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About four weeks ago, I sustained an injury to my upper trapezius. It's interfered with pretty much everything and now that I'm finally on the mend, I thought I'd take the time to reflect on what I've learned.
Man, was I on a hot streak. I'd started lifting weights more seriously in October, starting eating more carbs in December, which accelerated my progress so that by January, I was in the best shape of my life. I started following a training program, and I was so psyched to see that my training was paying off in my yoga practice. All of the sudden, the elusive handstands were not only coming, they were coming and hanging out, staying a while, allowing my legs to dance around upside down.
I'm not going to lie to you. I was on a high. To be able to do things you've only dreamed about? What's better than that?! I felt strong and stable and unstoppable.
And then one day, I was practicing my pull ups. I had six in a row. SIX.
Guys. A few months ago, I had one and a half. Now I had six. Unstoppable.
So there I am practicing my pull-ups and after my final one, I swing back and use my legs to propel myself forward as I jump off the monkey bar thing onto the ground.
I think I was maybe ten the last time I jumped off the monkey bars, and, well, let's just say that I'm no longer ten years old.
The second I whipped forward with my legs and let go of the bar, I felt something in my neck and top of my shoulder snap and I walked it off, thinking it was no big deal.
But it was.
When I got home and my body cooled down, I became aware of the fact that I was in excruciating pain. A zing, an electric current, a throbbing pain stemmed from the place between my shoulder blades and traveled, unforgivingly, up through my neck into the side of my head. I may or may not have googled the symptoms of slow brain bleeds. I'd had a headache before, sure, but this? This was beyond painful. This was white knuckle, jump out of your skin pain.
The first night I didn't sleep. Not one wink. I iced it. I cried. I massaged it. I iced again. I paced around the house at 3am in tears hoping, praying it would go away. I took aleve, something I haven't done in years because the last time I did, I took too much and wound up hospitalized with holes in the stomach. No relief. None.
In addition to the pain through my neck, head and shoulder, that side of my jaw was on fire. Tender to touch. Pulsating pain.
I was delirious the next day. I thought maybe I should stretch out the shoulder. So I practiced yoga for about ten minutes. Big mistake.
No longer unstoppable.
Instead, the pain increased. It became an indescribable type pain I've never felt before. Excruciating, writhing on the floor pain. The kind of pain where you briefly wonder if this is how it all ends. The kind of pain where you can't see straight, you can't think - it hurts so badly.
I didn't sleep that night. Or the next. Finally, I called my mom and asked her if she could drive (an hour) to my apartment to take me (15 minutes away) to a local chiropractor who does TMJ adjustments and deals in sports injuries.
My mom did what moms do - dropped everything and came to help me.
After x-rays and tests and eight chiropractor appointments it was determined that I had a pulled upper trapezius. The upper trap attaches at the tip of the shoulder and runs all the way up through the side of your head and since everything is somewhat connected, it makes sense that I was having headaches, shoulder pain and jaw pain. They told me it'd be about six weeks until I was better.
To date, it's been about four weeks. And I'm a lot better. On a pain scale of 1 - 10, where 1 is annoying minor pain and 10 is I-might-be-dying pain, I am grateful to say I'm at a 1.
They say that nothing goes away until it teaches you what you need to know. So now that I'm on the mend, I've been thinking hard about what the lessons are here. There's always a lesson, right? **scratches head in deep thought** I mean, if not, what's the point, right?
At each chiro appointment, I used the time to pick the chiro's brain. When he saw that I was deeply interested in my x-rays, why muscles hurt, and the spine-gut-brain connection, he jumped right into the role of educator. He pointed out that I have about an 8 - 10 degree forward lean in my neck area.
"While you may have injured yourself jumping off the bars," he said, "this was something that was a long time coming. If you sit at your desk all day for work and you're leaning over with your head slightly forward, you have to be careful. The head weighs about 12 pounds and if you're leaning forward, you're taxing your trapezius and all the muscles between your shoulder blades. You'll need to re-learn how to have better posture. You'll need to learn to roll your shoulders back and stand up tall."
I gulped because this is something I struggled with for ages. I remember writing about how my trainer essentially fixed my snatch lift by spotting that my shoulders roll down when I start to lift. That was back in October. I'd always been mindful about starting the lift with my shoulders rolled back now, but how many other things did I do with poor posture?
I remember my trainer pointing out my posture a few times. In fact, once, after I'd completed one portion of the workout, I was sitting on the box jump trying to catch my breath and he said to me, "Even when you're resting, sit tall. You don't have to sit completely straight, but just get in the habit of having better posture."
Back in chiropractor's office, I try to sit a bit taller and bring my head slightly back so it's neutral and over my spine. "It's just a matter of re-training your body," he says.
In addition to re-learning better alignment in my day to day life, I've started to look at the trap injury as the opportunity to focus on other things. Like the importance of self care, something I've struggled with intermittently throughout my whole life but especially within the last year.
When I go to the gym now as I heal, I spend less time working out and more time stretching. I use the upper body injury as a chance to focus on a part of my body I often ignore - like my hips. Over the past few weeks I've been focusing on opening my hips. I do firelog pose. I do low lunge, high lunge, pigeon. I practice splits, frog pose, cobbler's pose. I slow down as I do this. Moving, breathing, feeling every little area of tightness.
Yoga has taught me that everything is connected. I don't have it all figured out, but in a way I'm thankful for this injury, for being forced to slow down and be reminded of the importance of finding a balance in life.
I'd love to know: Have you ever had an injury that interfered with your day to day life? What was your attitude about it? What do you think the lesson was?