“I want to run a half marathon again.”
That’s what my new client, Justin*, wrote down as one of his physical therapy goals.
Justin was seeking a pelvic physical therapist who worked with men as well as with medically-complicated patients. He was referred to me by a friend of his.
2 years ago, Justin was diagnosed with a Stage 3 cancer. He underwent chemo, radiation, and then very extensive abdominal and pelvic reconstructive surgery.
He was given clearance by his surgeon to “resume normal activities”, with no referral to physical therapy for rehabilitation. (More about THAT in another update!) “You’ll be fine,” they said.
He knew that he was NOT fine. He knew that there was a solution and he sought it out on his own. After his first PT visit, we both knew that there was a lot of work to do! But there was now hope that he could get back to doing the thing he loved—running. That was about 6 months ago.
This past weekend, he ran his first 10K since his cancer diagnosis!
I went to support him and cheer him on. This race was held underground, in a cave. Yep, a cave. As a spectator, I was in for quite an adventure, and I was about to encounter Story #2:
Not being a runner, I am pretty naïve about how these races work. I had to park a LONG way from the race site, and I was hurrying to find the cave entrance. I saw a guy dressed in runner’s gear, so I said to him, “You look like you know where you’re going; mind if I follow you?” He laughed and said, “Sure, but I don’t know where I’m going either.” He introduced himself, his name was Tim. We walked together to find the entrance. On the way there, he looked down, stopped and said, “Well, would you look at that!” He picked up a blue silicone bracelet that was lying on the ground in front of him. “This is my son’s bracelet,” he remarked.
What he said next blew me away: “My son died 3 years ago, from suicide. This bracelet is from our support group and is in memory of him.” Tom said that he competes in these races to honor his son’s memory. “This is a sign” he said, “I KNOW I was supposed to be here! Laura, I want you to have this bracelet.” WOW. I was honored to take it, and I put it on my wrist.
We went our separate ways. I found the race, and got to watch Justin compete and cross the finish line! “I’m one step closer to my goal”, he said. As we were walking toward the exit, amidst hundreds of people, guess who I saw—Tim!
Do you believe in “Divine moments”? I do. I think this was one of them.
I showed the blue bracelet to Justin, and they introduced themselves to each other. They shared their personal stories. Both have been through traumatic things. Both have found running as a way to cope with hardship and to refresh their mind, body, and spirit.
I think we all got a little emotional at that moment. I know I certainly did!
Why is this so special to me? There’s a third story involved here: My story.
July 2014: I was walking the indoor track at my gym, in tears. My application to re-take the PT board exam in June had been rejected. I now had to wait until October. I remember saying out loud, “Why these roadblocks? I just want to help people!”
One year later: A dream opportunity falls apart in a most unpleasant way. I’m left to pick up the pieces, with no back-up, no other job offers and a ton of uncertainty. Am I doing the right thing? Why all these roadblocks (again)?
2 months after that: I end up in a geriatrics outpatient clinic, and discover that I LOVE working with the 65+ “active agers” population! What if… I combine pelvic floor PT with this work? I get an amazing opportunity to do just that, and I gain a LOT more experience working with medically-complicated patients.
Allowing me to help people like Justin with some very unique rehab needs.
Do you see the beautiful way that these stories intertwine?
You never know how your story will impact someone else and be an encouragement and a hope for them. So, in closing, I encourage you to share YOUR story with others. Share these stories with others who might be going through similar challenges.
Justin is preparing for his next step—competing in a half marathon. I hope that his story will encourage others who are cancer survivors or who have been told that they “just have to live with” their post-surgical problems. There IS hope for more complete recovery, and for getting back to doing the things they love to do. Like running. And thriving, not just surviving, in life.
*names changed for client confidentiality. Client gave permission to share his story.
I woke up early this morning thinking about what I’m grateful for. And my thoughts surprised me.
I’m thankful for the Pain.
YES, the PAIN.
That sounds like a weird thing to be grateful for, doesn’t it? I wasn’t thankful for it at first.
But what happened as a result may not have happened without the pain!
So, I’m grateful for the physical PAIN I had 6 years ago. The nagging pain in my left hip and knees that didn’t get better on its own. The pain that pushed me to invest in my health and join a gym, which re-started my career in physical therapy.
I’m grateful for the financial PAIN I had at that time; without it I would not have been looking for a career change.
I’m now grateful for the PAIN of disappointment when plans that I had for my career re-start didn’t work out like I had hoped. Without that pain, I would have never started my own practice or become an entrepreneur.
How about the PAIN of broken relationships? I really struggle with this. Nobody wants strained friendships, business relationships gone wrong, or trust betrayed. It’s hard to be thankful for any of that. However, I recall what my business coach and mentor once said, “Everything that happens to me, good or bad, God uses as an opportunity to bless someone else.” So I trust in that truth. Sometimes it means asking forgiveness of the other person, or to forgive myself. Sometimes it forces me to look inward and see things I need to change so that I can be a better person. Sometimes it is realizing that the relationship needed to end and it’s okay to move on. I’m thankful for that ruthless trust. I’m thankful that God can use me, even when I mess up, to bless others.
I’m also thankful for those who told me I could NOT / should NOT do this because…
--I’m too old to get back in the game
(Wrong! I’m the perfect age for this)
--It’s too risky, better play it safe
(The safest place is in the middle of God’s will – I’m there!)
--I’m not good enough
(Tell that to my clients whose lives have been changed by this!)
So…thanks for the comments that it couldn’t be done because (blah, blah…). They just spurred me on to want this even more! To work harder, risk bigger, pray more, and ask for help when needed.
It’s not easy for me to ask for help. But I know that I can’t do this alone.
I am SO grateful for the many people that God placed in my life to help me get to where I am now. Some I’ve known for years, others just for a short season. It was no accident that the knowledge, skills and support they offered was exactly what I needed at just the right time. If you are one of those people, THANK YOU!
It may sound crazy, but I’m finding joy in the pain and disappointments.
I’ve been given an incredible and unique opportunity to help people. And they are so grateful to be able to regain their dignity, relieve their pain, and solve their embarrassing problems “down there”.
How about you? What difficult or painful things are you now thankful for? I’d love to hear about it!
“JIC”-ing = “Just In Case”
You know what I mean--
“Oh wait…l need to go before we leave (“just in case”)”
Does someone in your family do this? Do you do this? And how long have you been doing it?
Have you thought about WHY you do it? Is it because you really do need to go, or has it become habit?
JIC-ing is one habit that can actually create more problems for you! Many of us are unaware of this.
I’d like to tell you about a time when one person did become aware of it. After one of my workshops on bladder leakage, a lady in her late 50’s came up to me. We chatted for awhile, and she told me that she has been a JIC-er nearly her entire life. She didn’t realize it until now.
“Ever since I can remember, before we would leave the house to go anywhere, my mom always insisted that we use the bathroom first. ALWAYS. Even if I didn’t have to go, I had to at least TRY.”
She also admitted that she had been having urinary urgency problems, and has even had a few embarrassing accidents lately.
She paused awhile, then asked, “Do you think this habit could be related to my problem?”
Quite possibly, I told her. The reason is this: the brain and the bladder have a good communication system in place. It’s called Bradley’s Loop. Basically it’s a feedback system that tells our body when to fill the bladder, when to empty it, and when to use the pelvic floor muscles to keep the pee in or let it out. More about Bradley in our next blog post.
What JIC-ing does is that it messes up that system. Now the brain and bladder are getting false signals. The bladder is saying, "wait, I'm not even half full yet, but Brain is telling me to empty. What's going on?" Brain is saying, "Hey Bladder, what's your problem? I'm getting the signal that it's time to empty. Sorry if this signal came early, but you need to do this NOW."
The pelvic floor is down there, wondering how it should respond to the chaos. "Okay, do I relax or do I stay at resting tone? Bladder and brain, will you PLEASE make up your mind? Wait...WHAT NOW??!! My person is telling me to tighten while she is peeing? I'm supposed to be relaxing now!" (as in, you are doing your Kegels while you're urinating). "Fine, I'll just do whatever whenever I feel like it."
Let this become a regular habit, and you can actually retrain your bladder to act like a fussy baby! You start getting that sudden strong urge that screams for attention—“I WANNA GO -- NOW!!” Can you see how this scenario can get set up over time?
(BTW, this is one reason why Kegels alone may not help with urgency incontinence, and could make things worse!)
Can you change your JIC-ing habit? Absolutely yes! This really is a “mind over matter” thing.
The next time you are on auto-pilot toward the bathroom, stop and ask yourself,
Do I need to go pee, or is this just part of my habit?” The answer may surprise you!
Are you a nighttime JIC-er? Do you tend to get up more than 2 times a night to use the bathroom?
Did you know that this habit can nearly DOUBLE your fall risk at night? Not to mention increasing the risk of hip fractures. The consequences can be serious. And your bladder might not even need to be emptied so often!
Here's how to start changing this: whenever you wake up at night, ask yourself this:
Did I wake up BECAUSE I have to go pee, or did I wake up and decide I should go pee?
If your answer was " I woke up and decided I should go pee", then go back to sleep!
As we all know, habits can be broken. This is one habit that would be good to get rid of! If you find that you’re going to the bathroom at a certain time “just because”, and it has nothing to do with your bladder being full, then try waiting until you feel that signal that it’s time to go.
“But Laura, I’m afraid that if I wait, I’ll have an accident.”
“But I’m already at that ‘fussy baby’ stage; my bladder screams at me all the time now. Is it too late?”
No, it’s not too late. And I do understand the fear of changing this habit.
But is there a greater fear of losing your dignity, having your life controlled by your bladder, or having to live with this problem for the rest of your life?
There are things you CAN do to regain control over your bladder so that it no longer controls you! We can teach you how to win the “mind over matter” game, get Bradley’s loop working again, and break the JIC-ing habit, without relying on medication or surgery.
Interested? Contact us and find out how to take the next step!
As we approach one of the biggest holidays of the year, I know many of you can feel the stress bearing down on you – from gifts, to parties, to kids, to food, to travel arrangements, and (especially) to family matters, these things add up! Stress is no joke, and it affects almost every part of our lives: body, mind, spirit, and even social life. We all must find ways to cope under the pressure of life, and that’s why this post is all about--how you can start combating stress, right now.
But before we get to the ways in which you can deal with stress, let’s take a look at what stress is and exactly WHY it’s such a blow to our health.
Stress, in simple terms, is really a state of mental tension as a result of strenuous or demanding circumstances. What most people don’t realize, though, is that mental stress translates into a dramatic effect on your body. So, even though you’re experience mental fatigue and anxiety, your body is exhibiting its own problems.
Why? Well, first off, mental stress can quickly turn into a state where your body assumes the fight or flight response. In its most recognized form, this response is what happens when an individual is in a dangerous situation. In other words, a person either fights or runs. When faced with constant stress, however, the body reacts in the same way, only now the person doesn’t run – he or she just fights.
When the body is placed in a constant state of agitation in this way, adrenaline and cortisol are released. In small doses these hormones are essential to survival, yet in a stressful situation they can both be really harmful. Adrenaline, for example, increases your heart rate and blood pressure – both of which are detrimental long term. Cortisol, on the other hand, drastically alters the functioning of the immune system whilst suppressing appetite – again, both situations are extremely harmful in the long term. Here are some of the harmful side-effects of the prolonged exposure to these hormones:
But wait, before you feel as though you need to cancel Christmas this year, the good news is that there are ways with which to conquer stress. As with everything, your body just needs ways to cope, heal, and maintain a stress free routine. Here are some ideas I’d urge you to try:
It sounds so simple, but yet so many of us are feeding our stress by the way we breathe.
Stop and take notice of how you are breathing now, and how you breathe when you feel stressed. Is your breathing slow, deep, and from your belly, or is it shallow and more in your chest? Do you feel tightness in your jaw, your neck, your shoulders, even your pelvic area? This is quite common with “stress breathing.”
Now, take a nice deep breath through your nose, letting your belly expand out as you inhale. Let that jaw and those shoulders soften and relax. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. Rest and repeat. Did you know that this kind of breathing actually calms down your nervous system? It’s a very simple but effective way to decrease stress, lower anxiety, and even reduce pain. Try it the next time you’re waiting in traffic, in the long checkout line at the store, or any other time that you find stressful.
Yoga or Other Exercise
Have you heard the saying that “getting onto the mat is the hardest part”? Well, that’s true. Trying gentle stretches and relaxation techniques, such as those found in yoga, is an excellent way to reduce stress levels. Namaste!
Not really into yoga? A brisk walk or run, some swimming, or a good sweaty workout at the gym or at home can do wonders to clear your mind and help your body process that stress in a positive way. Go and Move!
Make Sure you’re Getting Enough Sleep
Now, I know a lack of sleep is a side effect of a stressful state, but making the effort to get into bed earlier, turning your phone off at least an hour before bed, avoiding all screens in the bedroom, and creating a comfortable sleeping environment, is a definite way to help you release some of that stress.
This tip may not be at the top of your list, but I promise that a little quiet time, meditation, gentle music, or whatever works for you, will help you relax. Even 5 minutes can make a huge difference! Remember to breathe deeply and slowly, focusing on the present moment and being thankful for the opportunity to be alive.
Avoid excessively fatty, sugary, or salty foods, as these generally alter your mood and may aggravate the symptoms of stress. Why not try cooking new dishes or making tried and tested family-favorites? Take the time out to appreciate the love of food in a healthful, mindful way.
Truly, this is perhaps the most impressive stress-buster out there. Laugh with all your might – watch that comedy show, spend time with the relative who makes you giggle, do childlike, magical things that bring a smile to your face. Stress doesn’t stand a chance against unabashed happiness.
Spend Time with Loved Ones
No explanation needed. Love fiercely, wake up early, and sit down to a cup of java with your favorite people in the world.
Listen to Your Body
If you’re tired, have a rest. If you’re saying “yes” too often, say “no”. I often mention the importance of self-care: if you don’t take care of yourself first, it’s going to be hard to take care of others. Remember that the world won’t stop just because you take an hour for yourself. It’s so important to listen to your body – our natural instinct is to do what’s best for us. Just become quiet and listen closely… you’ll know what to do.
See a Physical Therapist
If your spasms don’t seem to ease, or you are in constant physical pain and discomfort due to stress, don’t wait. Those little aches and that pain can increase over time. The best thing you can do is to see a professional, qualified physical therapist to help you recover and feel your best. With some treatment and guidance, you’ll be ready for whatever this holiday season throws at you.
So, there you have it: essential tips for combating stress this holiday season and beyond. And remember to drink enough water! Don’t let stress affect your mind and body – take control and put the smile back on your face. Keep the adrenaline for unwrapping the gifts, and the cortisol for the chocolaty desserts – don’t let stress steal your joy.
We help men and women with bladder leakage, pain, or other problems “down there” to regain their dignity and reclaim their lifestyles, so that they can stay fit and active, keep up with their kids or grandkids, be worry-free at social outings, and enjoy intimate relationships again.
Laura McKaig PT
Specialist Physical Therapist