Fitness Magazine

Acute Orthopedic Injuries

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Shari
In my role as a physical therapist and yoga instructor, I see lots of clients and yoga students who have experienced both acute and chronic orthopedic injuries. In western medicine, an injury is considered acute rather than chronic when it is less than three months old from onset. In general, an acute injury is an injury that occurred as a result of a traumatic event, including:
  • Muscle pulls
  • Ligament sprains
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Contusions (bruises)
Signs of an acute injury generally include one or more of the following:
  • sudden, severe pain
  • swelling, often with the inability to place weight on a limb
  • extreme tenderness on palpation of limb or other body part
  • inability to move a joint through full range of motion,
  • extreme limb weakness, visible dislocation or breakage of a bone
In general, there are two types of acute injuries: an unexpected acute injury and a cumulative trauma. An unexpected acute injury is one that is sudden and immediate, for example, the result of a skiing accident or a fall. My friend Shelly Prosko, who will write a post for us in the near future, experienced an unexpected acute injury when she was Double Dutch skipping and ruptured her Achilles tendon. On the other hand, a cumulative trauma is one that has been building up for a long time, possibly due to micro-injuries to a specific, vulnerable area until a final “last straw” movement causes the injury. This was the case with my right knee medial meniscal tear, which happened during a yoga class when I was doing the same pose I had been practicing for many years.
Acute Orthopedic InjuriesAfter you experience either type of acute injury, you have a dilemma: do you seek immediate medical advice or practice the “wait and see” method? Obviously if you think you may broken a bone, have a concussion, are bleeding profusely or are in excruciating pain, you should go to the emergency room. Otherwise, if the injury seems minor, you can take a 48-hour wait and see approach. During this 48-hour assessment period, you can practice R.I.C.E first aid:
REST: The first 24-48 hours after the injury is considered a critical treatment period, and you should curtail your activities. Gradually use the injured extremity as much as you can tolerate, but try to avoid any activities that cause pain. Often using a splint, sling, or crutches is necessary to adequately rest the injured body part.
 For the first 48 hours post injury, ice the sprain or strain 20 minutes at a time, every 3-4 hours. The ice pack can be a bag of frozen vegetables (such as peas or corn), allowing you to be able to re-use the bag. Another popular treatment method is to fill paper cups with water then freeze the cup. Use the frozen cube like an ice cream cone, peeling away paper as the ice melts. Do not ice a sprain or strain for more than 20 minutes at a time! You will not be helping heal the injury any faster, and you can cause damage to the tissues!
COMPRESS: Use compression when elevating a sprain or strain in early treatment. Using an Ace bandage, wrap the area overlapping the elastic wrap by one-half of the width of the wrap. The wrap should be snug, but should not cut off circulation to the extremity. So, if your fingers or toes become cold, blue, or tingle, re-wrap!
ELEVATE: Keep your sprain or strain elevated, higher than your heart if possible, to reduce swelling. Elevate at night by placing pillows under your arm or leg.
One of the most wonderful positions for reducing swelling (edema reduction) is Legs up the Wall pose (Viparita Karani). And you can even do this pose in bed if your bed is next to a wall and you have the agility to position yourself into the pose. If this isn’t possible, you can try using two bolsters propped up against a chair instead of a wall, especially if you have someone to place the bolsters for you. However, in acute trauma, this pose may NOT comfortable so short bouts might be more beneficial than longer periods of time.
Another spectacular pose for edema reduction is Chair Shoulderstand (see Judith Lasater's Favorite Poses), which you can do in a more passive position with your legs perpendicular or in more active position with your legs upright. The more passive pose is to rest your legs against the chair back, which requires less physical work and allows more relaxation (although this creates more of a backbend).
As you practice your R.I.C.E, keep assessing your pain levels. Sometimes the severity of an injury isn’t apparent immediately but if the pain worsens as the hours progress, this is a good indicator to seek medical care.
Ok, so your 48 hours have passed and you have religiously been practicing R.I.C.E. but you are no better, but no worse. At this point it is time to go to a medical doctor and learn as much as possible about the different possible treatments for your injury and then go through a careful decision process. And yoga can help you through all this.
In my situation with my right knee medial meniscal tear, I waited over six weeks of my own “conservative care” approach before the grim reality hit that things weren’t getting better. I didn’t follow my advice of getting medical help after 48 hours because I thought I could just heal my knee with a lot of RICE and restorative inverted poses. It did slowly get better over the six weeks but I reached a plateau in regaining movement and decreasing edema, and finally acknowledged I needed to be evaluated and diagnosed by a physician. (And frankly, I do have “white coat syndrome” and found it is easier hide my head in the sand and not acknowledge that my injury was more serious than I thought. There was no actual injury so I kept hoping it would get better. Sometimes we ALL practice avoidance!)
I then entered into the traditional medical model (see Fizzy Yoga!) and began non-surgical medical interventions. Along the way, I realized that I needed to add other C.A.M. (complementary alternative medical) approaches to my other endeavors. I realized that I needed to address all five koshas and sought out other medical practitioners that I trusted to aid me in my healing not just by addressing the physical injury but also by preparing me for the question that I had been avoiding: was I going to opt for surgical repair of my meniscal tear?
I meditated on the reason I wanted surgery and what would I gain from it. I had never in my 58 years had ANY surgical interventions, so even to contemplate surgery was a huge question for me to come to grips with. Many people told me to “just have the surgery, it is no big deal,” while others told me horror stories about failed meniscal surgeries and a NY Times article on why knee arthroscopy doesn’t work. But the surgeon who I consulted for this procedure was spectacular. He told me point blank that the decision was mine, but that I couldn’t be on the fence about it. I needed to believe it was the right choice for me. He even went as far to tell me that I could cancel in the surgical suite before anesthesia if I wanted to. His words changed the power dynamics and allowed me the space to meditate on my own fears and come to terms with them. He would do his job, but I had to do mine also.
Yoga helped me through the surgical process in many ways. Pre-op as I was waiting to be brought into the surgical suite, I was in a "comfy" type room with a recliner chair. I lay in that chair, covered myself with the blankets and practiced Ujaii breathing to calm myself. Also, I tried to clear my mind of all doubts and fears by just counting and following my breath. That practice helped immensely, and I was surprised on how low my blood pressure was when they took it before taking me into the operating suite. Just before the anesthesia was administered, I also tried to follow my breath as the lights literally went out. Post op in the recovery area again some Ujaii breathing helped to center me.
Once home, pranayama was helpful in quelling the anxiety and pain from the procedure. I didn't really start yoga asana practice till 24 hours post procedure. Starting with using my breath as I worked through my range of motion exercises and tried to be "kind” to my knee. Yoga is intimately connected to my current recovery. I really can't separate it out from my activities—everything I do now is with mindful attention to my knee and how it will respond to a new activity or asana position. Learning to GO SLOW is my current practice because when I don't, boy oh boy, does my knee balloon up! My knee is my teacher now and the rest of my body is the student—a different place to be for sure.
So, now it is two weeks post-op recovery. I have learned how to ask for help, which for me is really challenging. I have also learned that I need to still the little voice in the back of my mind that criticizes or is unhappy that I still can’t do something that I “should be able to do.” On the other hand, I’ve found it quite amazing how my knee has taught me how to experience asana differently. Yes, before I had to modify, modify, modify, but now the experience of gratitude is present. I ENJOY pranayama now and am practicing it more regularly. Also, I feel embraced by Chair Shoulderstand when I practice it. It is hard to describe but as soon as I am up in the pose I feel like I am getting a “big hug” that encompasses my entire being. The words don’t quite communicate the feeling of prana in my body!

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