Peeling Back the Layers of Physical Issues
My horse, Cherry, fractured a bone in her foot in May. She came to me 14 months ago with a variety of physical compensations, which I’ve written about in other columns and have been working to address. Although we’ve made some progress, it’s slow going at times. It’s been difficult to “undo” some of her detrimental movement habits, most likely due to muscle memory.
While she’s been resting and recovering from her injury over the past three months, I’ve been focusing on her overall physical condition. Since Cherry is a competitive athlete, she has regular bodywork and acupuncture. I’ve recently stepped that up a bit, however, to try to help her overcome some issues with tightness, stiffness, and muscle soreness. It seems to be paying off. When the vet examined her today, she was astounded by how dramatically Cherry had improved overall, but she also found areas of muscle tension that we hadn’t really noticed before today.
At this point you’re probably thinking, “OK, Karen, where’s this going? What in the world does this have to do with you and your Ehlers-Danlos syndrome?” A lot, actually — at least in the approach that I’ve taken to Cherry’s treatment.
While chatting with the vet today, I explained that in my experience with muscle tightness and pain, when one area really hurts, it can overshadow anything else that might be bothering me. Once that area calms down and I don’t feel like it’s “yelling” at me all the time, I often notice other areas that are sore and need attention. It’s not that they’re suddenly injured; rather, I simply wasn’t able to “hear” them because another area — usually my shoulder — was drowning out everything else.
That personal experience and knowledge have helped shape my approach to Cherry’s care and treatment because I suspect that even those without EDS experience the same phenomenon. As a result, I assumed we would be peeling the layers of an onion, so to speak, in unraveling the root causes of Cherry’s issues. At the same time, it has reminded me to focus on my own habits and compensations, which were the inspiration for my previous two columns on body awareness through riding and Pilates.
Sometimes life with EDS feels like a never-ending onion: As soon as you manage one layer or injury, a new one appears. I’ve spent years of my life trying to unravel the seemingly infinite layers of my “compensation onion” since I was finally diagnosed at 22. As frustrating as that can be, recognizing that there are always layers to unravel in an athlete regardless of whether that person (or horse!) has EDS can help it feel a little more normal.
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