While I had worked with physical therapists for my left arm and my shoulders during these last several months after the accident, I looked forward to working on my neck the most.

Did I say “looked forward to”? I also meant “dreaded.”

After being immobilized for an eternity in my three neck braces, my neck muscles were in really bad shape. When I emailed my friend Megan a selfie after getting my neck brace off, she said that my neck looked “very beautiful and slender.” My husband also told me I looked “like a model” in that picture.

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This is probably the only time I could have politely rejected those compliments. My neck was that thin because my muscles have wasted away from the complete lack of physical activity and movement. And there’s a lot of muscles in there.

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My neurosurgeon told me that the bulk of my rehab should be on my upper body (deltoids, biceps, pecs, etc.), as my neck won’t require too much work. But okay, one step at a time. Neck first. I have three months to do all of this work!

Fortunately all this muscle atrophy can be treated with exercise as well as improved nutrition. (And I say “improved nutrition” after pigging out on Korean BBQ at a celebratory lunch with my family and eating delicious Filipino desserts at a Christmas party! Back to healthy eating tomorrow!)

Although I was over the moon about my experience at my physical therapy clinic in California, I was completely unsatisfied with my new physical therapist here in Canada. The pain and discomfort in my upper body lessened only marginally, I always felt rushed during my appointments, and I didn’t even do any of my exercises there! It was practically a waste of my time and money (luckily my insurance covered most of it, until my physical therapy benefits ran out). Even though I had a good working relationship with my physical therapist as he knew all of my medical history, I decided to change clinics. I wanted only the best to help me get my neck and upper body back to normal. Or at least to “my new normal.” While I didn’t have anymore physical therapy benefits from my insurance for the year and there were free physical therapy clinics available (through OHIP), I still chose to go with a private clinic and pay for it myself so I could receive high-quality personalized care. Sad to say, but high-quality health care does cost money.

As my dad pulled out of the parking lot at St. Mike’s after my appointment with my neurosurgeon, I called and scheduled my first session with a new physical therapy clinic I had in mind. They were able to accommodate me that very afternoon. This neck had to get moving as soon as possible!

I was led to an examination room. I asked Janine, the new physical therapist assigned to me, if she spoke French. She said “un peu,” (a little) and agreed to practice with me! I am going to get another physical therapist in Québec City in the New Year and I need to be comfortable describing all my injuries and issues at that point! It went well with Janine, I really liked her. I told her all about the accident, etc., etc., and even brought a copy of my thank you card to show all the different neck braces I’ve worn. I was surprised I didn’t cry this time. (It happens nearly every time I tell my story to a new health care professional…) Maybe because my brain was too distracted while I was speaking in French? Hehe.

I demonstrated the range of motion I had in my neck. I stopped when I felt pain.

Normal range of motion:

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My range of motion, Day 1: (Okay, it was really Day 2 when I took these photos hehe)

I was inadvertently doing all these weird kinds of compensations (like tilting my shoulders as I bent my head, or arching my back more so I can look up more) so Janine said that I need to be wary of those while doing my exercises.

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Weird compensation 1: The shoulder tilt

I also showed her the range of motion I had in my shoulders and my left arm, which wasn’t too bad.

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I can raise my arms to almost the maximum range without pain. Immediately after wearing the halo brace, my shoulders would hurt so much after raising my arms just up to my nose!

I’m happy that I’ve gotten the mobility in my shoulders and left arm back (nearly 100%, except for the supination in my left wrist which is still at around 60%), I just need to work on building strength now. For the last seven and a half months, I couldn’t lift anything more than five pounds. And now I can!!!! (But just up to 30 pounds for now.)

But again, just one step at a time. Neck first. This was like, my SEVENTH HOUR out of a neck brace.

After my initial assessment, Janine walked to me to their gym. It was a spacious area which also oddly resembled a warehouse. They had a few treadmills, stationary bikes, and rowing machines. They also had a station for upper body workouts. I liked their space. The gym space of my old physical therapy clinic was only a third of theirs… and I never even went in there.

Janine introduced me to Stephen, her assistant. She described my situation to him (in English now) and that’s when I knew she understood everything I told her in French! Score.

Stephen demonstrated some basic exercises to me. I completed a set at the gym, and I was to complete another at home. He gave me three simple exercises to start with over the weekend. Here is one set (I am to do two per day, for now):

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Starting with your neck in neutral position, nod up, hold 3 seconds. Then nod down, hold 3 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
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Starting with your neck in neutral position, turn your neck to the left and hold 3 seconds. Go back to neutral, turn to the right, and hold 3 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
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(Okay, I don’t know why this guy doesn’t have pants on.) Starting with your head in a neutral position, tuck your chin in for 3 seconds then return to neutral. Repeat 10 times.

I could help jumping the gun as I asked if I could do more “advanced” neck exercises I previously looked up.

He told me that we should take it slowly.

I also asked him for advice about joining a gym and working with a personal trainer at this point. I wasn’t a gym-rat or anything pre-accident, but I was extremely active. I exercised at home, at work, or outside nearly everyday. And then I had to downgrade to only walking for the longest time. I longed to sweat buckets and jump around until I couldn’t breathe anymore! I missed that post-workout high. And having the license to eat (nearly) anything and feel less guilty about it too.

But Stephen urged me to just start with them first at physical therapy. He said that personal trainers don’t necessarily know how to properly progress me given my injuries. Okay, fine… I’ll wait.

He approved me to walk and bike (on a recumbent, stationary bike) for now.

Sigh.

He said that I still have to get used to having (this will sound weird) a “moving head.” He even told me that he noticed that I still move around as if I had a neck brace on! What.

“It’s just so hard… I used to be really active…” I whined.

“I know, it’s frustrating, I know,” Stephen empathized with me.

It’s okay. I don’t think I can even do these bicycle crunches (or even regular crunches!) given the condition of my neck.

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Before I left for home, I scheduled my next sessions. I would go see them three times a week until the holidays. Stephen told me something before I left, I can’t remember what it was, but I replied to it nodding in agreement.

At that point I realized, Hey, I can nod now!!!

Before going to sleep that night, I completed my exercises. Because I have only a few for now (but they do tire my neck muscles), they don’t take me longer than 15 minutes to do. Compare this with my hand/wrist/elbow exercises which took me MORE THAN AN HOUR… PER SET.

Back in June when I felt bored out of my mind doing those exercises for my left arm, I just told myself, Seriously, just do all these exercises and you’ll get your arm back in a month or two.

Well, it’s December now and I can tell myself, Seriously, just do all these exercises and you’ll get your neck back in a month or two.

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At least pwede na ‘kong um-angle sa pics ko ngayon… bahaha

 

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