ABC – It’s Easy as DVT. Wait. What?
The Background of Mission: Mobility
Just two weeks ago, I was talking to my friend, Bill, over at Restore Cryotherapy/Stretch Base about how I’m starting to feel like an old lady at the tender age of 45 – or, should I say, ‘at the tender middle-age of 45.’ I haven’t fallen for any IRS scams or started yelling at kids to get off my lawn or anything, but by “feeling old,” I mean to say that I feel tight, immobile and embarrassingly inflexible. It took me longer than I expected to recover from the Grand Canyon and Chattanooga Half Ironman in May – more than I thought it should – both physically and mentally.
I spent the greater part of June basically sitting on my ass doing nothing – on purpose, no less! Coming off the Grand Canyon R2R2R followed by the Chattanooga 70.3 two weeks later emptied me and followed up almost a year of non-stop training that included three marathons, one 50K and one 50 miler, plus some cyclocross and gravel grinding to round out my beef stew of erratic training. Truth be told, I was ready for the break. I mean, who wants to train in the dead of summer in Texas anyway?
So, since I wasn’t specifically training for any major endurance event this summer, I told Bill that the summer of 2018 was becoming my own personal “Mission: Mobility.” (Hoping secretly that it wouldn’t become another sequel to Mission: Impossible.)
This summer, it was all about training my body to move the right way with the help of several modalities including: massage, stretching, yoga, cryo, barre and functional strength work. Hell, I may even get a little bat-shit crazy and try out some pilates! Of course, I would still sprinkle in some runs, bikes and swims purely for fun, but the basis of my training would be centered on mobility and flexibility- my biggest limiters to improvement.
Quite honestly, as I told Bill with both humor and seriousness, I want to be able to touch my toes again. Yes, it’s true. I can’t freaking touch my own toes without bending my knees. That’s how tight my hamstrings are these days. That’s what I mean about feeling old. When others in yoga are able to sit indian-style (are we still allowed to say that?), I’m the one using a block because my legs are too tight to hold that position for long periods of time. For crying out loud, I even have trouble getting into child’s pose!
So, this is what I took to Bill and the gang at Restore/Stretch Base. They would be one of many go-tos for achieving my goals and, like a good athlete, I even mapped out a little training schedule. I’d start by touching my toes, then I’d try to progress to working on ankle flexibility because, if you’ve ever seen me try to kick in the water, you’d know why. From there, I’d move up and work on shoulders, neck and spine. I don’t know if it made sense on paper, but it made sense to me. I’d move up my chain one major link at a time.
Of course, I wanted to track all of this, not for cheesy AF Instagram stories, but as a way to measure my progress and also as a testimonial to the people, modalities and workouts that would be assisting me along the way. There is no one recipe for success and there is no one script that’s going to work for everyone. In the same way that people track weight loss (regardless of what meal plan they use), I wanted to track my progression of flexibility.
The Best Laid Plans
It wasn’t a week after this fun planning brainstorm that I got nailed by a curveball. On July 29th, I woke up with the intention of going for a run followed by some yoga. My left calf was in excruciating pain. “Dang it. There’s that pain again. Why does it keep happening?” Throughout the last month, I was having odd foot and calf pains. That’s definitely one of the reasons I laid off the running for several weeks all-together. I knew there was no real “reason” for the pain. In fact, it felt different, not muscular, but more crampish (if that’s a word) accompanied by a little swelling and burning. It felt like I had a really bad sunburn on my calf.
To the ER hubster and I went as we both affirmed each other’s suspicion. Could I have a blood clot, a DVT? Sure enough, after an ultrasound and conversations with the Doctor, they diagnosed me with a blood clot that extended from my quad to my ankle. What the bloody hell? Did he say that right? I thought blood clots were little thingys the size of a dime, but a python-lengthed clot? WTF? Apparently, it’s normal…as normal as something like this can be.
Well, here’s the part that freaked me out. DVTs are treatable, but there is a major threat that a piece of the clot could break apart, travel to the lungs and create a pulmonary embolism (PE). Those can be fatal.
So, talk about feeling old! So much for lamenting about touching my toes and crossing my legs. Now, it’s official. I have a DVT. What’s next? Gout?
How Can This Happen?
Who knows? I fit some of the risk factors, while others don’t apply to me at all. I chalk it up to the 45-mile hike in the Grand Canyon with massive elevation changes, followed by camper van travel with limited movement. It also probably didn’t help that I didn’t do much of anything for the first part of June, but really, no one knows, and I’ll spend the next three months on blood thinners mitigating as much risk as possible while still remaining as active as I can.
So What About Mission: Mobility?
The ER Doc said I could resume normal activity as I felt comfortable (I don’t think he really understood what “normal” is for me). The first couple of days, my calf was still in too much pain to do anything, but by mid-week, I was walking and doing easy spins on the trainer. I was also embracing some light yoga as well. It’s movement and movement is good.
It did throw a wrench into my Mission: Mobility structure because: 1) Cryotherapy is a no-no with the clot and 2) I have to keep massage and any lower body work to a minimum (that whole breaking apart thing).
So, to compensate, I scheduled a couple of upper-body stretch sessions with both Rob and Spencer at Stretch Base. Instead of the toe touch test, I started with another embarrassing limiter – the back scratch test. I have no idea if that’s an official name, but that’s what I’m going with here. One arm is ridiculously less flexible than the other, another common issue with all bodies. I want to be able to reach behind and grab the other hand – with both arms. Is that too much to ask? Could we make any progress in 30 minutes?
Because I’m a nerd, I even brought my own tape measure to track the distance and progress we might make as a result. I needed something positive to look forward to, y’all. The initial distance on my inflexible arm was about 3”.
The first few minutes of the session started off with some treatment from the Hypervolt vibration massage device. Hell, everyone needs to have some of that in their life at some point! We focused on upper body only: neck, shoulders, pecs, back. Even without a stretch, I was already starting to loosen up.
Over the next 20 minutes, the therapists (Rob on one day and Spencer on the second day) led me through a series of gentle PNF stretches and shoulder openers with precision and professionalism. I’d lamented my story and issues to them, so we were all keenly aware of maintaining light pressure. They described what they were about to do and consistently asked for feedback on the pressure. You know what? It was exactly what I needed, both physically and therapeutically.
As I was sitting there in the process, I found myself thinking, “Can I get this done every day?” I’m sure I could, but since I’m not Beyonce, I’ll have to settle for some diligent self-treatment at home with a few exercises they gave me to continue opening my upper body and thoracic spine, which is so tight thanks to, well, EVERYTHING.
At the end of the 30 minutes, we did a ‘moment of truth’ pose. Did I achieve some flexibility in a session? Indeed, I did. Almost two inches in fact. That gap went from 3” to less than 1” in a short session. We were all stoked and this decrepit old lady left feeling a little lighter and a little taller.
This week, there’s a little more stretching and then I head out of town. What was supposed to be a vigorous trip with mountain biking and trail running will now become leisurely hikes in the woods with the dude. Woe is me, right??
The irony of all this isn’t lost on me. I purposely took time off and the universe sent me a physical mandate. I simply knew my body wasn’t feeling harmonious and now I know why. I love my body for this magic message because it only confirmed what I knew I needed.
When your body is sending you signs, don’t ignore it. I guess that’s one great thing about getting older. I may not be able to touch my toes (yet), but I am wise enough to finally listen to the signals. When something feels blocked, it probably is (quite literally in my case).
Off to go stretch…