in Austin, TX. She has been diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis, Fibromyalgia, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease and Trigeminal Neuralgia.
Her book, You Don’t LOOK Sick! Living Well with Invisible Chronic Illness, takes readers through the four phases of chronic illness experience — Getting Sick, Being Sick, Grief and Acceptance, and Living Well. Joy has two websites, Joy Writes and Chronic Invisible Illness. Her blog is Living Well with Dr. Joy. She also has a Facebook page.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.