A Vermonter’s PT Success Story
Liz Guenther of The Three Cow Creamery in Chelsea Shares Her Journey from Painful to Pain-Free
When I walked into Cioffredi’s, simply getting out of my car, standing upright, and walking was painful. Each day I was in pain, and my usual farm chores (carrying water pails and milk cans, tossing hay bales, and handling cows) were becoming increasingly uncomfortable, and wearing me down. Running, a life-long passion and treasured time-out for me, had become too painful to continue.
I was so discouraged that it was good just to be able to walk upstairs to their front desk and look out across the bright, airy exercise area. Seeing people working together with their PTs, and being warmly greeted by staff members, reminded me why I specifically requested a referral to Cioffredi’s from my doctor; there is a welcoming atmosphere of teamwork and encouragement that you sense as soon as you walk in, and that I have found positively healing.
Everything Seemed More Complicated
Twice in the last fifteen years I have come to Cioffredi’s [first for a running injury, and again when I fell from a barn ladder onto ice (bad planning) and broke my humorous, which wasn’t funny at all, because lifting water buckets and harnessing workhorses were tasks suddenly beyond reach.]. Each time I walked out of the clinic able to gradually resume all my usual activities, and armed with new skills, exercises, and perspective to maintain the progress I’d made. This time, when I came in, everything seemed more complicated. Aches and pains had been accumulating and compounding for almost a year. Deep pain radiated through my lower back, left hip and hamstring, which made car rides longer than 10 minutes manageable only with an ice pack that I shifted from tailbone to hip to hamstring. I had come to grit my teeth at the thought of hoisting the next milk can into the can cooler. Pain was nearly constant, but also constantly changing in nature, intensity, and location.
Careful Listening and the Right Diagnosis
At my first session with Bill I attempted to organize this long list of complaints and observations for him. Very quickly I came to appreciate that he is a careful and thoughtful listener. He patiently filtered both my frustration and my preconceptions, and suggested I try a few simple movements. I had previously tried all kinds of stretches and exercises on my own to little effect so it was an epiphany therefore to discover that I could stand and bend sideways to the right, but hardly at all to the left without deep pain. With this simplest exercise I gained an essential means to gauge my range of movement and was now able to begin to hone in on the source of the pain.
Overcoming My Apprehension About the Pain
Cautioning me not to force an exercise Bill at one point asked me just to try a stretch, release, and try it again. Again this was enlightening as I realized that the second time, although I hardly stretched any farther I was able to move with noticeably less pain. I took this experience home and realized that my apprehension about pain was playing a considerable role in my situation. I had developed the habit of backing off abruptly from any movement that hurt, so I was simply moving less and less while still doing all sorts of hard work; a recipe for further problems. This was a breakthrough for me! To be clear, Bill’s advice was never to strain, but rather to pause, take a breath, gradually try moving into a stretch, slowly come out of it, and if I felt steady, try it again.
Treatment with Bill
Throughout the time I worked with Bill I found his dedicated attention to detail extremely valuable. He was constantly making minor adjustments; rotating a knee or ankle very slightly, turning a shoulder just a bit, always in a very quiet way as if instead of explaining the adjustment he was opening up a space where you can feel it, and internalize so your body can learn. On the other hand, he was always willing to explain a particular pose or variation if I asked, which I often did. While he was vigilant about correcting me, I found working with him relaxing, affirming, and fun. He would often get right down on the carpet and demonstrate a stretch or an exercise if I was unclear how to go into it. You don’t get that kind of care at the average doctor’s office!
Our early exploration of the extent of my painful stiffness led to some sources I hadn’t expected. I had some arthritic changes in my spine and a hip flexor so tight and ticklish I nearly jumped off the table when Bill first pressed on it; at which point I discovered that Bill has a great sense of humor. The pain running down my backside was directly connected to contracted muscles along the front of my left hip. Working on this area with Bill possibly made the biggest difference in how I feel. The next several visits included a lot of manual therapy that seemed to open my left hip and in fact gradually lengthen my whole left side so that I literally walked out the door feeling an inch taller and lighter on my feet. I loved all of this, and I am really grateful for the thought, skill, and physical work Bill put into gently and gradually releasing old, habitual tightness so the pain would flow out and let energy flow in.
Getting Back to Running
By the time six or seven visits had passed I felt so much better I was itching to run again. Characteristically Bill listened, recommended a pair of shoes, which I tried dubiously and now love, and laid out a couple of reasonable guidelines. One of them was that at this point in my life, not yet old but alas no longer young, I would probably have to get used to the idea of living with a certain amount of pain. I have found this advice, once I got used to it, to be freeing not daunting. I lead a very active life with lots of hard work so aches and pains come and go, but I feel that from my recent work with Bill that I have resources. All the thoughtfully introduced exercises and stretches are there for me to choose from like tools in a toolbox. Bill wordlessly reminded me that if I have new tools it is up to me to remember and decide to open the box and get them out.
A New Lease on Life
I know I’m not the first farmer to limp up the stairs and walk away with a new lease on life, but I as I move forward I know that Bill is genuinely interested in not just how my body will toss hay or lift buckets, but in how I might piece together the unconventional life I choose to live, and within the body I have to live it. My sense is that this is a deeply sincere concern of Bill’s and one he has successfully cultivated among all the staff at Cioffredi & Associates. I think we are really lucky to have them in town.