It's Surprisingly Difficult to Relearn to Walk Backwards


A funny thing happens when you are housebound, and largely bedbound. You become a near literal blob as your muscle atrophy and your body forgets how to move. I think we can all agree that atrophy is expected and most people are aware it will happen. But the extent it happens, as quickly as it does, was not something i considered.

Fast forward more than 27 months later and I’m over weight and doughy is putting it nicely. Not in an “I’m the Michelin Man, ugh!” way, but because being overweight AND having massive amounts of muscle wasting makes you kind of a generally soft and doughy person.

When my pain doctor (yes, I now have an entire team of people who just deal with my pain) said he wanted to send me to a pain physical therapist, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He explained that she would help me get stronger, but that she specializes in chronic pain so it’s a more specific type of help.

To say we started with baby steps is an understatement. It may actually be a little ridiculous. My body is currently only capable of being up and about for a few short hours in which I’m lucky if I can accomplish three tasks. That also means that those three things must be chosen wisely because once I’ve done them, I’ll have nothing left. I can walk forwards and awkwardly down stairs. That’s about it.

She was basically teaching me to walk again. While I was largely mobile without my cane when we started, I had one direction. Forwards. I did no other types of movements. I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes without a lot of pain. I couldn’t sit either. Once I had moved, accomplished a few tasks, and sat in the living room for a bit, I retreated to my room to lie down.

We started with minimal movements. Gentle rocking motions. But nothing for more than two or three passes, and usually less than one minute in time. It was shocking how difficult these small, subtle movements were. It was hard to ignore how severely my body had fallen apart. It was a very clear reality.

I think week three, this week, was the week that took me by surprise the most. I had worked on the exercises she gave me. I had even tried to do them on the floor. I was fatigued, and achy, but not painful in a way that would aggravate any of my various joints. But Monday, she said it was time to try standing and doing exercises. I realized there was a lot to standing that I can’t do. And that’s when she told me we were going to walk backwards.

Such a simple movement. People do it all the time in a crazy number of scenarios that happen on a daily basis. And yet, I struggled to take just five steps. And as I concentrated on each step, and not losing my balance, and not hurting, I realized that “limited mobility” really doesn’t do it justice. Because even I, the patient, didn’t fully grasp what it meant.

So, this week, I graduated to learning to walk. I graduated to trying to take a few steps sideways and backwards. I graduated to trying to go on my tip toes. And it felt strange to be relearning such basic things. Thing my muscles are no long conditioned to do. And things that I never appreciated how much I avoided doing. I am practicing simple movements in hopes that my body can get strong enough to mitigate my pain, stabilizing my joints, and give me enough stamina to regain some independence.

This week, I learned how to walk backwards, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in a long time.