Getting Started: A pain in the neck
Melissa Spangler’s Journal
Recovering from an injury
Kayaking at Deception Pass for a Tidal Pools class toward the end of November was the last opportunity I had to get into a kayak and paddle throughout the day. Despite having the time of my life during the class, I should have listened to the warning signs and postponed attending. Prior to the class my body was signaling for me to slow down and rest but I didn’t heed its warning signs.
Throughout my journey over the past year I have learned many lessons about kayaking, kayak camping, rolling, kayak surfing, wet exits, paddling in open water, turning strokes, balance, core workouts, proper gear and attire. I have met some of the most amazing and dedicated people who have grown to be friends for life. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to squeeze in a multitude of breathtaking experiences and to create an extended network of kayak family throughout 2010. Throughout my intense paddling while participating in the Puget Sound Challenge totaling 150 nautical miles, I also participated in many training courses, rolling classes, practice sessions and kayak overnight trips. The mileage I paddled astounded me, totaling over 200 nautical miles in one year as a beginner. Amidst the thrill and excitement of engaging in this incredible new sport, I failed to learn a most important lesson: Getting the proper rest and relaxation is the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Learning how to rest and relax is incredibly important because if you don’t then you may not be able to continue participating in any of the physical activities you love. I had immersed myself completely in kayaking, dedicated to improving my kayak skills throughout 2010. I was paddling extended mileage almost every weekend, participating in a mid-week paddle and practice session along with practicing rolling every chance I was on the water. I also took up golf during the same timeframe and faithfully practiced every week from November 2009 until October 2010, and when my shoulder began to bother me I had to refrain from swinging a club. Hiking and backpacking were interspersed on open weekends, leaving little to no time for my body to rest and begin to recover from the strenuous activities.
While practicing rolling around mid-summer, I jarred my shoulder a few times by digging the paddle into the lake bottom instead of sweeping along the surface. What seemed like a minor injury at the time, starting with an achy shoulder, developed into an agitation that increased and never dissipated. With repetitive motions of paddling, rolling, swinging a golf club and carrying a heavy hiking pack, the ache graduated to tenderness in my shoulder blades, escalating to sharp pain accompanied by tingling fingertips and arm numbness. One morning I woke to severe neck pain and found that I couldn’t turn my head without wincing. With the increase in pain, I began to take ibuprofen. A stabbing pain in my neck and shoulders was plaguing my mornings, afternoons and evenings. I couldn’t sleep through the night any longer because each time I turned, I screamed in agony, waking throughout the night. I began to take the ibuprofen every four hours and iced my neck every night before bed and many times wrapped the flexible pack around my neck then secured it with my scarf to ease the pain at work during the morning. The pain continued to increase rather than subside, even after I had backed off of almost every activity. The pain was so intense at times that I cried myself to sleep. I was hindered from participating in my daily activities and driving became unsafe since I couldn’t turn my head completely to check for oncoming vehicles when changing lanes. I began canceling outings with friends, kayak events, golfing, etc. I had to alter everything from drying my wet hair to resisting the use of nodding gestures when in conversation. I had never experienced such non-stop, excruciating pain in my life.
Two days before the tidal pools class, I made a doctor’s appointment to find out what was going on and to seek pain relief. The doctor claimed that there were some vertebrae out of alignment and proceeded to conduct an alignment adjustment. It was one of the scariest loud cracking noises, but immediate relief flooded over me. I couldn’t believe it! I have always been taught that when something appears too good to be true, it usually is, but it gave me enough hope that I pushed forward and attended the class at Deception Pass. This irritated the area and I started feeling the same if not worse symptoms and made additional doctor appointments. I visited numerous doctors before getting down to the core of the issue. During this time I received X-rays, batteries of tests, an MRI, therapeutic massage, a multitude of chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy. It turned out to be a few misaligned vertebrae, severely inflamed tissue and an irritated nerve which started to cause other issues with the continual repetitive motions.
It has been a long couple of months and with two months of mandated rest and weekly physical therapy sessions, here I am at the end of January and I have just made it to the point where my PT appointments have transitioned from healing and recovery to conditioning and strength training geared toward getting back into a kayak. The past two months have altered my life forever. As someone who has lived life in 5th gear and thought my body was tough and durable, I have learned the importance of slowing down and taking rest and relaxation seriously. I am learning to incorporate balance into my daily plan so I may maintain my quality of life. The injury was a minor set-back in the big scheme of things, however it could have easily ended up with serious consequences such as permanent nerve damage, loss of feeling in limbs or constant pain as my orthopedic doctor warned if I didn’t slow down and take care of my body. I have learned that when participating in a new sport, it is critical to learn proper form from the beginning so that you practice the correct motions to minimize the wear and tear on your body. It was also highly recommended by my physical therapist/miracle worker to condition prior to engaging in any new activity. Knowing it is one thing, but actually doing it can be difficult. No one ever said you have to learn everything in a day, or a year in my case. It is not a race to a finish line but a new lesson that we learn each and every day.
I found some quotations that were a good fit for my circumstances:
” The time to relax most is when you don’t have time for it.” Sydney J. Harris
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” Chinese Proverb
I love sea kayaking and have developed an amazing passion for the activity. I can’t wait for the day I get back into a kayak and paddle across Puget Sound. It may be a slow yet worthwhile process.
Notes from Christopher Cunningham, Sea Kayaker editor
Melissa had been considering the Deception Pass Dash until the eve of the event. She thought she’d at least start the race and see how things felt. Ultimately she made the right choice and stayed home. It makes sense to leave shore when you know your capabilities are a good match for the conditions. Paddling out to see how things will go isn’t a good idea. If you have doubts and uncertainties—whether they’re about your physical capacity or about the conditions you might face— pay attention to them. They’re important tools to use in your decision-making.
By foregoing the Dash Melissa assured that she’d not aggravate her injury. She also avoided having the doubts she had about her ability confirmed by the unforgiving currents in Deception Pass.