Monday, October 27, 2014

Down and Back: Adapting to Change

The leaves are starting to pile up in the yard.

Down and back. Shoulders down and back.
That has been almost a mantra for me over the past few weeks. Ever since I started physical therapy on Oct. 3, therapists have reminded me many times to make sure my shoulders are down—not up around my ears—and back—not slumped forward.
Because I do tend to slump. My posture is horrible. Years of hunching over first paper and pen, then typewriters, then a word processor, then computers have instilled in me a slumped over posture.
Even now, as I write this, I have to remind myself over and over to sit up straight.
One of my therapists, Kyle, explained that when I lift up my right shoulder, whether it’s to pick up something, reach for something, or indulging in bad posture, I’m “grinding” those nerves that are irritated.
“When you feel pain, check to see what position your shoulder is in,” he told me once.
He recommended finding a cue to remind myself to keep the shoulders down and back. So far, I realize pretty quickly when I’m slumping forward or holding my shoulders up around my ears. But I would like to think of an actual cue.
Physical therapy has been a positive experience for me. I still have pain, but I am feeling stronger. And Kyle, plus Darius and Katie, are teaching me ways to adapt so I’m not putting pressure on nerves.
For example, during last Thursday’s session, I was having a lot of pain when I lifted up both arms to do an exercise with a stretch band. That pain had gotten better, but it seemed to have flared up again.
I can easily tell now what muscle soreness from exercise is and what the original nerve pain is.
Katie and Kyle were ready to find another way for me to strengthen the muscles without pain. It involved lying face down on a table and lifting my arm from that position. Gravity wasn’t pulling on my shoulder, so no pain.
I’ve been working on making adjustments in other areas of my life, too. When the pain was at its worst, it was very hard to use the computer—to move the mouse around, to hold my arms up to type.
Not using a computer was not an option for me. I write and edit for a living. I write and edit because I love doing those things.

The written word is like my breath.

So I am adapting. At home, I placed a firm pillow in my desk chair to lift myself up so I didn’t have to do any lifting of the shoulder to work.
I’m still working on my desk environment at the newspaper office. I originally had the mouse and its pad almost an arm’s length away from me so I could use the space right in front of me to place notebooks, reports, etc. Reaching for the mouse and moving it hurt. I found that moving the mouse pad closer to me helped a great deal.
In my daily life, I’ve learned that it’s OK to place my drinking glass on the left side of my plate so I can lift it with my left hand. I’ve learned that I can throw things pretty well with my left hand when I’m playing with Chase Bird. (He likes to smack rolled up pieces of paper or little play mice. It’s like playing volleyball with him.)

Chase Bird enjoying the sunshine on the enclosed porch.

A doctor told me years ago that I would have to adapt my life to having depression. I learned what helps me with the depression, and with OCD, and what doesn’t.
I’m learning that it works with my physical health, too. I can find ways to do the things I want to do. I just have to adapt.
And keep my shoulders down and back.

Have you ever had to adapt the way you did an activity? What would be a good cue to remind me to place my shoulders in a better position? I appreciate your input!


  1. This sounds great. I'm sure others are going to learn from this post. Throwing with my left hand? I doubt it. Then again throwing with my right hand isn't much either. There is something to be said about doing things in a different way. We alternate skating around the rink from clock wise to counterclockwise.

  2. Great post, Tina, and it made me think of this amazing post on Heather's Helpers about how our posture actually affects us:

    Glad physical therapy has been a positive experience for you!

  3. oh, thank you for the reminder on posture. i have been noticing my own 'slouchery' getting more and more prevalent. i'm going to post a big note on my computer desk to remind me to sit up straight!!! helps with breathing, strengthening the core, and putting those shoulders back and down will help my 'tude, too!

  4. adapting is my middle name. living with MS, i have many, many challenges, physically and mentally. each one requires it's own special attention!!! posture, exercise, and physical therapy all key in living a healthy lifestyle. food as well.....i usually talk to myself when faced with a challenge. i know the challenge is there and i talk my way through it.!!!! signs help also ;)

  5. It is easier to slouch than sit up straight. Running and riding horse helps me. Good for you. You have made great changes.

  6. Love the pictures, Tina! I do the same thing – slouch, I mean. I'm trying hard to break the habit, as I know it won't help as I get older. It's tough when you've been doing it for a lifetime, though!

  7. Reminds me to put my shoulders down and back too. Something I want to work on as well.

  8. I always have 2 remind myself too watch my posture. stretching & working my muscles often. ( :

  9. Isn't it amazing?? if we are willing to put in some awareness and effort - it seems we can change/improve almost anything . . and, how about those cool people ready and available to help us along our way . . golly, this life thing is a cool adventure, isn't it??? Love & Love, -g-

  10. Down and back -- I remember those words so well from PT both with my shoulder surgery (talk about adapting -- I had to do it all right handed -- and I'm a leftie, though a tad ambidextrous). And then from PT a second time. And from gym class. Yes, they do creep up. Right now my mousing position is not good so I think those words often.

    The other words the therapist and trainer used with me are "Put your shoulders in your back pocket." That sort of works too, but down and back is more to the point! Good luck with it all.

  11. I'm not sure about a cue. I've never been good at remember such things myself. But I hope you can come up with something. It's bound to help. I just started physical therapy myself today. I've long had sciatica but lately it has flared up and together with the pain, my leg is going numb. I can stand the pain more than the numbness weirdly. I'm a believer in PT. It was an amazing help with my knee. But I want to get the sciatica under control because I can't walk long distances with it. Big bummer for me!

  12. My posture is so bad I even slump over when I'm riding my bike. I have to keep reminding myself to sit up straight. Sounds like you are doing a good job of adapting your work and daily routines to alleviate the discomfort. Wish I could help you regarding a cue. I so admire your positive attitude and how you share what you're going through with your readers. Hang in there!! You're doing a good thing.

  13. Chase Bird is beautiful. I had to quit working as a nurse. I just couldn't physically do it anymore. I guess that's a pretty drastic adaptation for me! I'm so glad you are taking care of yourself. You inspire me!


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