Imagine that you are a world-class athlete, performing at an international competition. Part way through your event, you realize you’ve landed wrong, and feel a searing pain in your leg. You pull up, and wonder about not only the consequences of the injury in today’s action, but in regards to your future.
That is just what Norwich’s Hannah Kearney experienced after undergoing a serious knee injury back in 2007. Fortunately for Hannah, and others who undergo a traumatic injury or illness, there is a great deal of help available on the road to recovery.
Of course Hannah’s comeback from injury included winning a gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics, as part of the US Freestyle Ski Team, followed by a bronze medal in the 2014 Olympics, both in women’s moguls. For the rest of us, however, rehab from injury can mean getting back on that bike, resuming our passion for hiking, or even just returning to the work we love.
Norwich resident David Barlow, a physical therapist and co-owner of BE Fit Physical Therapy in Hanover and WRJ, finds that Upper Valley residents take their recreation pursuits seriously, which inevitably result in injuries requiring rehab. “People here are active to the nth degree,” Barlow says. Though clients come to him with injuries “from across the gamut,” Barlow says he treats many young people, as well as those in their thirties and forties with sports related injuries. Muscular and skeletal problems are a primary focus, Barlow says.
Not surprisingly, Hannah Kearney’s post-injury work included a great deal of physical therapy. After her knee operation (reconstructing her ACL) at DHMC, “I worked with the U.S. Ski Team’s physical therapists, as well as those at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid,” says Kearney.
Though she currently lives in Utah, Hannah Kearney says, “I’ll always be from Norwich.”
Coming back from a serious injury requires patience, and a change from the previous routine. Kearney says she spent six months after surgery working in the pool, and on a stationary bike, while building up the muscle structure around her injured knee. She did not return to skiing until 10 months after the injury, then had another absence from the sport following a concussion shortly afterwards. That may have been a blessing in disguise. “The extended absence from the ski hill gave… more time for my joint to heal completely,” she says.
Returning to the sport they love is a goal of Olympic level athletes, but this is also true for many others. David Barlow says his clients are often intent on returning to their activity of choice after dealing with injury or illness. Changing a lifestyle as a result of an injury is not a desirable outcome for many patients, he finds. “We try to keep going, no matter,” says Barlow of most active people.
A history of activity does help in the rehab process. Though an Olympic level athlete’s body will respond more quickly than the rest of us, people who were active prior to injury do find the benefits of therapy result in faster healing times than for the inactive.
Physical therapy is a key component of rehab from injury and illness, but other forms of therapy can also play a key role. Kearney found yoga, and massage to be important factors in both recovery, and maintaining a healthy body.
Erin Messier, a massage therapist of 20 years, says the benefits of massage in rehab are numerous. Messier, who operates Four Fine Hands Massage Therapy in Norwich, says massage will relax damaged muscles, help with balance issues, and calm the nervous system. Additionally, massage helps increase circulation, “One of its biggest benefits,” she says. Increased circulation of blood flow to the affected areas of the body benefits healing.
Another benefit of massage is in relieving stress, says Messier. “Stress taxes all systems in the body,” she says. Stress is, not surprisingly, a common reaction to injury and illness, and efforts to relieve stress go a long way in the healing process. David Barlow finds that stress is a common symptom for the patients he treats.
Though the traumatic injury or illness can initiate a rehabilitation process, those are not the only situations where one must heal their body. Hannah Kearney points out that often the minor, nagging, or recurring injuries can even be more aggravating. “Nagging injuries are arguably worse than traumatic ones, because they affect your performance day in and day out, and wear on you both mentally and physically,” she says. “The key to dealing with them (nagging injuries) is to put as much time into your recovery and treatment as training,” says Kearney.
Almost to a person, those that deal with the rehab process, both patients and caregivers, find that knowledge about how the body functions is a vital part of recovery. Basics, such as proper form in exercise, or attention to posture, are important in maintaining health and warding off injury. Erin Messier points out that often back pain results from poor posture. “Massage therapy can improve posture,” she says. “Massage can bring the body back to a balanced state.”