In the wake of the devastating August flooding in South Louisiana, I'm reminded of a time in 2005 after Katrina and Rita. Among other parts of my job at the time, one aspect was to teach a class every Wednesday morning to a group of people who had been hurt on the job and had been suffering with various degrees of pain ever since. Most of the time it would be the same people in the group for several weeks, then one would leave the program and another would take their place. My part was to hear their general complaints, how those problems were affecting their personal and work lives, and present many options of how I would recommend helping themselves, such as specific home programs, more exercises, lifting techniques, do's and don'ts of certain activities, etc. As time went on, I got to know several of the participants in the groups, which was really rewarding for us all, as that led to more comfort for all involved, and aided to a quicker initiation of the new members that would join the group. All was grand for quite some time...and then Katrina hit the eastern side of the state...tension rose, but it was controllable. And then Hurricane Rita slammed into our western and central coast, including the Lafayette area. It was a while before the group was able to be reformed afterwards, but when we all came back together, WHEW, what a ride that was! Unlike Katrina, Rita really did some major damage to our area, putting many people out of their homes, and otherwise leaving people scrambling to protect their loved ones, property, and job sites. Slowly, things started to come back together. But the tension remained for quite a while. I remember walking into that first post-Rita group meeting, and feeling that everyone was shooting me daggers from their eyes. Being the one who was supposed to offer advice, calm people's fears about their futures, and play a small part in their getting back to their lives after injury, I was suddenly the one to blame for all of the pain and chaos of the last few weeks. One man was so angry that he couldn't help his wife and little kids move furniture and suitcases and all due to his back pain, feeling helpless and less than a man. Another lady was mad and embarrassed because she had to be evacuated on a stretcher because she was having a flareup of her severe neck pain. The whole group needed an outlet, and I happened to represent a solution that had not worked for them during this traumatic time. I put my pride aside, shared in their pains, fears, embarrassment, and tried my best to just listen and be there for them in that capacity. It was tough, really tough, but in the end very rewarding. The group was able to finally release that negative energy, have each other to relate to, and in the end the Good Lord gave me the few right words to say to them. Trust was restored, and over the next few weeks we were able to focus on the main issues at hand and eventually pick up where we'd left off before the hurricane.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when this crazy storm decided to overstay its welcome in South Louisiana, causing flooding all over the place, forcing many people into a very much similar situation. One thing about living in this region of the country, we're always at risk for some such disaster. With our clinic being in an area that in general floods pretty easily, many of our patients were unable to get out of their houses, or were out and unable to get back in, many of them losing much of their belongings. The general stress levels were up again, as were many people's symptoms, especially for those people suffering with pain in their joints and soft tissues. The entire week after the storm, as expected, was an Oo Ya Ya week, with most of our patient's really flared up, requiring some much needed TLC. But one thing I found to be pretty consistent, was the fact that being in one of the greatest parts of our great country, our culture is one of neighbor helping neighbor, and many people putting in a lot of hard physical labor to make things right again. Unfortunately, many of us are not full time laborers, more of the weekend warriors of laborers, and as such, when put in situations where crucial timing, our adrenaline and big hearts overtake our precaution sense, tend to put our bodies through a tremendous amount of hard work, and often without considering lifting techniques and general body mechanics. Although we've helped ourselves, families and neighbors, we often pay a price for it afterwards.
The good news is that there are a myriad of ways to protect ourselves from such consequences, while allowing us to be full altruistic and productive during those emergencies. Believe it or not, just walking 15 minutes a day, everyday, can create significant advantages for that person. You'd want to walk on a surface that was level...and I say this because most of our sidewalks and streets are made for drainage, sloping slightly to the side, thus causing the joints of the legs and pelvis to slightly bend irregularly to the side for the whole time, and possibly causing the joints of the pelvis and spine to slip into an irregular position, setting up a series of problems later. Best bet is to walk on a track, treadmill, down the middle of a no- or low- traffic neighborhood street, around the mall, etc. By walking regularly, the heart and lungs are more conditioned, the spine and hips are healthier, and everything is generally looser, allowing one to be able to tolerate the long hours of emergency work that has to take place during or right after these storms. Also, the right lifting techniques could totally save a person's back from feeling like a knot afterwards. For example, when lifting a box from the ground to the bed of a truck, spread your legs on either side of the box, arch the back, reach down between your legs to grab the box, and stand straight up with the box, rather than bending forward from the low back and hips. With the box in your arms and close to your body, turn your whole body towards the truck and slide it into the bed, always using an up and down motion to position it into the trunk, rather than a forward/backward movement. Your back will thank you for it. Drink lots of water and less beer, although we are known for some pretty awesome hurrications down here. The water will help to keep your joints gliding as smoothly as possible, whereas the alcohol can dehydrate you, throw off your rational thinking (especially in regards to when to stop and take a break), and aid in better digestion of the comfort foods that our awesome Cajun neighbors bring us.
So lets come together to help our neighbors, but lets make sure we do things the right way so as to prevent the Oo Ya Ya's.
To your health,
Jeff Mentel, PT
Scott Physical Therapy