After living in pain for months

December 10, 2018

Lisa Buchanan loved being a personal trainer.

For more than 25 years, she helped others reach their fitness goals and adopt a healthier lifestyle. She herself was a walking advertisement for her services: slim, fit, strong, with a positive “can do” personality.

Then one day, Lisa started having muscle and joint pain that just wouldn’t go away, no matter what she tried.

“I couldn’t walk upstairs without holding onto the rail and taking one step at a time,” she says. “Bending over and picking up things was real painful. Any time I had to straighten out my leg, it was painful. Any time I sat down, that was painful. Squatting was horribly painful. Something as simple as vacuuming the carpet would flare all that pain up.”

Between clients she would go to the chiropractor for some relief. She tried stretches, heat, ice, Aleve. She examined her diet and lifestyle for any changes that may have contributed to this worrisome condition. She stopped taking all supplements and monitored her water intake. Sometimes it was very difficult to keep up her business obligations, but she never said a word to her clients.

“This was especially difficult for me, because – aside from the pain – I’d been moving effortlessly all of my adult life,” says Lisa. “I’d taught other people how to do that. And now here I was, unable to move without excruciating pain.”

As time progressed with no improvement, Lisa became really scared and wondered if she had MS, a tumor or something else really serious. Because of her training, she also thought maybe she’d injured herself, or that she just needed to do some more stretching. After six months, she realized the problem was too big for her to handle.

“When it got to the point I could hardly walk, I knew we had to do something,” she says.

Her physician thought it might be a herniated disc. He recommended an MRI and hoped surgery wouldn’t be necessary. At the very least, he wanted her to get some physical therapy.  Lisa knew that if PT were necessary, it had to be Siskin Hospital.

When Lisa first started her physical therapy at Siskin Hospital’s Outpatient Therapy Services last fall, she couldn’t get out of the car without using her hands to physically lift her leg over the threshold. She had difficulty taking stairs. Her anxiety level was very high, made worse by exhaustion from lying awake at night thinking about her problem and wondering if she could continue working as a personal trainer.

Mitchell Danao, PT, thoroughly examined Lisa and concluded that her pain was not related to a herniated disk. He began physical therapy treatments immediately, and gave explicit instructions for stretching and rolling exercises to do at home between her OP visits.

Lisa went right to work on Mitchell’s instructions. Because of her background as a personal trainer, she was very sensitive to her body and knew how to interpret its signals. She also understood the trainer-client relationship and essentially felt she’d reversed roles. Now she was the one looking to the therapist for direction.

“If you do what they (the therapists) tell you to do, you’re going to do great. Then you make progress,” she says. “Some exercises felt great when I did them, and some didn’t. But there was always progress in the end.”

In just a few days, Lisa began to experience more freedom of movement and her therapist was able to “release” some problematic areas. Lisa was elated and carefully followed the more specific routine assigned to her by her therapists.

And in just three weeks of therapy, she ran up the stairs without even thinking about it.

“Mitchell diagnosed my condition as SI joint restriction, which made sense to me, because as a trainer, I understand how that’s caused,” says Lisa. “What I did not understand was the severe pain. But Mitchell treated it with exercise, and I soon began to see results.”

She says her therapists were very realistic and never gave her unreasonable hopes. She cooperated with them during her sessions, did her homework diligently, and reported carefully on anything that she noticed or had occurred.

“The more I came in for therapy, the more things started to loosen up,” she says. “But I realized that I would need to follow a daily routine to keep the condition under control. Managing is a good thing – it’s a positive thing.”

Today Lisa’s flexibility and range of motion is greatly improved, and she’s returned to her previous activities. The debilitating pain is gone, and what remains is controlled by the management routine she’s worked out with her therapists.

“Now I can do lunges, which I could not do, and for a trainer, that’s devastating to realize that after 25 years, all of sudden you can’t,” she says. “I can do jumps and walking upstairs is not painful anymore. But I found that if I did not do what Mitchell had assigned to me for that week, the pain would come back and the problems would come back. So I learned to manage it, because I sure don’t want to go back to where I was.” In fact, Lisa plans to take on new challenges – like training for her first 5K this fall.

Aside from the expert help she was getting for herself, from the beginning Lisa says she was impressed with the “unusually sensitive vibe” coming from the Siskin Hospital staff.

“It was something I could feel,” she says. “Once I walked in the doors a couple of times and waited to see what Siskin Hospital did when people walked in, I was motivated to give back. It made me want to be a part of this giving environment, perhaps as a volunteer if that was allowed.”

Seeing her therapists assisting other patients during her OP visits made Lisa realize this was something she also aspired to. By the time her outpatient therapy ended, she had begun to think beyond just getting back to the life she knew.

“Lisa has always said that being involved in PT from the therapist side would have been an excellent alternative career choice for her,” says her husband Bill. So he was only a little surprised at her desire to enroll in Chattanooga State Community College to pursue a physical therapist assistant degree.

“I want to do this someday, help these people who are here for the same goal as I had,” she says. “In effect, my own PT sessions were job shadowing opportunities, though I didn’t know it at the time.”

While waiting for her Chattanooga State application to be approved, Lisa investigated volunteer opportunities with Siskin Hospital. The staff were excited to learn more about Lisa’s fitness experience and knowledge and thought she’d be perfect as a volunteer in the Siskin Health & Fitness Center. Lisa was already coming in regularly to continue her own rehab and expand her knowledge base.

“Everyone really enjoys her,” says Cody Workman, fitness center supervisor. “She’s constantly working on her own recovery, but she’s not just there – she takes the time to get to know her fellow members and hang out with them.”

And when a PT tech position became available at Siskin, Lisa interviewed and was hired for the job.

Even a year ago, Lisa says she never thought that someday she would be involved with Siskin Hospital as a volunteer or staff member. She says she can never forget how terrifying her own physical issues were, and feels she is more understanding of her clients’ issues and their pain.

“It helped me know how to address their individual exercise plans,” she says. “From my own experience, I can speak with confidence: ‘Don’t worry, it will all turn out okay.’”

Lisa looks forward to increasing her sphere of assistance beyond her private clientele through her work at Siskin Hospital.

“It will be a wonderful way for me to give back.”