The muscle gave way. Like so much damp tissue paper rending in response to an overzealous lunge for a loose ball on the court. This, the destiny of someone at the end of his fifth decade playing basketball. Surgical repair is not the usual remedy for a torn gastrocnemius, commonly known as the calf muscle. Only physical rehabilitation in the hands of a physical therapist. Or in my case in the hands and with the stainless steel instruments of said therapist. When a muscle tears, unless it is surgically reconnected, scar tissue forms at the border of the tear, leaving the remaining healthy muscle permanently weakened and even more vulnerable to further tears. Hence, (I am told) the work of the therapist is to break up the scar tissue so that the torn muscle has the opportunity to reconnect in a more natural way so that one can regain almost one hundred percent of your former strength and function. Sounds simple enough.
It’s just that no one ever told me about the steel. Besides all the relatively painless exercises I have to do, there is this one maneuver my physical therapist conducts that reminds me of what it must have been like for someone to have been put on the rack in medieval Britain. He has numerous shapes and sizes of smooth steel instruments that he uses to “massage” the scar tissue, making it more likely for the healthy tissue to regain its full function.
But the pain. Massage? Are you kidding me? While he was plying his trade, I thought my calf muscle was giving birth to a baby. After he was finished, I couldn’t thank him enough—for stopping. But a curious thing has begun to take place. Over the last two weeks, my calf muscle has shown remarkable progress both in terms of strength and resilience, especially in the exact area where Mr. Pain and Torture (who I am sure is a very nice guy when not handling the metal gadgetry) has been doing his work. Imagine that: scar tissue from a wound gets broken up by a skilled clinician who knows exactly where to apply the pressure in order to give potentially useless tissue the chance to thrive. But not without the pain. Pain that I do not have the courage to inflict on myself. It takes someone else with whom I am willing to work.
Where is the scar tissue in your life that must be broken and dislodged? From what wound is it a result? Who is applying the relational pressure while simultaneously enabling you to withstand the emotional pain? For those parts of our minds that long to be re-knit after recent or distant ruptures, the news is good but hard: repair is possible and waiting, but often not without the necessary painful disconnection from those neural pathways that we have developed to help us cope with our traumas, be they large or small.
So today when the pain of rehab comes calling, don’t be afraid. For there is One who knows your suffering, is committed to your full repair, and will not stop his healing work until you are back on the court, chasing down loose balls.
Dr. Curt Thompson is part of the Seasons Weekend team. He is an author and psychiatrist living in Virginia Falls, VA. To learn more about Dr. Thompson and his work, visit www.beingknown.com