Martha Carter Talks About Her Healing Journey - Part 5

Harrington rods removed - the healing journey begins

This is Part 5 of a serial blog post. In Part 4, I compare Harrington rod surgery when I had it done in 1974 to how different it is today. In Part 3, I detailed my experience of finding a surgeon (and making the decision!) to remove my Harrington rods. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

As I mentioned in Part 3 of this serial blog post, after the removal of my Harrington rods, I was eager to experience movement in a new way—without the restriction of metal implants. But because I still felt stiff and had muscle spasms, I decided to work with a massage therapist, Dawn, to help break up the scar tissue that had built up over the years.

Dawn told me that the muscles and connective tissue around my spine were unusually tight and ‘stuck’, due to a significant accumulation of scar tissue, and that my back was one of the worst she had ever seen! At first, she wasn’t even sure if she could agree to help me, because it would take such a long time, but eventually she reluctantly agreed to give me one treatment to see how my body responded. When I returned after a few days, she was encouraged by the positive change in my tissue, and agreed to continue. But on one condition: I had to agree to both regular massage and a workout regime. Also, I had to stay patient. As mentioned, she felt it would likely take 10 years (it took eight) to get my connective tissue soft and strengthened, a thought that made me just about faint with shock!!

Dawn and Shawn, my workout trainer, working together as a team made it all possible. In fact, I learned Dawn and Shawn would talk on the phone to discuss and coordinate approaches. Looking back, I am eternally grateful for their willingness to work so intensively and with so much care and attention to detail.

For the first two years, I had weekly massages and tri-weekly trainings.

During the one hour massages, Dawn would systematically work her way around the tightest areas of my body, mostly around my thoracic curve, kneading the tissues with increasing pressure. Sometimes it felt good, and other times it felt very painful, but thankfully she worked quickly and efficiently, encouraging me to breathe and relax into the treatment. Immediately following each massage, I would feel exhausted and usually had to take a hot bath and rest. But the massages provided quick, positive results toward more fluidity in my body, which gave me the incentive to keep going back.

As per our agreement, I also started a workout regime with Shawn. I had never had a gym routine before, so I wasn’t even sure what to wear! Over time, my uniform became baggy sweatpants, a t-shirt and an over-sized hoodie.

The trainings lasted between 2-3 hours, and Shawn became my trainer, counsellor, coach and friend. He found my case interesting, and as a professional athlete who often worked with dancers, he was determined to get results.

The first days were scary and grueling, but he assured me it would get easier. And it did. Every workout started on the stationary bike for 30 minutes where he challenged me to push further with changing intensities and spinning drills. The cardio was followed by a series of exercises with machines and free weights for another hour. The weights were not heavy, and I learned that using the proper technique with repetition was the secret to building stamina. Having Shawn there to guide me and to help maneuver the weights was a huge privilege — lifting and handling the weights can be very awkward, especially when getting in and out of position.

To end each session, Shawn would manually stretch and massage me on the mat for another 30 minutes or more. These mat sessions were both the best and the hardest part of the training sessions. Although it was a luxury to have someone giving me such careful, expert attention, it was uncomfortable physically and emotionally. It was during these times that I was forced to learn to breathe; to visualize my body and will it to relax and release. The pain was palpable, and often brought up deep emotions. The tears would start to flow, and I would pull the hoodie over my head, tie it so tightly that there was only a hole to breathe through, and cry out all the body frustrations I had never expressed before.

As the months, passed, my body started to change: My strength improved quickly. I had more energy and slept deeper. My breathing improved as my ribcage gained mobility. There was some pain and discomfort, but it moved around — it wasn’t stuck anymore.

As my mobility improved, I felt more confident in every way.

As I grew stronger, I had less frequent massages, and became more independent, doing some trainings alone. Although it was very challenging, it became easier as I got stronger. It also ignited a curiosity in me about what else might be out there.

In my next few posts, I will detail my different experiences with various healing modalities and how they helped me to manage my scoliosis. I will share what was involved with each of the different techniques, and how they affected me for better and worse.