I didn’t know I had fractured my spine as a freshman in high-school until I was 43 years old and my hip ‘blew out’. What does my hip pain have to do with a spinal injury? I am a bodyworker whose job it is to discover dysfunctional patterns in my client’s bodies and help them bring balance before it causes a chronic problem, however, I couldn’t see it in myself until irreversible damage was done. My story may be unique to my body but the treatment I discovered through the process will help many others.
As a student athlete on the track team my events were high-jump, shot-put and discus. Every day after school the team practiced, many times until almost dark. I remember practicing late one day, very tired, but I was jumping very well that day, I got up to 4’10” which is just a foot shorter than I am now. Excited and wanting to jump higher, I raised the bar slightly and tried again, this time knocking the bar off the stand and onto the mat. Just as I fell to the mat, all my body weight landed on the bar on my right lower back. I was immediately in sharp, shooting pain, a lot of pain. However, I could ‘walk it off’ and limp home.
That night it hurt badly, but my parents decided to make me comfortable by adjusting my bed so I could sleep sitting upright and I rested that night. The next day, month, and years, I functioned, even though there was a near-constant ache in my back. I was never diagnosed by a doctor for the symptom, and I carried on with my life. Searching for relief of back pain naturally was the journey that led me to a 21-year long career in health and wellness (which is a story for another time). Bottom line is, 30 years after hurting my back, my hip blew out without warning.
The day my hip got my attention I was teaching a class and during the course of the day my hip started hurting, and it hurt worse and worse as the day wore on, and it didn’t stop hurting with every step until I had laparoscopic debridement surgery almost a year later. It was discovered that I had worn down the cartilage protecting the bone and frayed the labrum in my right hip. Every step I took was bone-on-bone which was the cause of the intense pain.
While rehabilitating from surgery, I had time alone to focus on myself and put all the pieces together. There was extra bone on the lumbar vertebrae on the right side, where I landed on the high jump bar and fractured it. As bones heal from breaks, they create extra bone and make that site stronger than their adjacent areas. Because of the fracture it appeared from x-rays that I had a natural fusion in the facet joints of L4, L5, and S1 on the right side only. I have always been an active and athletic person. As I moved around, exercised, and continued to grow a little more, my body compensated in a dysfunctional and unsustainable way. The lumbar spine went into an anterior rotation to the right and I developed scoliosis, a c-curve to the right where the left side was left in a constant eccentric load. The left SI joint stopped mobilizing because it was already pulled too tight, and had the job of stabilizing the load of my upper body on my hips.
Putting it simply, my hips shifted to the right, and because of the extra body weight on that side, the femur displaced laterally (to the side) 30 degrees out of the joint. This was just enough to rub the joint the wrong way. Over time, I had damaged the joint. Now that I finally knew the cause, I could help my body fix the root of the problem. I didn’t just want to heal my hip, I wanted to change my pattern, so that it’s sustainably functional… for the rest of my life. Of course, I had to do all of this without my osteopathic surgeon helping because he is limited by liability and the insurance companies to only treat the symptom. Since the symptom was my hip, I had to rehab my spinal injury on my own.
After surgery, I couldn’t put more than 50% of my weight on that right side, and I had to use crutches to get around. After a while, I went down to one crutch, on my left side. After walking for a month with most of my body weight on my left side, although I was sore, however, I observed strength developing for the first time in my left lumbars. I started working with them daily and discovered I could hold the weight of my hips off my right hip by using my left lower back muscles and working to mobilize the left SI joint. The discovery took on a whole new meaning when I dug deeper into the pelvis for muscular support. This is where the pelvic floor took on a new importance to me personally and professionally. This isn’t just a ‘me’ problem because I have a unique circumstance. This information is for the masses!
My discovery was that if I could activate my pubococcygeal muscles (PC) enough, my pubic bone and coccyx lined up and my hips shifted back to center balance. Wow, that’s hard. I could only hold it for a few second at a time at first, but quickly realized the benefit of discovering this link and then became inspired to start intensive training to correct the pattern. I am rehabbing my spinal injury, and my hip at the same time and building the foundational strength and endurance to hold that new pattern while I function in life. Having a career which requires physical strength and stamina for hours at a time, I’ll have to be even stronger so I can have proper body mechanics while giving treatments.
Now, we have all been taught about Kegal exercises to strengthen the PC muscles, right? Remember, mother or grandma saying to practice training them by stopping the flow of urine mid-flow? They can get weak from many reasons, including childbirth, and weak PC muscles can lead to bladder incontinence. Of course, we can squeeze hard enough to not pee ourselves, but can we do it hard enough to become a functional foundation for our hip alignment? That’s tough to do, especially without something to squeeze against, some kind of resistance.
Sorry guys, but this next part is just for the ladies. Key-word… weighted Kegel balls, eggs, rods, any kind of small weighted device safe to insert into the vagina and hold it there. That’s right, hold it there while you walk around, cook, drive, and work. You can find them and order from Amazon.
For the guys, imagine pulling your testicles up into your pelvis creating a dome shape inside your core, and hold it. These are your PC muscles.
Did I really think my journey would lead me to become an advocate for the pelvic floor muscles? NOT until it became a matter of functioning well or not functioning at all. Training them is hard work, and at first you won’t be able to do it for long without noticing pain somewhere else in the body that is weak and trying to catch up. Do it like you would working-out at a gym. Train them until you get sore, then rest… and repeat. Strength and endurance will come with time, and the whole body will benefit from a strong foundational core from which to move functionally and will readjust accordingly from that strong core working out other issues in the thoracic spine, neck, shoulders, even down to the legs and feet.
Check in with your body right now. Are you using your PC muscles? Or are they just ‘splayed out’ being ‘couch-potatoes’? If you squeeze them, how does that affect your hips or spinal alignment? Even activating them while being seated as you are reading this you can see a benefit, right? Now imagine being strong enough to hold them subconsciously and benefitting from correct postural alignment in the whole body as a result.
I think there are a lot of others out there that need this information. Whether or not you have an imbalance in your hips, training to have strong PC muscles comes with a lot of positive side effects, some of which you will have to experience for yourself, but not limited to not peeing yourself when you sneeze.