It is 7 weeks to the day since my accident in Geneva, and I am finally able to walk around pain-free with a relatively strong and stable ankle. The abrupt failure to even start the swim and the frustrations of debility have left me feeling sad and demotivated at times, but the last two weeks have seen a rapid acceleration in the healing process in ways that have completely transformed my ability to get around and enabled me to begin rebuilding my lost fitness....including, at last, a return to the pool.
I had always thought of physio as something you did after an injury had pretty much healed rather than to facilitate healing, and so when I first contacted Mark Wilkinson of Skipton’s Paragon Physiotherapy, I asked whether it was even worth coming in while the injury was still relatively new and angry or whether I should hold off for a bit. He was emphatic that I should start immediately and offered me an appointment for the next day. This, as it turns out, was one of the best decisions I have made and Mark has been pivotal to my recovery. He put me on an intensive regime of cold therapy, and kept me off the foot for longer than I would have if left to my own devices, but then two weeks ago, the pace of treatment changed and we went from resting, to simple strengthening exercises with a stretch band, to a wobbly cushion for proprioception, to today – a session of strength and proprioception tests that had me balancing on wobble boards, doing squats on a bosu ball, bouncing on an unstable trampoline whilst boxing or throwing and catching a ball, doing walking lunges carrying a 10kg weight and jumping two-footed over low hurdles whilst trying not to thud to a landing with the finesse of a sack of potatoes (apparently, we were aiming for balletic, but let’s face facts…).
It’s such a fascinating process to go through. Weaknesses I couldn’t even feel sprang to the surface as I tried to do various exercises….or more accurately, they ran through my body as it tried to respond to the demands I was placing on it. Occasionally, my right hand would start to shake violently mid-exercise; with all my focus and energy on my left foot, it was as if the embodied effort and tension of completing the task was pouring into my unattended opposite hand. And then there was the step – a stable platform, barely a foot high, which I had to jump up onto, two-footed, from standing. The first time Mark asked me to do it, I couldn’t even get my feet off the floor – it was as if my brain wouldn’t even let me consider jumping. Apparently this is a defence mechanism – the brain knows that all is not well and that the proprioception is damaged and stops you putting yourself at risk. But this isn’t a “mind over matter” affair – you can’t ‘think’ your way out of it. Instead, you have to take the time to restore the neural pathways before the jump even becomes thinkable. The body is never simply a matter of mechanics.
And so….after all the balancing, hopping and jumping, I have finally been discharged from treatment with my foot strong and stable enough to move safely through everyday life without the immediate risk of going over on it again. I still need to be careful with it and to keep up with exercises to build on the progress already made, and it’s still a bit sore at the end of a busy day and needs to be iced, but it is a world apart from the day I hobbled home from Barcelona. I have started swim training again, and have Geneva II firmly in my (long-range) sights.
And so, my advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar position in the future is: find yourself an experienced, well-qualified sports physiotherapist as soon as possible and do whatever they tell you to do. I am hugely indebted to Mark for his expertise and care and learned a lot in the process.
But most of all, try not to fall down steps in the first place. It saves a lot of trouble later.