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Feature - Beyond the comfort zone

Getting back to game after injury

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Even when the physiotherapist pops the ribs back in (one two three, everybody jump on the man), the compensating muscles kick up such a protest that eventually the rib gives in and goes back to its out-of-whack place. Now he’s murmuring about chiropractors, X-rays, acupuncture. Stands against the wall with two tennis balls in a sock, rubbing his back like a dog with an itch. Eats ibuprofen for breakfast. Sucks it up and keeps on working, because, like most employees in this town, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.

Still, Dr. Fisher says this could be a good thing.

"There’s a huge overlap between sports injuries and industrial injuries. It’s a similar population in terms of injury, so information on workers can be applied to athletes. A lot of studies have been done on industrial injuries – primarily, they’re funded by the insurance companies so they tend to favour early return to work, but despite that bias, there’s good evidence to support early return to work, as opposed to encouraging people to rest, to wait until they’re 100 per cent. When you look at the markers of healing at two-three weeks, at three months, at six months, and one year, almost always those that get back to work earlier will have higher function at each of those markers.

"The days of saying just rest are long gone. The body is pretty good at healing itself, but there are things to do to help return a joint’s function, like physiotherapy."

Which is to say, once you get through the waiting room, the lie-on-the-couch-and-nap-zone, and into the inner chamber of rehabilitation, it’s time to give ’er.

For Blackcomb pro-patroller, Mike Wilson, that’s been the most satisfying phase. This winter, all the stars aligned (a slot in the specialist’s calendar two years after the initial referral, employee benefits available) for Wilson to schedule shoulder reconstruction surgery. Painkillers were the key to getting through those first few days.

"It was really painful. The first night, I don’t think I slept at all. You get exhausted from the constant pain. I hit rock-bottom when I watched a full episode of Fear Factor."

Doctor’s orders were only to totally immobilize the joint for the first day. As early as the day after surgery, Wilson was letting his arm hang and gently rolling his shoulder. After a week or so, he started physiotherapy.

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