The dangers of physiotherapy and being unassertive

When you see a physiotherapist nobody tells you that it can be dangerous, that you can be injured either by what the physiotherapist does to you or by the exercises or advice that you are given. I saw a physiotherapist regarding a knee problem a couple of months ago. To test the strength of my quad muscles, he asked me to lie on a plinth (similar to a massage table) in a semi-reclining position where the back of the plinth is raised at a 45° angle. He then asked me to lift each leg in turn as many times as I was able to. I was aware from the start that my semi-reclining posture was not right, but I did not feel confident enough to challenge him. I find that these incidents happen so quickly that you do not always react in the best way. In hindsight I could have asked him to simply adjust the angle of the back part of the plinth so that my back was properly supported. Anyway, the following day my back hurt and this continued for a few days thankfully it eased off eventually. It seems obvious that raising your legs in the semireclining position would put a lot of strain on the lower back.

Unfortunately this incident of being injured through physiotherapy is not a one-off in my case. I tore my medial meniscus in my left knee after following the wobble board exercises that a physiotherapist had given me. On another occasion a physiotherapist tried to strengthen my knees by getting me to lift heavy weights in the gym. This caused pains in my feet. If you are taking a medication there is normally a leaflets in the medication box that lists a whole range of possible side-effects that you can get from taking the medication. However there is no similar system with physiotherapists and the exercises they prescribe.

On another occasion recently I was helping a friend, John, clear out a garage. He passed me a box that felt quite heavy. I thought that because I was in a good posture it was okay for me to carry the heavy box. Over the following days I felt discomfort all around my waist. Rather than simply rest this time I decided to use some ice and whether it was the rest all the ice after a couple of days the pain receded again. I think that the mistake that I made was that I thought that because I was in a good posture it was okay to carry the box. However because I haven’t been lifting much recently it was clearly too much for me. As with the physiotherapist it was also a problem with not being assertive enough. In the case of the box if I had refused to carry it it wouldn’t really have been a problem. John could have simply emptied some items from it and I would have been able to have carried it then I think. He might have been reluctant to have done this because he was wanting to get the job done so it is difficult in the moment to resist the pressure of somebody being persuasive through their body language and tone of voice.

November 2014

Perception is Power

I went away on a yoga retreat in a picturesque location the middle of the countryside. The purpose of this was to have a break and gently try out yoga again because I’m not doing as much exercise as I used to do due to the injuries that I’ve got.

However, on the last day of the retreat things took an unpleasant turn. I had packed my things and was carrying them to the van when I heard Michelle the yoga teacher shout to me ‘can you help Dave carry his trunk?’ I immediately felt a sense of foreboding because I am very wary about lifting things. Nevertheless I proceeded up to have a look at the task. Michelle then said ‘it’s too heavy for one that it’s all right for two’. The first problem was that there was no clear grip, but then Michelle pointed out that there was a grip for one hand. When I complained about the lack of grip for to hands, Michelle just said loudly and it sarcastically ‘get a grip man’. I then lifted the trunk up at my end and it was very heavy. Why I didn’t stop at this point I’m not sure. I think it was partly because Michelle was manipulating me into lifting the trunk by implying that I was being manly if I wasn’t to lift it and I felt a bit obligated to help because Michelle and Dave were going to give me a lift in their van. So I helped Dave carry the trunk down the garden to the van. To start with I felt okay, but as the day wore on I felt a feeling of discomfort over my abdominal area and today my ankle has felt painful. So I’ve been having a lot of feelings of regret because again I have created a problem that I could have avoided.

I felt very angry about Michelle’s behaviour because she had said she didn’t want to lift the trunk because she was doing some yoga teaching later on and she didn’t want to hurt her back, but this implied that she didn’t mind if I was to hurt my back. I had also told her that I have scoliosis and get stressed by my injuries. So I confronted her about all this and she said that I could just said no, which was true but then she did put me under some pressure. I had a very similar incident about two years ago when somebody asked me to lift something and again I had felt under pressure to be helpful and the result was that I injured my upper back. I think that I need to learn how to be more assertive because even though I could just have said no for some reason I didn’t. I am aware of how to be assertive but I think that I need to practice assertiveness so that I have not caught out again by this kind of situation where somebody is trying to get you to do something that they don’t want to do themselves because they know that it could be harmful.

In terms of lifting things I think that this incident also illustrates that it’s not good to lift anything heavy with just one hand because that puts an asymmetrical load onto your back. A friend said to me that in these situations that happen out of the blue where you are not sure about what to do rather than just get talked into something it’s better just to say ‘wait’ and then that at least gives you a bit of time to think about the best course of action. I think that when somebody asks you to do something that you think may be harmful to you maybe it’s a good idea to just think what’s the worst thing that can happen if I say no, and of course you can always say no in a polite way. The answer is that nothing bad will happen, maybe there’ll be a momentary or temporary psychological discomfort but this far outweighs the physical and psychological distress that accompanies injuring yourself. I think it also illustrates how ‘perception is power’ i.e. Michelle spoke to me as if she had power which she didn’t have, but I perceived this bluffing as real power when it was illusory. So it is about reclaiming power in situations and treating everybody with respect, including yourself.