Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 115 and Physical Rehabilitation

As part of my commitment to quantified self and biohacking I have a physical rehabilitation protocol I cobbled together. Two years ago at the start of my autoimmune my journey I couldn’t walk easily. The ankylosing spondylitis manifested in my upper spine meaning I would struggle to get from my bed to the bathroom. I had to shower using a stool. I walked with a cane. This was not great for my cardiovascular health or my muscle tone. I was in this state for well over a year.

As the inflammation has become controlled in the past six months, I’ve been faced with a long rehabilitation. How do you build back stamina when even minor exertion was beyond one’s capabilities? As it turns out you do it one step at a time.

I’ve kept it simple. I get up out of bed every hour and take 250 steps. You’d be surprised how much a commitment to small consistent movements builds on itself. Once I got used to regular “get up” movements and pacing the room, I focused on adding small increments. Add in a hundred more steps at a time and now I’m comfortable hiking for an hour a day on flat or slight inclines. Thanks to a totally inconsistent stretching routines (a mix of Pilates and Alexander Technique) my muscles have retained mobility so that adding in more mileage has always felt comfortable.

I don’t have a program that is specific to rehabilitation though I suspect I should. I just committed to adding 5% a week more steps till I was able to walk 3 miles at a time or about 7,000 a day steps with a small amount of activity every hour. I suspect the regular activity each hour helps more than the steady state work but both add up to fitness gains. I have been adding in weight lifting and found that my strength is reasonably good. The real issue is that if I go to my full strength capacity I find myself struggling afterwards as healing and natural inflammatory processes are still a challenge for me. It’s as if the actual fitness isn’t the issue but rather my capacity for recovery.

Today I was able to successfully hike the NCAR trailhead in South Boulder. It’s a moderate intensity hike with some scramble and a gain of about 750 feet over a 3 mile circuit. What surprised me the most was that I didn’t have any perceptual issues with fitness. The exertion felt fine. The challenge was the occasional spike of pain. I wasn’t entirely sure if discomfort was a function of not being capable of managing the trail or simply that I’m still prone to system cascades. I can’t explain it any better than that. The trail was muddy and I lost my footing sending me into a fight or flight cycle that I needed to let pass.

Now that I’ve reached a point where normal activity is possible I need to find the next step in my cumulative rehabilitation program. The area where I can add 5% gains each week. If anyone has suggestions I’m open to it!