Sarah Stockett was fed up with pain.
She had endured years of it in various forms.
First, there were Cesarean sections with the births of her two sons.
Then she suffered from an umbilical hernia, for which she needed surgery to repair.
And then, after healing from each of those, the unthinkable happened. She broke her neck in a devastating fall while teaching her sons how to play baseball in their yard.
While she was grateful that the fall didn’t kill or paralyze her, the recovery and pain were hard to remain patient through.
“Out of all the injuries, I was grumpiest about the broken neck,” she says. “I had a hot-as-blazes neck brace, awkward stares from strangers, the inability to drive or lift anything. It was hardest for me to keep a positive mindset on.”
Pain that Lingers – After the Brace Comes Off
After her fall, she had worn the required and ungainly neck brace for three solid months. Now, it was time to get on with her life. But she hadn’t anticipated intense, lingering pain that Tylenol wouldn’t touch.
While wearing the brace, she could sleep relatively comfortably. But now, she woke every hour or two, or at most every few hours if she took over-the-counter painkillers.
The problem was, in keeping her neck immobilized in order to heal, the muscles had weakened significantly.
A longtime Pilates and yoga instructor, Sarah knew the power of movement and that physical therapy would likely help… but her doctor wouldn’t recommend it or give her a referral to see a physical therapist.
“My doctor said he doesn’t typically recommend physical therapy for this kind of injury,” she recalls. “He said he would refer me to a pain specialist, but I didn’t want to see a pain specialist.”
For help, she tried to strengthen her neck on her own but didn’t have the specific expertise for that kind of rehab.
Sarah turned to acupuncture and was relieved to find immediate relief. However, it only lasted for a day or two before the pain returned.
For longer-lasting impact, she knew she would need to strengthen her neck muscles. Fortunately, her acupuncturist, also her chiropractor, was able to give her a referral for physical therapy.
Physical Therapy for Fractured Vertebrae
As Sarah suspected, physical therapy proved to be the answer for pain after a broken neck.
“I went to physical therapy, and after my first session, I had no pain at all,” she says.
Her therapist walked her through various exercises to strengthen her neck muscles. Several were similar to those in yoga and Pilates, with minor modifications.
For example, she would do a spinal twist, lying on the floor on her back and turning her head in the opposite direction as her legs.
She did cat/cow exercises, but with more of an emphasis on the whole spine.
She held a softened ball behind her head and slowly turned her head left and right, and up and down. She also massaged the occipital part of her skull by rolling it on a ball.
Breathing: Secret Weapon for Pain Relief
Beyond physical therapy, Sarah turned to some of her tried-and-true Pilates and yoga practices to help her body heal – as she had for all her painful experiences. Breathing and meditation were essential.
“Breathing is my number-one secret tool for pain relief,” she says.
With focused breathing, she recommends sitting or lying in a neutral position and releasing tension in muscles to help reduce pain.
At the same time, she recommends meditating or visualizing yourself healing.
“I think for some people meditation is a scary word,” she says. “But just take time to sit and be still and focus on your body and the spots where you have pain, relax your muscles and breathe into that area.”
In particular, Sarah turned to what’s called the “Pilates breath,” where you breathe in through your nose and out through pursed lips.
Sarah also set an intention for each day or each exercise session. Often it was, “embrace healing.”
Now past the pain and back to her work as a Pilates and yoga blogger, Sarah is grateful for the chance to help others resolve pain after a broken neck or other types of pain through gentle forms of movement and breath.
Her advice: “Be respectful and mindful of where you’re at in your healing, and work within the appropriate parameters,” she says.
For more insights on how Sarah healed after her injuries and surgeries, plus Pilates and yoga exercises, find her at www.custompilatesandyoga.com. And check out her book on healing after a broken neck.
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