“Honey, you have the hip of an eighty-year-old woman!” Not a phrase you want to hear (unless you’re an eighty-year-old woman). I, however, am a working, active, 28-year-old, with a lot of hiking, biking, and rock climbing to do in my new residence of Annapolis, Maryland. In March, I found myself accompanying my new husband to Annapolis, cheering him on in his dream of becoming a functional manual therapist through the Institute of Physical Art (IPA).
As a resident of the IPA, my husband takes 7-8 IPA courses a year and I - a perfect candidate for lower back issues - found myself serving as the class “guinea pig” during his most recent course this past September. Why does a perfectly healthy 28-year-old, have such intense back issues? Some would contribute a small percentage of the problem to genes (thanks, mom and dad) but I attribute it to taking up dance in college. I was a musical theatre major, which required some type of dance practice every day. I grew up doing hip hop and participated in drill team in high school but for anyone who knows about technical dancing (i.e. ballet, jazz, modern, etc…) you know it requires an enormous amount of core strength; something I had not developed well.
To make a long story short, I injured my lower back in a modern dance class during my junior year in college. I will never forget the day I had to walk across campus, backpack in tow and my torso parallel with the ground, just to get to my car. The summer following, I was in a fender-bender that only exacerbated the issue. (Side note: I’m now a practicing RN because the dance/theatre career wasn’t going to hold up in the long run. This tidbit will be relevant later). That was the summer of 2006 when an MRI diagnosed me with a “bulging disk.” Fast-forwarding 7 years later, I’ve learned to manage my pain and flare-ups. Methods to my madness include: muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, short stints with physical therapy, yoga, stretching. Nothing seemed to really get to the root of the problem. That is, until I “married into” IPA.
My husband so kindly volunteered me as a test-dummy for the IPA’s Functional Mobilization of the Lower Quadrant course when the instructor asked if anyone had relatives or friends with chronic low back issues. Two days later, I went to the course to try out some IPA. Cheryl, the instructor, took a brief history of when and how my back pain started and then she quickly went to work. Working in the medical field and growing up in a medical family, I have been around many health professionals and I have to say that up until I met Cheryl, I had never encountered someone who understood the human body as fully and completely as she did. In the next 83 minutes, she would mobilize my coccyx, palpate my vertebrae through my abdomen, and drastically improve my posture.
Turns out I have a “super-flexed coccyx!” Who knew? Cheryl explained that the spinal cord and nervous system anchors to the coccyx and any deviation in that area can cause stress or pain in other parts of the nervous system. This is what I am learning and loving about IPA. There is always a source that needs to be addressed rather than the symptom itself. Electrical stimulation and traction may have felt great in the past but it didn’t treat the root of the problem. I can re-teach myself to bend at the knee instead of the waist to avoid my back going out, but again it doesn’t fix the problem. I can pop a muscle relaxer when I feel that all-too-familiar twinge in my back but that’s just another band-aid in my pain management box. I really needed tools like learning how to engage those core muscles that my body didn’t even realize were there.
The coolest thing about IPA is that it doesn’t treat just one “problem area.” Cheryl took me through a series of mobilizations, positioning my leg or hip to find out what was causing the tension. For example, she found a lot of tension in my right hip. She explained that this tension inhibits my body from accepting weight when I am walking. The weight then gets transferred to my lower back and after awhile, it flares up from the stress. She also treated my coccyx by putting pressure on one side and having me rock my legs back and forth with my knees bent. Lastly, she had me sit on the side of the table since sitting is one of the hardest things on my low back. She treated me for about 5 minutes from this sitting position to assess and address a position that is very symptomatic. As did her manual therapy, I was often doing a functional movement as well. I loved having a part in my own treatment. It made me more engaged in the experience and more aware of how my body was responding to the treatment.
The full treatment lasted about 80 minutes and I could tell a difference immediately. I had a drastic improvement in rotation of my neck from side to side. The class confirmed what I could feel; my swayback was no longer apparent, my chest sat comfortably over my pelvis, and my head tipped forward as it should have all along. I felt great but I was still skeptical that I would continue to feel great. Well, it’s one month later and I’m still going strong. I’ve been able to do cardio workouts for the past 3 days without problems, which I haven’t done in a long time. I’m able to sit on our couch for longer than an hour without feeling weakness in my back. And Brad has only treated me once over this past weekend (per Cheryl’s advice) to maintain what she had worked on.
I always say “The Lord blessed me when he allowed me to marry a physical therapist!” I am so excited to tell people about the benefits of this type of therapy.