Learning to Walk

It’s been a while since I’ve written an update about my wrist pain, so that’s where this post starts. I’ve actually held off on writing this post for a while, preferring to wait until the story is “over” before sharing it. But… I’m trying to take my own advice and write about things as I learn them, instead of just in retrospect.

This post starts off with my wrist pain saga, but by the end, it goes in a kind of far-out direction. So, consider yourself hooked, I guess.

To recap the past few years of dealing with this painful, scary thing:

  • I was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in late 2016 and started a regimen of physical therapy.
  • In late 2017, I hadn’t seen results, and my employer switched health insurance. So I stopped going to that clinic and tried to find a new one.
  • Later that year, I was re-diagnosed with ulnar nerve neuropathy by a new doctor. “At last”, I thought, “an end is within sight.”
  • Six months of physical therapy and EMG’s and X-Rays later, the doctor literally gave up on helping me. “The pain isn’t severe, right? Just try to ignore it.”
  • I just kind of tried to ignore it.

In late 2018, two of my coworkers referred me to a Physical Therapist who they’d both seen. They highly recommended him, and I’m grateful they did, because he’s been amazing.

A few key things that made this PT different, right from the start. The first appointment, he explained how we were going to do a differential diagnosis over a few weeks to figure out what is causing the symptoms. He said he wasn’t that interested in labelling the problem, necessarily, but we would focus on figuring out where my symptoms where coming from.

The other big difference has been an emphasis on what he calls “postural education.” Sure, my other PT’s had also focused on the importance of posture, but my new PT took it way more seriously. He has played the role of a personal trainer, to help me figure out my body’s deficiencies, to develop exercises to strengthen the muscles and train my brain to use them. He’s never judged me for what I can’t do – it’s just a matter of helping me learn the bad habits my body has gotten into.

Okay, so… other PT’s have had me do exercises with resistance bands, right? And I’m still doing those, too. But more.

Early on, we identified a problem with how I walk. So we worked on foot control (because feet are pretty important for posture, turns out). It was amazing: as soon as I realized what I was doing wrong, I noticed it all the time. My 2.5km walk to work became a way for me to exercise control of my feet and proper form. It was a challenge, and I looked forward to it every day.

Which kind of brings me to the big break-through that I’ve had this year: I understand exercise now. I never really understood the appeal of it, or even how it worked, exactly. And through this postural education, I’ve developed a real appreciation for exercise. I look forward to closing my daily rings and I never thought I’d ever be one of those people.

It’s amazing how a solution for my wrist pain has turned out to involve push-ups and lunges and rowing machines, but it’s absolutely all connected. My new PT took a holistic look at how my body was working, and provided a holistic solution.

When the doctor gave up on me, she went over my X-ray results. “Everything looks fine. Some bad posture, but nothing to worry about.”

The diagnosis that my PT eventually landed on was Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The solution was two-fold: physical therapy on my shoulder, to relieve the pressure on my nerves; and of course, postural education.

It had been about 4 months of doing regular exercise, and I was at my weekly peer lab. A regular attendee, who hadn’t been around in a while, showed up.

“Wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight, congrats!”

“Uhhh, what?” I thanked them out of a sense of obligatory politeness, but my brain was busy, racing to figure out how to process this new data point. I hadn’t really been thinking about my weight. I mean, it’s actually been a big enough problem for me that I avoid thinking about it.

And all of a sudden, unexpectedly, I had a data point. And it was a positive data point. A zero-to-one kind of transition happened in my brain. And I thought about what to do next. I researched weight loss, through strength training and diet. I talked to my PT, who was very happy to answer all my questions.

I bought a scale. For the first time in my life, I own a scale. It tracks my weight on an app. I try to be responsible about how I think about the number. I mostly do okay.

I’ve radically changed my diet. But instead of focusing on weight-loss itself, I’ve tried to make sustainable changes that become life-long habits. Way more vegetables than before. Sensible snacks. Mindful eating. That kind of thing.

It’s been about two months and I’ve lost 20 pounds.

Three weeks ago, I was doing a get-up exercise. I wasn’t paying enough attention to my form, and I felt a small snap in my neck. A sharp kind of pain whenever I rotated my head. I texted my PT, who said it sounded like a facet joint compression, and we figured out how to deal with that.


Dealing with injuring during a recovery was a new kind of experience for me. I had really been enjoying my daily home workout routine, but because of my injury, I suddenly had to stop. My inattentive exercising had led to an injury.

That was a new experience, and navigating it made me realize how many parallels there are between exercising and other parts of life. Longterm goal-setting, problem-solving, persistence, learning from failure… those skills apply in exercise, but just as easily to learning guitar or programming a computer.

Sorry if this all sounds super-obvious, but these were connections I hadn’t really made before.

So what now? Well, I’ve really enjoyed becoming more active, and I’ve built up a lot of momentum. I want to keep growing it. So when I go home for a vacation next week, I’ll be making sure to keep up my routine and watch my diet. When I get back in September, I’ll be joining a gym. Like, concretely, I have an OmniFocus item on a specific date that says “join this specific gym”, and I’m really looking forward to it. My PT has also offered to answer any questions I have about setting up a gym routine and all that.

I feel really fortunate to have found this PT, to learn how to appreciate working out, and to develop the skills I need to continue exercising. I really like the changes that strength training has made to my body, and I want to keep those changes going.

And obviously, if you need a PT in New York, reach out to me because I have a strong recommendation. This person has treated, I think, half the Artsy Product team? He has his own Slack emoji. He’s very good and I’d be happy to forward you his details.

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