Why Past Injuries Affect Present Treatment (and Future Wellness
It’s common to experience injuries during our lives. It is a natural part of learning about our limits while we inhabit our physical bodies. It may take a fall on the sidewalk to learn that I shouldn’t try to run full speed on it if it’s covered in ice. Perhaps I should wait for the baking sheet to cool down before I grab it with my bare hands. As unfortunate and painful as these lessons may be, they are necessary parts of our growth. We remember these instances so that we can be better prepared when a similar situation presents itself. These memories not only live in our minds, but in our physical bodies as well. And if we aren’t engaged in rehabilitative care to help our bodies heal and move on from those injuries, our bodies can carry the presentation of the injury long past its healing time. And that, in turn, can affect other parts of the body, leading to a wider scope of issues.
Let’s use a personal account of mine as an example. When I was a kid, I experienced two severe injuries to my tailbone in the span of a few months. Intense, immobilizing pain was present, and instead of pursuing some sort of rehabilitation or healing care, I continued to live with it until my body simply accepted and muted the pain. It wasn’t that the pain went away, but more-so that I learned to live with it long enough that it wasn’t always at the forefront of my mind. It’s an unfortunately common trajectory for many unhealed injuries.
The “tailbone” that I’m talking about is primarily made up of two bony structures – the sacrum and the coccyx. These bones are at the bottom of the spine and are connection points for many muscles and ligaments in our hip, groin, and thigh regions. Muscles that rotate your leg outward (“laterally”) or inward (“medially”), pull your legs together (“adduction”), and bring your legs behind you (“extension”) live in this region and connect to these bony structures. With this injury, the muscles tensed and tightened – what some would call “guarding” – in an effort to be ready for any further injury in the area. “If we are tense enough, nothing will get through us, and nothing will get hurt,” is what I imagine my muscles have been thinking for years. As muscles do, they’ve been trying to protect the more delicate underlying structures of my body. My nerves, blood vessels, lymphatic system, and much more are all protected by this guarding.
And, as a result, my legs have been rotated outward, bringing my knees, lower legs, feet, and toes with them. For some time, I had accepted that my toes simply “just point outward” and didn’t think it had anything to do with my past injuries. But upon learning about the connection that the tailbone has with muscles that rotate the legs outward, I began to piece together the story about my lower body. Without proper healing practices in place, the muscles attached to my tailbone didn’t rehabilitate to their original length. With my feet and legs in a more compromised alignment, the rest of my body works to compensate and achieve balance. All of a sudden, my entire support system for standing upright is at-risk of over-use or under-use. Back pain, neck stiffness, headaches – all, perhaps, from a few injuries when I was a child.
Now I know that those muscles need to properly heal, and that massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care can usher these tissues into a state of health. This account, hopefully, can serve as a motivator for us to be as thorough and complete in our health forms and intake interviews with any healthcare practitioner. The more we know as patient-centered practitioners, the more thorough and long-lasting our therapeutic work can be for you. Getting the full history, we can help bring your body into a more lasting sense of pain-free comfort that not only treats the symptoms, but the causes as well.
Bobby McMahon, LMT