October 13 marked the six month mark post surgery (bilateral hip replacments) for me. This is a landmark in the healing timeline. At this point, bone has ossified securely about the prosthetic, soft tissue has healed and the entire system has adapted to new demands of compression and tension, co-ordination and organization of movement. In simple terms, things get really good again! Friends and colleagues kindly ask if I am out of the rehab window and back to 100%. I appreciate the kind concern. But it is honestly a difficult question to answer.
Certainly, I am far better than I was before surgery. But I am constantly striving to rebalance my body, optimize function, and surpass where I have been. Thus 100%, representing optimal performance, is always a step higher, outside the window of where I am at any point in time, on this constantly up-spiraling staircase of progress.
Every day I reassess; the laboratory of my own body is a dynamic experiment, responding to the variables I subject it to; new mobilizations, resistance, functional challenges, technical cues. And the movement options expand as I enhance the four prime determinants of movement capacity; tissue quality, joint capsule tension, strength, and nervous system control. After years of compensating for impinged hip joints, within the context of a highly demanding dance performance career, tissue tensions and motor patterns have compensated. For example, overactive hip flexors have taken over for dormant gluteal muscles. The body does an incredible job of meeting the demands we impose upon it, even if it means using inefficient muscles and pulling the system out of alignment. Therefore, a keen focus on movement symmetry, efficiency, and firing of the correct muscles are essential to reprogramming for optimal movement and function. And when dormant muscles do wake up, the reward is phenomenal. Feeling the correct muscles fire is like plugging a cord into the correct socket and seeing the light bulb go on. My entire body feels the difference; a feeling that is so innately “right”, after compensating with misalignment for so long.
Advances in hip replacement surgery are astounding, and returning to a high level of function is a true gift. I hope that my own progress can inspire others who may be hesitating about the surgery, as I did for many years. Hearing the success stories of fellow athletes was the key which unlocked my decision to undergo surgery. Along the way to this six-month mark, I have enjoyed returning to activities I adore. Hiking in Yosemite has been a highlight. Scrambling up the rocks to Yosemite falls and diving in the ice cold pools, climbing the trails and scanning majestic vistas from the top. Returning to ballet class is elating; keeping my legs low and focusing on proper alignment, I am restoring strength and range. Traveling to Paris, navigating metro stations with luggage, walking and climbing stairs for hours, without fear of pain is a newfound freedom I recently enjoyed. Strong functional workouts and pilates training begin each day. Brisk beach walks with my dog are a reward at the end of the day. I now realize how much energy had been lost to my body's struggle with inflammation prior to surgery. Energy and a spirit of play resurge when pain diminishes. The lights are on again!
I am extremely grateful to all my friends and the professionals that have guided me with expertise, wisdom and compassion. Special thanks to Master surgeon, Dr. Jason Snibbe, and his assistant Jennifer Cabrera, PA-C; my physical therapists at Body Logic, Ethan Ezaki and Tali Duer; Scott Campbell, PT; Dr. Chang Park, LAC; Dr. Corie Tappin, LAC; and Lonnie Galate, director of Malibu Fitness, for allowing me constant access to the pilates equipment…my healing playground!
It is extraordinary to feel how the body heals in response to the correct information; whole foods, clean water, balanced movement, ample rest and recovery, healthy behaviors/relationships and determined mindset. When one has determined that healing is the only option, and commits fully to the path, the hard work is filled with reward. May everyone seeking to enhance their health, experience the joy of committing to this path.
Best to all,
The transformation of seasons is upon us, and provides an opportune time to reflect on change. I am very grateful to be visiting Paris this month, a city where I activated a huge shift in my life, moving from my third year of medical school at UCSF, into an international dance career. Visiting my friends in Paris fills me with excitement, as I remember the transformational times I have experienced there. Reflecting on pivotal times in our lives, when we have risked going against the grain, believed in our own abilities to initiate change, trusted in the process, and expanded our worlds, conjures within us the strength to ignite these systems again. It can propel us forward to take on new risks, expand our worlds, and optimize our lives in new directions. I will be taking classes while abroad, and look forward to sharing ideas with you. Wishing you the courage to take on positive new challenges in your lives. A Bientôt, Jennifer
Happy September to All. As we bid farewell to summer and return to work and school rhythms, it is a prime time to imprint healthy patterns for the season ahead. Committing to whole foods, a revitalizing movement practice, and rest/recovery time are foundations to a thriving life. Take on one new challenge at a time, and commit to it with curiosity. Make it fun, a personal experiment. Observe the difference in your energy, mood, clarity of thought, digestion, and reduction of pain. In my last newsletter, the neurodegenerative changes associated with chronic pain was highlighted, and how a mindful movement practice such as pilates, can offset this. Pain is a danger signal that something is out of balance; the body's intelligence signals us to stop, to protect the system. A favorite book of mine, expaining the physiology of pain is Explain Pain, by David Butler. The key is to listen to the body and address the source of the pain. Stress from all sources, physical, mental, and emoitional, will amplify pain signals. With alignment, rest, efficient movement and nourishing foods, we unleash the healing potential of the body to move out of pain, and into vitality.
May you be enjoying time in the outdoors, hiking, biking, swimming, surfing or whatever your activity of choice may be. Three months after surgery, I have been elated to be back on the hiking trails, diving into the ocean waves, and even starting ballet class again. The journey is one of consistent focus and mindset, and gratitude for each new step. Commitment to efficient movement (with the pilates principles of alignment and whole body integration), nutrition, rest, positive mindset and relationships are the foundation for progress. With these in place, the body propels itself forward into health.
Each day is an experiment in observing the current state of health, applying interventions, observing the outcome, and determining changes to make for optimal results. Of prime importance are sleep and mindfulness. Once a believer that needing more than four hours of sleep was a sign of weakness (yes, I also bought into the perfectionist mentality for a time while in the midst of preparing for a career in medicine and dance performance), I have since learned through scientific analysis, and life experience, that sleep is the key to healing, growing stronger, being more productive, and being happy. A favorite habit of mine is an evening walk in nature and powering down (going tech free) two hours before bed, reducing the stimulating effect of electronic blue light on the brain. Gentle pilates movement and breath work can help the body prepare for sleep and enhance the healing process, shifting out of sympathetic overdrive into the parasympathetic healing state. Arianna Huffington's TED Talk explains how sleep is the pathway to succees. Another great resource is Mark Sisson's Definitive Guide to Sleep. My favorite sound score, setting one's brain waves into healing delta states, is Dr. Andrew Weil's Self Healing with Sound and Music. We all know the world of difference a good night's rest can make. Sleep is powerful medicine. Wishing you all a summer filled with active days, restful nights, and abundant health.
Seven weeks post op and, except for my new four inch long tattoos (scars) on each hip, I am forgetting that I had surgery almost two months ago. It is incredible to feel how the body integrates new parts so rapidly, seamlessly. Unraveling of twisted tissues and bones continues, as my body now learns to trust the stable, mobile efficiency of shiny new hip joints. Patient assertive work is critical. Defining the delicate balance point between aggressive retraining and gentle compassion in allowing the body to heal itself. As I teach my students, I aim to be an assertive and attentive coach, pushing to the edge of efficient movement, stimulating musculoskeletal nervous systems to upregulate and rebalance, without overtraining or compensating or steering the body into an inflamed state. Rest and recovery have become great friends of mine and feel how strongly they are working for me.
The past two weeks have allowed me to feel a gradual shedding of rigidity in my right hip, but a pain in right psoas…so great that each swing of my leg brought an internal grimace..has been limiting. Stretching exacerbated the pain. My nervous system, seeking to stabilize the hip joints, responded to stretching by bringing back tension back with a vengeance. I turned to strengthening, balance training, pilates, and integrated neuromuscular work. But the key I found last night…the irritation was coming from my lumbar spine and nerve pain was radiating into my right hip, causing my right back and psoas to clamp down. My system was working overtime and acupuncture and cupping (thank you Corie Tappin at Soulspace!) to my spine freed me to move without pain. My stride is becoming more graceful again as my psoas is not clamping down to protect my lumbar discs and nerves. While wobble board squats, banded side walks, lunges and hydrants have been instrumental in building my hip strength and stability, it is working on the reformer today that helped me really tap in to my central strength and alignment, providing key stimulus and feedback to strengthening my center line and rebalancing the systems around my spine. I am working to be attentive to vulnerable areas that I have braced around for years, and now to strengthen these deep core areas that have been dormant, perhaps due to injury, and move from a strong foundation.
It is quite common for the psoas to clamp down and hold on to stabilize after hip replacement. The gluteals and rotators of the hip are stretched during retraction in surgery, and need time to heal. The psoas wants to be a super hero and save the day by supporting everything. My own situation was complicated by ten to twenty years of psoas dysfunction preceding surgery; something I have learned to retrain by standing from my core and reaching through the tube of my legs rather than hanging on my joints. My left side, by comparison, is pain free and soaring forward with no complications.
Breakthrough with the ALT-G Anti Gravity Treadmill
In seeking to hlep me stop compressing my right side and swaying to the right as I stepped on my right leg, my savvy PT at BodyLogic, Ethan, decided to put me in the Alt-G treadmill. With its corseting set up, the treadmill holds the torso in place and lifts weight off the legs (somewhat like a jolly jumper for adults), allowing my hips to feel decompressed. This was revolutionary! By alleviating compression (I was walking at 65% body weight), my pelvis began to feel like it was floating, and my psoas began to lengthen in a way it has not in years. I began to walk with longer strides, my legs actually extending behind me, as I pushed the ground away with a strong toe push off activating my glutes and extending my hip flexors, rather than reaching in front of me with my hip flexors and pulling myself forward. The experience was like rebooting a buggy computer program; my gait had been programmed in a compromised way with impaired hip function; although my hips had been replaced, the mental program kept running until I consciously reprogrammed it with the assistance of the treadmill. This was enhanced by cameras focused on my legs, allowing me to see the action of my own legs as I walked, in this way, I could focus on long strides, extending my legs behind me, pushing off with the ball of my foot, landing with my foot underneath me, and the pattern of heel strike to push off through my foot. I was elated to feel this! It was like my hip flexors were getting a massage while I walked, being allowed to dynamically lengthen for the first time in years. It was an incredibly liberating gift to receive, teaching my brain what it is to walk with a healthy gait pattern. And the truth was seen as I stepped off the machine. The new program was set and I walked across the room with strong, fluid, balanced strides.
Also fascinating is noticing the drop in inflammation in my body. Bone on bone hip joints are ripe with inflammatory factors that elevate stress on the entire body. Upon removing the eroding joints, my body is beginning to thrive again. My acupuncturist, Corie Tappin, noted my pulse and tongue qualities (key determinants of health in Chinisese medicine) have dramatically improved. Swelling in my ankles has disappeared. My energy is better and I am sleeping through the night, a critical player in all of health.
Thank you to all my fantastic team mates on this journey, guiding me to new discoveries and breakthroughs. May I be a better teacher to others, as I continue to learn more with each new step.
Best to all,
Summer is in full swing, and it's great to be back in action with all my students and classes at Malibu Fitness. I wish you all a happy July 4th celebration ahead, and a month full of adventures in the outdoors. Strong, healthy core engagement and postural alignment are the foundations for optimizing our enjoyment in hiking, surfing, swimming, biking, rock climbing, and adventuring of all kinds. Enjoy the strength, flexibility, alignment and control that pilates can add to your sports and your daily experience. In addition to its affect on physical performance, how we hold our bodies in space affects how we feel about ourselves. One of my favorite TED talks by Amy Cuddy highlights how our posture affects how we actually think, and relate to the world. Stand tall and feel more confident, powerful, joyful, and purposeful.
Happy Summer to All!
Week four post op has been very inspiring; walking barefoot on the beach (no crutches!) and swimming in the pool are revitalizing. As my hips become more powerful and mobile, my gait is becoming more fluid and at times I am forgetting that I had hip surgery a month ago. Gone are the sharp pains stabbing in the front of my right hip, and the popping/grinding that felt destabilizing in both hips. It is elating to feel that when I take a step, my legs are solid underneath me. I feel strongly supported for the first time in a long while. I knew that my nervous system had previously been working overtime to analyze how to stabilize my body on what began to feel like stilt-legs. Uncaged, I now move with confidence that my legs are strong underneath me, without stabbing pains, and my mental energy is liberated for higher tasks.
I am deeply grateful for all the support I have been granted; especially nutritional and movement coaching both pre and post surgery. I am compelled to emphasize the key role that early physical therapy (PT) has on rapid, effective rehabilitation. I recently learned of a woman who had a single hip replacement in March, and is still very limited in her movement and requiring a walker. Her current therapists believe this is due to lack of effective PT immediately after her surgery. Her complications might have been prevented had she had immediate access to an effective physical therapist and rehab exercise program. I know efficient movement coaching has been critical to my rapid progress. and encourage anyone contemplating joint replacement to organize this ahead of time.
Also, I must emphasize the healing power of food; fueling the body with nutrient dense, whole foods --both before and after surgery--sets the foundation for strong healing. My personal preference is a plant based whole food diet following the paleo principles. Bone broth, organic grass fed meats (including organ meats), wild fish and plenty of organic green vegetables (2/3 of my plate is covered in veggies) provide a winning combination of bone building, tissue and gut healing nutrients. For more details on key nutritional considerations for bone and tissue healing, please refer to my previous blog entry, Bone and Connective Tissue Health, Speed Your Healing, (http://blog.ideafit.com/blogs/jennifer-beamer-fernandez-2/bone-and-connective-tissue-health-speed-your-healing)
Now it’s time for a dive in the pool!
Wishing you health and vitality,
It has now been three and a half weeks since my surgery, and I am quite amazed at how natural my hips feel, and how rapidly progress is occurring. I have no sense that foreign titanium parts are set inside my body; rather I feel more integrated, and connected than I have in a long time. The challenge is to reawaken stabilizers that have been dormant for some time, and unwind destructive tissue tension (hip flexors, adductors and rotators), that developed over decades to stabilize eroding joints and to protect me from pain. Now the real work, to realign and rebalance around highly efficient hip joints, has begun. For the first time in many, many years, I am able to align my hips, knees, ankles and toes properly; and my neuromuscular system is learning to connect the dots to support it.
I am tremendously grateful for my rapid recovery. I attribute this progress to a combination of factors; being dedicated to healthy living and committed to daily prehab and rehab exercise programs; maintaining a positive, focused mindset; having a supportive medical team and community; and of course, the brilliant work of Dr. Jason Snibbe (http://snibbeorthopedics.com) and his Direct Superior Approach, leading to optimal recovery and return to high function without restrictions. While previously practicing the PATH approach, Dr. Snibbe was determined to develop a method that allowed for faster recovery time and better outcomes. After brainstorming with a few of his highly trusted colleagues across the country, the Direct Superior Approach was born. This involves one small incision, minimal muscle trauma, and minimal structural damage –the piriformis tendon and a small flap of the hip capsule are cut to allow access to the femoral head and acetabular rim, but later resewn). This spares the iliotibial tracts (IT band) that is critical to pelvic stabiliation, and spares the gluteal muscles (the tissues are carefully separated rather than severed). This is in dramatic contrast to traditional hip replacement where all gluteals and external rotators are cut. With the Direct Superior Approach, one has less muscle trauma and, therefore, a much faster recovery. One normally stands and walks the same day of surgery. Highly computerized imaging during surgery ensures utmost symmetry between the legs and return to precise, integrated movement.
Dr. Snibbe chose a Stryker Dual Mobility hip implant for me. With it’s combined high range of motion and stability, this is guiding athletes to return to their high levels of performance. Its longevity record (an upwards of 25-30 years and more) means there is a high possibility of never needing a revision.
Returning to daily function is rewarding. The joy of being able to care for oneself is so refreshing; for example, I had forgotten how much mobility it takes to tie one’s shoes! After a week and a half, I was cleared to return to driving, and to teaching part time. Dr. Snibbe advised me to keep moving while being conscientious of the six week critical healing period, during which time the bone is ossifying around the prosthetics; jarring movements or overloading would hinder healing, while gentle, focused weight bearing and exercises, focused on activating the hip complex, will advance progress. My days are filled with movement, including my personal practice of an hour long exercise program twice a day (guided by programs created initially by Andrew Droll of Home Health Physical Therapy, and advanced by the therapists at Body Logic, Westlake), multiple walks, stair climbing , 20-25 minutes on the stationary bike., and training with light arm weights. Rest periods throughout the day, and a full eight hours of sleep each night are priorities. Rest is where the work of rebuilding the body happens.
I am a sponge for new movement information, and am avidly soaking up the teachings of the therapists at Body Logic. They assure me I am well ahead of the curve, as I ask them intricate questions about why my body is responding in various ways to the surgery and recovery, including irritating hip flexor and rotator tension. Initial programming is focused on activation of the gluteal complex, followed by strengthening in weight bearing positions. They have introduced me to an intelligent system of rehabilitation, Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS), developed by Pavel Kolar, PT, PhD, a Czech physiotherapist. According to DNS theory, core stabilization is achieved through precise coordination of the abdominals, spinal extensor, gluteals and associated musculature, and intra-abdominal pressure regulation by the central nervous system. I found this paper (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3578435/ ) helpful in understanding the principles of DNS . It is interesting to find the parallels between DNS and the breath-work, alignment and stabilization techniques I have learned in pilates and my training as a physical therapy aide at Core Conditioning Physical Therapy. I look forward to bringing this more to my students in the studio.
I am fortunate to have a wealth of movement experience to draw upon in this retraining process, and am eager to share the information to help others navigate the complexities of joint replacement. My studies in pilates, dance, physical therapy, medicine, holistic health, posture and alignment (Esther Gokhale merits special mention) are guiding me to learn how to turn systems on in a natural, integrated way and propelling me forward to my movement goals. Please feel free to contact me with your questions or to share your insights. Let’s help each other get unstuck and move forward to pain free, revitalizing movement.
To your health,