perfect just the way you are and…7-14-23


She described every detail of her right foot pain.  The way in 2020 it commenced in conjunction with the lockdown.  Which she dealt with by taking extraordinarily long neighborhood strolls.  Her right heel, with no specific injury, began to be painful seemingly out of nowhere.  Soon it was unbearable even to walk around the house.  She did a course of physical therapy and then saw a podiatrist.  To no avail.  Finally, in desperation, she turned to the internet and found a doc who recommended regular calf stretching.  And that was the first thing that gave her relief.  Mostly.

Key word, that “mostly”.  A classic example of “the body keeps the score” and she knew it. So she found me by word of mouth, motivated by a completely realistic fear.  Unless she stayed really careful, the foot pain might full force return at any time.  Who wants to live really careful?  Do you perhaps have any history of back pain or maybe hip pain, I inquired.  Well, yes, she said, glancing upward as if her whole history was projected above.  I suppose I’ve had about thirty years of aches and pains there.  Stiffness and tenderness.  Soreness, actually mainly on the right side.

This is the way it flies, peeps.  When the issue in the tissue is central—think spine, hips, shoulders—and it lingers and marinates over time, it tends to travel outward.  Sometimes it hitches a ride on the nervous system.  Sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, thoracic outlet ALWAYS partner with a central issue.  Other times our intelligent bodies harness the periphery for a compensatory strategy.  The interwoven fascia is a remarkable fabric perfect for this tactic.  And since we’re weight-bearing creatures, trouble in the spine and hips especially likes to manifest as knee, ankle and foot troubles.

After listening to her history, it was simple to identify what we call in the PT world an O/E, an objective exam finding.  Some move that duplicates the symptom.  The best ones are patient-generated as in “every time I do this, I feel it”.  She had a solid O/E for the foot. So after examining her low back and right hip and gathering a few central O/Es, it was time for hands on table work.

I already suspected exactly where there would be tightness in the right low back and hip.  Confirmed and so obviously not on the left.  After releasing this region, we re-checked the O/Es. Not only were the hip and back ones improved, the foot one was better as well.  Mind you, I took special care NOT to manually treat the foot…on purpose.  This result confirmed how important the central issues were.

From all this, we created and video-taped a 20 minute, most days, two week plan for releasing those tight central areas, leaving the foot alone.  We’ll see what happens.  Doesn’t mean we won’t treat the foot eventually. We just need to clear up those central issues first or her realistic fear of the pain returning will, in all likelihood, come to pass.

I chose to tell this particular story (with the patient’s permission) because it is so friggin’ common.  Often people come to me flummoxed about their particular symptoms.  We believe what we have is weirdly unique or rare or special.  I’m here to testify, at least with my self-selected population of the last twenty years, that is very far from the truth.  Every so often I see someone new and, upon completion, have to let them know their challenge is unusual.  We’ll give it a home program go for a couple weeks, but if NOTHING changes, we have not nailed a good working hypothesis.  Highly unusual to have this conversation…but it does happen.

Most of our suffering falls into predictable patterns.  If the nervous system has become entangled, it’s a bit trickier and slower to treat.  But there are dependable triage models for neural involvement.  If all this seems quite dry and scientific…well that’s because this piece of it is.  Thank goodness some things are fairly predictable!

But the physical in physical therapy is only one facet of the healing journey we take together.  Once we attune to the incredible sensation of release and how it unites with and is nourished by the breath.  Once we get curious about side-to-side differences in our body and become quiet enough for the internal brewing to surface.  Once we commit to a fairly regular, though sometimes humanly haphazard, home practice.  Well…anything is possible.

I have powerful personal stories of the way physical healing revealed the nature of festering soul wounds.  And how the body is often ready and willing to offer a portal for tending to spirit. I have my own rich experiences and have witnessed this time and again in others.  Grateful for this cellular intelligence.

I am never about fixing.  Because we really are quite perfect just the way we are.  I love that quote up top from Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.  We may be perfect but the fact is that we all suffer.  And it might be possible to suffer less.  This alleviation creates a profound effect and not only for ourselves. When we feel good it ripples out to our inner circle of loved ones.  And that sets a goodness wave in motion out into the world.  Our own healing is the first step…and only the beginning.