Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Silly little exercises

This is going to sound idiotic, but I didn't really expect physical therapy to be such a ... well ... physical endeavor. You go to the doctor, they prod you with some cold metal objects, and then you go home, right? I didn't really expect to go to the doctor, do six repetitions of wall sits and wince my way through about three squats.

Actually, I can’t even call them squats. They weren't squats; they were girly little knee bends that my PT asked me to do in front of a mirror. After squat three, I caught a glimpse of the confusion on my face as my right knee buckled under my body weight. That’s right. Buckled. Practically crashed into my left knee. My PT stopped me right there. I think she was just trying to prove to me what I already knew ... I am one weak puppy right now.

I guess it makes sense. For four weeks, I limped to the point of nonuse. For much of that time, I might as well have had a cast on my right leg. Even when I started using it, there was a lot of favoring going on. I think my physical therapist believes my original injury is well on its way to being mended, and I agree with her. The time for recliner chairs and potato chips has passed. Now my routine is all about strength building.

She gave me this long latex band that I'm supposed wrap around my feet and then use it for resistance as I sidestep down the hall. As I was trying it out at the office, I caught another glimpse of my reflection - framed by that malodorous neon green piece of rubber - and the thought crossed my mind that this may be the most asinine thing I have ever attempted. Downright silly. What’s the point of it all?

It’s a good question, really. I never pictured myself as the personality type that would go sniveling into physical therapy at age 27 with a minor injury. No, my strong pioneer Homer family ethic teaches me that if you can walk, and you can work, then you’re fine. So you can’t bike? Then you don’t bike. Quit your whining and go back to pick’n cucumbers. (I know, Dad, I wasn't the one that had to pick cucumbers. But it’s a good family allegory nonetheless)

So why do this work? I generally carry enough optimism to believe that time will bring most things around on their own, if I let them be. And I’m not exactly loving the two hours at the gym on a sunny, warm day. Or the silly little exercises with their unnatural positions and dead weights. I don't have to spend my day this way - I'm certainly fine otherwise. And yet, as long as I'm not riding, I greedily welcome this torture lite.

Interesting how things that are so obviously optional can start to move beyond that. There was once I time when I didn't ride bicycles, and time marched forward, and I was happy. Then I introduced cycling into my routine, coddled it, built it, wove it through the rest of my life. Now I can't let it go. Cycling has, in some ways, ingrained itself into who I am. I may be as simple as that. And so I fight.


  1. Wow! This post basically says everything I want to say about my own current knee experience. Who'd have thought that ten minutes on a recumbent could be so painful that I'd start sweating bullets. Or that step-ups on a six-inch step would be grueling when once I was doing 36-inch steps with weights. It is important that you do the asinine exercises. I'm learning that myself. We can be therapy buddies and whine together!

  2. Hi Jill,

    I've just completed 8 weeks of physical therapy for my upper back pain. The pain is the result of scoliosis undiagnosed since childhood. Yes, the exercises seem silly, but just as the weakest link determines the strength of the chain, so the smallest muscles, the ones usually targeted in such therapy, determine your strength. You will be amazed at how quickly you respond. Don't knock the wall slides, I do them too!


  3. Those PTs always seem a little sadistic, don't they? I think they take a class in that. Not to worry, though, they are usually very good and willing sources of information and advice. Be very glad that you're not there following extensive knee surgery because that is usually nothing less than medieval torture.

  4. Girl, you have a lot of company out here! Collarbones, knees, hips...whatever it is, we (cyclists) push through a lot to keep doing what we love, and being who we are.

    Passion ain't cheap - it's priceless.

  5. I broke my arm in a road bike accident and had to have surgery to get it straight.

    After my first day of physio I got on my bike. I had missed it so very much you see. Stoking the tandem my finace and I had borrowed wasn't the same thing at all.

    I shouldn't have been anywere near a bike, I wasn't completely healed and was still on pain killers. I managed to rear end a car that slowed in an intersection. Not badly mind you, just a bump, but it was a real wake up call.

    The siren song of the bike, it can make the stupidist ideas seem clever. But it can also makes us do smart things that seem stupid, your elastic band sidestep for instance.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

  6. Glad to see you recovering, Jill! I truly think that PTs take sick pride in pointing out our weakened states. The day after my knee surgery the PT had me lift a 0.5lbs weight and chuckled as she asked if I'd like the puke bucket now or later. She also offered a mirror so that I could see how pale I turned.

    However, I have to admit that the PT really did help get me back up and moving in a hurry. I was almost sad on the last day when I walked out. Then again I might have just been sad that I had to leave the polar care unit behind.

    Stick to those exercises and you'll be out on the bike in no time.

  7. Yes, Jill, I am there: last night, in agony, I bolted out of a spinning class after realizing that I won't develop endurance by riding in endurance class if I further damage my knees end up off the bike and off running an additional six weeks.
    But I have to add that I have been reading your blogs since two weeks before Susitna, and I have been inspired by your writing, your tales of courage and woe, your inspiration by and delight in the epic cold and stillness of winter in Alaska. Your writing tugs at my heart; I march on.


Feedback is always appreciated!