Recently I walked for more than an hour on the beach, something I haven’t done in more than a year. It was a glorious fall day, cool and clear and low tide, perfect. Locals and tourists were enjoying the beach too. I watched a fisherman catch a black drum and learned that he had already caught and released nine others. Dog walkers and their pets strolled by and sunbathers soaked up the rays while their kids made sand castles beside them. Willets and sandpipers scuttled along the tidal edge looking for tiny prey items and phalanxes of pelicans glided by.
The dunes surrounding the boardwalk to the parking area were in their fall colors, with rusty-hued and evergreen bushes interspersed with bursts of yellow and orange colored gaillardia flowers. Two large gopher tortoises enjoyed the fall sunshine, basking in front of their deep burrows. It was a perfect walk.
But the really exciting part, for me, was that I was even able to do it! For nearly two years now I haven’t been able to walk far at all. I’ve been hampered by a pain in my hip area when I walk more than a block or so, a real hindrance to someone like me who routinely took five-mile hikes. I could stop and sit or lean to get weight off my hip then I could continue, but what a bother! On a trip to Paris, I couldn’t even walk to restaurants for dinner with my family. In Belize, I had to stop and rest my hip before even walking a couple of blocks to the local tiki bar. It seems like all my friends have been getting hip replacements. Maybe it was my turn?
So, finally, when I mentioned this to my primary care doctor he sent me to an orthopedic specialist who ordered a number of tests, x-rays, regular MRIs, specialized MRIs, the works. All this took months between my initial primary doctor visit, a wait for the orthopedist, and the various tests. But at the end of it all, nothing much was found, just a small “labral tear.” The orthopedist said he could do nothing, and recommended me to a pain management clinic that kept calling me to make an appointment. If the pain management shots worked, the orthopedist said, then it was clear the labral tear was the problem and another surgeon could operate. Whoa! Wait a minute? “Wouldn’t some physical therapy be a first step?” but the orthopedist said, “No. That won’t work.”
But I was averse to pain management or surgery and I was getting resigned to my fate of short bursts of walking, then resting my hip – maybe that’s the cost of aging for me. Finally, it was time again for my annual appointment with my primary doctor and this time I asked him about physical therapy. No problem, he said, as he wrote me a prescription to Advance Rehabilitation. The superb therapists I saw, Holly and David, sorted me out in no time. Their theory was that about 10 years ago when I dislocated my hip (which I recovered from with no lasting pain at the time) I had been unconsciously shifting my weight off that hip until I had stressed it. Under their guidance, I began a schedule of sessions, three times a week, to strengthen my hip muscles and they gave me stretches and targeted exercises to do at home. And they told me, “Forget anything that orthopedic doctor told you. He has since been removed from the local orthopedic institute,” for whatever reasons I never did find out.
But now, after maybe 10 sessions with Advance Rehabilitation my problem has been resolved. The therapists and I determined that I needed no more therapy, just a continuation of the home exercises they’d taught me. And they recommended daily half-hour walks. No problem! Now that I am walking normally again, pain-free, I am eager to once again get into my long walks around all the natural areas we are blessed with on Amelia Island.
If only I had been directed into physical therapy two years ago when the pain started. It would have saved me a lot of angst. But now, there’s no stopping me! I am back to myself again!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]