Physiotherapy: finding a path to recovery on the road

When I left Canada in October 2014 for my round-the-world trip, I was on a recovery path from a six month old injury that had caused sciatica. Although sciatica is the kind of issue that never really goes away, I was determined to put it behind me and not just because of my travel plans. Being active is a big part of who I am and I wasn’t about to give that up. I had been working with an excellent physiotherapist in Toronto and I left home with an arsenal of exercises that were intended to bring me back to full recovery. Unfortunately, the path to recovery is never smooth and my journey around the world led me to look beyond physiotherapy to find a complete solution. It’s been two years since my original injury and I’m still working on getting back to my best self but I’ve come a long way and it’s been an interesting ride.

A month into my travels I did the Everest base camp trek in Nepal. I’d cleared this idea with my GP and physiotherapist before leaving Canada and they assured me that it was definitely within my reach as long as I wasn’t carrying a heavy load on my back. The trek was harder than I expected and I struggled particularly with the altitude. My sciatica was pretty manageable on the way up but the knee on my injured side got very stressed on the way down. It was pretty badly swollen by the end but I didn’t feel like there was any serious damage so I self prescribed rest and TLC.

After another week in Nepal, I limped into Pakistan to visit with a good friend. My sciatica was acting up and my knee still hurt. Upon seeing my limp, my friend immediately asked me to join her in physiotherapy. The timing of this offer was perfect. The techniques that were applied were pretty different from my experience in Canada. In Toronto, I was mostly given stretches and strengthening exercises whereas in Pakistan, the focus was on electrotherapy, therapeutic ultrasound and spinal traction. Although I was initially skeptical about the different approaches, it really helped. After ten days in Pakistan, I was barely limping anymore!


Meditating through the pain in India.

My next stop was a yoga ashram in India. Embarking on three hours of daily yoga was great for improving my flexibility but it also really caused my sciatic nerve to flare up. I was pushing myself at an accelerated pace but I was still careful about my limits. I eventually had to reduce my yoga attendance by half and spend my down time curled up on my back to ease the nerve aggravation. I was also back to limping around- it didn’t help that the ashram was hilly! The net result of this was that once my nerve calmed down my knee and sciatica were markedly improved. I was so impressed with my progress that I continued to carry my yoga mat with me throughout the rest of my trip. This kept me inspired to stretch as daily as possible. After a few more months of stretching, my persistence paid off and I started to feel back to normal.


Morning yoga on the beach in Thailand

When I arrived in New Zealand in April 2015, I felt really good about day to day activities but still found that my knee and sciatica would flare up at times from things like stairs and salsa dancing. Luckily I found a great job in health insurance that enabled me to afford extra care and I was happy to invest in my health. I tried a number of things: physiotherapy, osteopathy, massage therapy and personal training. Although all of these helped in some way, I was happiest with my decision to hire a personal trainer. I found a trainer who was very knowledgeable about building core strength and helping me with my form. This was exactly what I needed and he got me doing squats and deadlifts again which I was so grateful for. I really missed that!


Yoga on a chilly morning in New Zealand

My Kiwi trainer gave me two workout routines that I could use on the road and I did my best to fit them in around beach time in the South Pacific. I eventually got a little too confident and added in some skipping which gave me a seriously tight calf muscle in my problem leg. When I arrived in Rarotonga, my calf was so tight that I was limping around and stretching was not helping. I looked into sports massage on the island and found myself a gem. He talked a big game of curing people who flew in from around the world to see him, of being chased by the All Blacks to join their support team full time and of being able to solve problems that no other physiotherapist, doctor, osteopath or massage therapist could solve. He also claimed to only have divine training! Although I can’t say that I believed all his claims, I decided to give him a try and he came through. He gave me an excellent massage that got to the source of my problem at the time and did wonders for my tight calf muscle.


Finding a quiet place to workout in Fiji

Now that I’m back in Toronto, I’ve been delighted to see my old physiotherapist and massage therapist again. I’m not at 100% yet and I’m going to keep looking for the right solution to get me there. Next on my to-do list is picking a new gym and new yoga studio in Toronto. I’m really looking forward to getting back to doing all the things I love.

Trekking: you’re doing it right

After arriving at your guesthouse hot and sweaty from the day’s uphill climb, you peel off your carefully worn in hiking boots and start to undress. A few baby wipes, a sink of cold water and a change of clothes have you feeling refreshed and as your tummy starts to growl you grab your book, slip on your socks and sandals and head to the dining area. You settle in on a bench and place your order for dinner as the yak dung/wood burning stove begins to warm up the room. “What time you want eat?” Soon, please.

Trekking: you’re doing it right.

I did a lot of research prior to my rather arduous trek to Everest base camp in Nepal in November and I felt pretty prepared. Based on my experiences, I’d like to share some tips which should really apply regardless of where in the world you are trekking. I hope this helps you, cause who doesn’t like doing it right the first time?


Trekking Everest: on top of the world!

1. Warm pajamas. Yes, you’ve got a warm sleeping bag, but is your room/tent heated? Didn’t think so. I recommend bringing pajamas that you feel comfortable wearing in public so they can double as your evening wear. Something sweat wicking is ideal for comfort. The one thing I really wished I’d brought for the evening is sweatpants. Comfy, cozy sweatpants may not have been the most practical clothing item but they would have really made my day (day after day after day). It didn’t cross my mind until I was on the trail that I’d need a separate set of warm clothes for the evening cause it can get pretty darn cold after dark when you’re up in a mountain range.

2. Baby wipes. It’s been said before and I’m saying it again: this is the best possible shower you can have on the trail. Whether or not hot showers are available, how will you survive the shock of the hot water timing out and being left standing dripping wet in minus 10C weather? Freezing cold running water is usually available for washing but to be honest it’s not easy washing with water that contains icicles. Trust me. Baby wipes are the way to go. They’re sanitary, they won’t freeze overnight and they come in resealable packs. What more could you want?

3. Sandals. Flip-flops even. This may seem counterintuitive after my talk of the cold weather, but your feet have spent all day laced up in hiking boots and trekking over punishing terrain. The last thing you want to do is put on a shoe that rubs in the same places. Choose your night wear wisely. The key here is evening socks. Your clean, cold, tender feet will appreciate a pair of clean, warm, soft socks. After the socks, it’s your choice of a sandal, flip-flops, or a comfy walking shoe. Noting that socks alone may not keep your feet warm. This is the only time I would advocate for wearing socks and sandals together (i.e. in dire straits).


Found the Irish Pub: you're doing it right!

4. Layers. If you didn’t already know this, then you should really rethink if you’re ready to trek. As a reminder, the basic principles of layering involve a body hugging base layer that wicks sweat, a fleecy middle layer that traps heat and a relaxed outer layer that is water and wind proof. What I’d like to recommend is that you seriously consider merino wool as your base layer. It’s great for many reasons but the thing that distinguishes it from a synthetic is it’s antibacterial properties. i.e. you can wear it a long time before it starts to smell. This is great for if you want to make friends on the trail or just generally be around people. I particularly recommend Icebreaker merino wool as it’s the softest I could find.

Do you have any tips to add for comfort while trekking?

NOTE: this is not meant to be a comprehensive packing list for trekking. This is meant to be in addition to a list of “must-haves” like you’ll find included in Alan Arnette’s Everest trekking advice