My head was spinning and my vision was flickering as I lay on the ground hoping to remain conscious following a 15-foot fall from a ladder in my back yard. After things settled down a bit, I tried to get up but was unable to walk due to the severe pain in my pelvis region and lower back. The ambulance ride was painful, but then came the real pain: being moved around for x-rays at the hospital. As long as nobody touched me and I remained perfectly still, I was OK. I was diagnosed with three fractures to my pelvis and a fracture to my lower vertebrae (L1-L4).
I ended up on short-term disability, then long-term disability, and eventually was laid off by my employer. The financial sky was falling, and there was nothing that I could do about it except continue to work at getting my strength and flexibility back, so that I might someday return to work.
Treatment & Recovery
I sought treatment, beginning with an orthopedic specialist and a neurosurgeon. Then I was referred to a pain control specialist and Virginia Therapy and Fitness Center (VTFC) for evaluation.
Initially, I was fitted with a “clam shell” brace that I had to wear full-time for the first several weeks. It seemed to hold all the fractures in place, thereby reducing the pain when I moved. I received several weeks of at-home occupational therapy to get me up and moving. I began by using a walker, then I graduated to crutches, and finally transitioned to a cane. I was moving slowly with a cane when I first came to see Rich Banton for evaluation at VTFC:
Rich: Jim was originally referred to me for a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) to determine if he could safely return to his job as a project manager. During this evaluation, I concluded that Jim could not safely return his job at the time, but I felt that I could help him achieve more functional ability and alleviate his pain. Jim had been in physical therapy at another facility for a few months, but they were focusing on exercises only. I knew that with good manual therapy, dry needling, and therapeutic exercise from Jason Arnett and me, we could enhance Mr. Winters’ quality of life and possibly help him get back to work.
Jason: Our first goal was to help restore Jim’s range of motion in his hips and spine. We accomplished this by using gentle spine range of motion exercises and functional movement patterns like squats and lunges. We progressed to balancing activities, core endurance training, and finally, functional retraining exercises.
Rich: For the next three months, we worked together two to three times per week on increasing his rib and thoracic spine mobility, reducing his muscular tension through dry needling and joint mobilizations, and improving his aerobic ability. As Jim’s spine mobility was restored, his posture improved and thus reduced the abnormal forces on his compression fractures in his lumbar spine. Jim’s pain was decreasing and this enabled him to walk further, tolerate sitting longer, improve his material handling ability, and eventually return to the job he loved.
Almost one year and a half later, re-injury occurred. WHAP! I had slipped on a wet ramp and lay flat on my back, looking up at the cold mountain rain. This time the pain was severe in the area of my mid-back. “Not again”, I thought to myself. I had just completed healing from the first fall and had returned to work part-time. This second fall was at my mountain property 200 miles from home. I was by myself and my cell phone was in the truck. As I made it to my feet, I surmised that my pelvis was OK, so I was able to pull myself into the truck and headed for home. After driving for 90 minutes or so, the bumps in the road of Route 81 caused excruciating pain in my mid-back. The gas tank was on “E” and I knew that I would be unable to get out of the truck by myself to refuel. So I drove to the hospital in Woodstock, VA and waited for an ambulance crew to help me get out of the truck and into the emergency room. I had fractured my T8 vertebra and had lots of bruising of my mid-back.
This second injury was a big concern, but recovery time for getting back to work was much quicker. This time, Rich’s dry needling work really made a huge difference. A blend of the dry needling and the physical therapy was just the right medicine to get me back in the saddle fairly quickly.
Jason: For Jim’s second go around, after his slip at the cabin, he was pretty flared up. We began with pain controlling modalities like cold laser, electrical stimulation therapy, and cryotherapy. Once his pain was under control, we jumped back into the core endurance training exercises that Jim was so fond of from his previous time here.
At VTFC, Rich would periodically do a reassessment of my progress after working with Jason. Jason’s inspiring expertise was crucial to my ability to complete essential exercises and stretches without re-injuring me. I would not have recovered to the extent that I did, were it not for Rich and Jason’s expert help. Obviously, I am grateful beyond words.
Rich: Jim is the best patient. It took quality physical therapy and exercise to improve Jim’s function, but it took much more heart and will power from Jim to push through the pain and slow healing process to get back to where he is today. In addition to almost losing a job that he had done for over 20 years, Jim also had a more important job at home. Jim has a son with special needs and for the first time in his life he feared that he may not be able to take care of his son because of functional limitations. It is often said that physical therapists inspire their patients, but in this case, Jim inspired me. He is one of the most genuine and kind people you will ever meet and he has a will to succeed that is unmatched. I know that I helped Jim, but he helped me too.
Physical therapy made a significant contribution to restoring my life and my livelihood. For a 64 year old “kid,” I’m doing much better than I would have believed possible after incurring fractured pelvis and vertebrae. I’m able to walk long distances with no trouble, have no need to have a handicapped parking placard anymore, and I’m grateful for return of my strength and stamina. But it took work and “good” sweat with physical therapy experts.