Hurts so good

First and foremost I need you to know that I’m wearing a hoodie and leggings as I type this. A cold front came through, and while the highs are still in the upper 80’s, we’re down in the 50’s at night. 50’s, people! It is GLORIOUS and I may or may not have been extremely excited to pull my hoodie off of it’s hanger this morning. Is there any better item of clothing than this? No. No there isn’t. It is officially the most wonderful time of year.

Anyway, I’m also sitting here with an ice pack on my back. I had my first Airrosti appointment yesterday and you know you’ve accomplished something (probably not a good something, but something) when the doctor says “wow, this is bad”.

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The reality is that I’ve had lower back pain for… basically my entire adult life. It’s pretty rare that a day goes by where the pain level is zero, it’s just a matter of whether it’s a tightness, or an ache, or a more “catching” stabby feeling. When I’m really active the rest of my body starts to be affected too, resulting in lots of tightness in my hips, my IT band, and especially my hamstrings. When I was doing triathlons it was REALLY bad, since running seems to be the thing that aggravates it the most. It’s noticeably all tied together though, starting in my back and branching out from there. I used to see a chiro/sports PT guy very regularly when I was in the height of all that triathlon stuff, because it was BAD back then, but as I branched away from the sport I stopped going to him, and honestly when I was less active it usually didn’t bother me as much anyway.

But now I’m pretty active, and I need to stay pretty active, so… it’s probably past time to try to fix or at least help some of my chronic physical issues. Especially since it’s so obviously affecting my riding, or at least preventing me from progressing the way I’d like. I’m fighting against my own body at this point. Enter Airrosti.

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As I mentioned last week, Airrosti was recommended to me by a few friends who have had great success with the program. There’s a provider only about 15 minutes from me, so I scheduled an appointment figuring I don’t have much to lose at this point.

The doctor brought me in, read my intake form, and started asking me questions. She’s seen a lot of riders before and you could tell from her questions that she’s at least pretty familiar with the physical demands of the sport. We did an exam where she asked me to do a few basic things (hinge at the waist, push my leg in or out against her hand, etc etc) and she looked at my back. As soon as she lifted my shirt she goes “oh, yeah, there’s visible swelling at L4”. Huh. Good to know. She had me move around, looking at my range of motion, rating the pain, telling her when things felt tight, etc etc. Honestly I didn’t feel that bad yesterday, all things considered. I’d call it a low-moderate day for me on the pain scale, but ya know, apparently that’s not normal.

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Once we were done she had me sit down, got out her whiteboard marker, and started explaining everything to me that she was seeing. First and foremost she said that my lower back was bad enough that she would diagnose it as an L4 sprain, and then overall she thinks my issue is lower cross syndrome, which is basically a fancy way of saying muscle imbalance. She said it’s a little bit chicken-or-egg trying to say which issues causes the other, because they feed off of each other and compound. But given the fact that I do have slight scoliosis that makes me crooked and prone to back problems, it’s probably all emanating from my back. Either way it doesn’t really matter, because the treatment and rehab addresses all of it together as a whole.

As far as strengths and weaknesses, my legs are wicked strong, but my glutes are like… sad. Real sad. My core wasn’t particularly weak, but all the issues in my back are preventing me from utilizing and engaging my core correctly a lot of the time. My hip abductors and adductors were definitely weak too, and my whole upper body was quite strong. So basically, above my ribcage and below my knees = good. Everything in between my diaphragm and my knees = real bad. Also interesting that my whole left side was noticeably tighter and more sore than my right side.

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After she explained everything she was seeing, she laid out a plan for how she thought we should fix it. First and foremost, treat the back. It’s really an injury at this point, so before we can mess with it too much, we have to get the swelling down and help break up some of the tightness. That would require home treatment. What she could do in the office that day was some manual release in my hips, glutes, and IT band, so she set to work on that. It was one of those deep tissue things where it definitely hurt but in the best possible way. She honed right in on some extremely tight spots and it definitely felt a bit better when she was done, even if I’m sporting a bruise on my left ass cheek today.

After that she took me over to the rehab guy, outlined what she had found and what exercises she wanted me to do over the next several days. The rehab guy showed me how to do each one and explained what it’s all trying to accomplish, then KT-taped the living hell out of my back.

I didn’t even realize how much was on there until I got home lol

The exercises they gave me for this first session utilize lacrosse balls and are fairly basic/quick – all simple releases designed to help break up the tightness in my glutes, hamstrings, and back. He recommended that I do all of those 3 times a day. I’m also supposed to be icing my lower back 3 times a day to help get the swelling out of that L4 area. Lastly, the only real strengthening exercise they gave me for this go-round of homework is the glute activation – that’s the biggest weakness and the one we can easily address right off the bat since it’s not as tight as everything else. The KT tape can stay on for as long as it wants to, preferably at least 3 days or even right up until my next appointment.

As far as the overall plan, usually Airrosti treatments are over 3 appointments, but they scheduled me for 4 over two weeks. My next one will be next Monday, and then another 4 days later, and then another 5 days later. The idea is that the injury/major issues will be resolved by then, and at that point it’ll just be a matter of giving me a maintenance plan to execute at home to continue resolving the issue and prevent it from happening again. I like that they aren’t trying to tie you down to constant ongoing treatment, it’s more of a “let’s fix this in such a way that we don’t have to see you again” type thing.

We’ll see how it works. I have to say that I do feel overall better and less tight today, and my back pain is on the lower end of the spectrum. Rolling around on those lacrosse balls this morning before my spin class wasn’t my most favorite sensation in the world (imagine an extremely targeted foam roller, that’s basically what it is) but it did feel better afterward.

At this point I’m cautiously optimistic that this might actually be able to help me manage some of these issues I’ve had for… basically my entire life. I know it’s likely that I’ll always have to do some kind of special things given the fact that my spine is crooked, but I’m more than happy to do my homework if it helps my riding and my overall quality of life. Fingers crossed…

29 thoughts on “Hurts so good

  1. YOu had me at hoodie. 🙂 Glad you are getting some help for your issues (hahhha). I might need to see more about this treatment. My back ALWAYS hurts I did go to rehab once for it and they did help it but it still hurts.

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    1. I was one of those people recommending it. I went to Airrosti last fall partly with always back pain and they taught me to stretch my hips. Did you know tight hips can make your lower back hurt and stretching them really helps? My little brain went poof!

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  2. Holy KT tape. Happy to hear the therapy is helping already.
    Do you have to compensate for your scoliosis when you ride? I have an uneven pelvic bone (one side is 3/4″ higher than the other) and I think that makes me “unbalanced”. Every horse I ride wants to turn right. 🙂

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  3. Airrosti is great, I got to see them up close and personal at the CrossFit games when my BFF was competing in 2014/2015. They’d like, pull on her leg in a certain way and alleviate tons of pain for her, it was really cool. Can’t wait to hear how the rest of it goes, you know I love this stuff.

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  4. Glute muscles are especially important for women when it comes to physical activity, given our wider hips need for more stabilizing! They’re so central to being able to properly activate everything but a lot of people don’t realize. Every single PT I’ve had has mentioned improving those muscles as being an important part of recovery and maintenance. Of course I always fall off the wagon eventually (idk what it is about me) but this was a good reminder to pull those exercises out again!

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    1. I have chronic hip pain and thought it was just my life. Finally saw a specialist (they did diagnose me with impingement) but also prescribed PT that specifically focused on strengthening the glutes. Makes such a huge difference.

      Only do it a couple times a week, for maybe 10 minutes, but keeps my hip from locking up in intense pain on the regular like it used to.

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  5. Ahhh of course they don’t have one of those in Nevada. I thought perhaps it’d help with my neck and other issues, but oh well. I have a lacrosse ball at home that I use all the time. Hurts like a bitch to use but holy hell I feel so much better after I use one. These look like great exercises tho, and hopefully you can get that back pain down!

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  6. I am *fascinated* by the idea of Airrosti, thank you so much for the write up! It’s been on the back of my mind as something to consider, so I love seeing others experiences.

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  7. As someone who spends a lot of time covered in KT tape (sigh!), be very careful pulling it off! Maybe get SO to help. If you don’t hold the skin taut and pull gently you can take the top layer of skin off with it. I have never had my back taped (knock on wood!) but that is a lot of tape and seems like it would be challenging to get off.

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  8. Hoodie season is my absolute favorite, regardless of if it’s fall or spring (I’m in southern Ohio, so we get all four seasons)! Isn’t it crazy how interconnected our bodies really are? It’s easy to forget, or lose focus of, especially since we live in a western medicine society of treat the problem, not the entire body. I have a really bad knee and need a total replacement, but I’m too young (they only last 10-15 years, and you can only have 2 in your lifetime) so have been doing all sorts of alternative therapies to get by. I’ll be watching your progress to see if it might be something I could benefit from too.

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  9. Interesting… I have never heard of Airrosti and of course it looks like there are none in my area. But my dressage trainer just told me to bring out a PT who focuses on riders for similar issues to yours. I dont have back pain but I have tight hamstrings and tight hips/IT/flexors and really struggle to relax my lower back and hips. Honestly never had an issue until I started focusing on dressage. The first time a dressage instructor told me to take my leg off at the hip and move it in a circle I had some serious cramping/pain. Since then I’ve focused on hip flexor strength on my own thinking that was my issue but it does seem like the hip/hamstring are correlated and now I’m wondering about my glutes! Would love to hear more about this – I’ve heard most riders have tight hips but I do think as a sport we dont worry about PT/stretching, etc. enough.

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  10. Sadly they don’t have one in or around NJ. My husband has SO much tightness, especially his hamstrings. It is impossible for him to have his heel anything better than parallel when he rides and this sounds like something that would really help him. Darnit! But YAY! for hoodie weather!

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  11. Interesting! I just got over a pulled back muscle about 2 months ago that had me out of the saddle for a week and chiropractic did end up “fixing” it but my chiro keeps bugging me to keep coming back on a constant basis and it’s making my dwindling HSA cry hot bitter tears. Your description of Airrosti’s philosophy of “fix and maintain” sounds really good by comparison. Maybe I can phase out chiro as I do Airrosti and see how I feel after I finish out Airrosti. Lots to think about. Thanks for your account of how it went for you – I’m interested to hear how the other appointments go!

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    1. If you have Airrosti in your area, use them, but a good chiro shouldn’t bug you to come back constantly. Any chiro I’ve seen has assessed, treated me over a few sessions while also giving me exercises to do, then telling me only to come back when I feel I need to — usually every couple of months.

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  12. I tried Airrosti and it actually made things WORSE. A shoulder sprain went to a full on dislocation when they manipulated too hard. Of course, I’m hypermobile, which according to my PT is part of the issue. I hope it does work for you, but I’d be careful of anything that promises to fix years long problems completely in only a few visits.

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    1. Interesting, you’re the first person I’ve heard that had anything negative to say! I’m sure there’s nothing in the world that works for everyone though.

      From what I was told they don’t “fix” it in a few visits, but rather they aim to help resolve the worst of it and then show you what you can do yourself to improve it and strengthen your body try to prevent re-injury in the long term. You don’t just do 4 visits and tada fixed, you basically have homework forever.

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      1. I went to Airrosti in Austin maybe 5 years ago because I felt constantly uneven in the saddle and my right leg always hurt (in varying spots). I went twice and they basically told me it was in my head and couldn’t help me… which was frustrating to say the least.
        5 years and 2 PTs later, I finally have a PT who has figured out my issue and it’s helping. My fibular head (what connects the fibula to the back of the knee) gets locked up and now with treatment it’s so much better.
        I can’t really blame Airrosti because the 1st PT I saw never helped me either, but their attitude made me put off trying to get treatment again for years. The manual therapy seemed great though!

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        1. I feel like a lot of the success with any of this stuff depends largely on what doctor or PT you end up with. Some suck and some are great, no matter the program. Luck of the draw sometimes I guess!

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  13. Interesting! Please keep us posted after you complete all of your visits! I’m definitely interested in exploring this for my riding.

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  14. I find how connected the various parts of our body are fascinating! I did a flatwork session in my jump saddle yesterday and boy, am I out of shape for that riding position: but it’s primarily my quads and my back that are sore. And I know those two are connected in terms of trying to stabilize myself! No Airrosti near me (closest is Spokane, 6 hours away, no thanks) but I really should look into getting a massage here someday soon.

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  15. First of all: I’m insanely jealous of your hoodie – I’m still suffocating in hot and muggy Ocala. But in to the topic: I’m a competitive bodybuilder in addition to riding, and the level of bodywork that is normal for the sport is amazing and has helped my riding so much. It’s typical of horse people to neglect ourselves while giving our horses the utmost level of care, I’m interested in hearing how the Airrosti helps you both with your chronic everyday pain and how it helps you progress in your riding.

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  16. I have had chronic low back pain for many years. Then last year our health insurance started promoting Hinge Health to help with back, knee, and shoulder pain. It is an app that you do PT exercises with and then have a coach that helps you online. I went from being so painful that I couldn’t even lay in bed to zero pain on most days! Maybe your health insurance might cover it? https://www.hingehealth.com/for-individuals/

    I hope you continue to see results with your treatment. Chronic pain is the worst!

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  17. Never heard of Airrosti before, sounds like something I could definitely use but unfortunately it doesn’t look like there are any anywhere near me, I’m in PA and the closest is in Virginia

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  18. Yes to PT for those of us who are physically a mess! That said- I just had my hip replaced and there was no way to PT myself out of that one so if there is a real issue like that, learn from my mistake. Now I can address all the other long standing issues 😂

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  19. I’ve had Airrosti recommended to me for some hip pain, and fortunately there’s an office here in town. I may have to make an appointment.

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  20. I discovered that I had petrified glutes last year when I went to physio for my adductor – I couldn’t make them fire at all. The foam roller makes a huge difference in and out of the saddle – when I make time to do it (which is usually when I’m sore). Why is it so hard to keep up with your exercises that you know will help you?

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