Golfer Triumphs Over Pain - A History
Alan Miller has three passions, besides his wife, Sarah. One is his profession, which is photography. He produces product photos such as you see in magazine displays, on television, or on the packaging of the products themselves. He loves oceanic underwater photography, and makes trips to exotic places to make the pictures, which he sells in his studio on Trade Street in Winston-Salem. But his passion-of-passions is golf. He can eat, sleep and breathe golf, and, yeah, he loves to talk about it, too.
Initial Injury Occurs
He loves golf so much that he has played faithfully for years -- and, until recently, despite pain that might stop another from participating. Born in the early 60’s, he eagerly embraced soccer as a teenager and young adult. In his late teens, he was getting into the right front passenger seat in a stopped car, when, with one leg already in, the car was struck – hard – from behind. He ended up in the seat, coming to after having lost consciousness. There was of course, spinal injury (later diagnosed as a herniated L4-L5 disk), not only to the lumbar area, but to shoulders and neck as well. That rarely stops a kid. The body works its wonders, the pain fades to where it’s ignored, and life proceeds apace.
Soccer Accident Brings Second Injury
Then in 1983 he injured his left knee playing soccer, which resulted in surgical reconstruction of three ligaments. There were non-traumatic bodily insults, too. He remembers that, as a teenager working in a restaurant, his large frame and muscular build had staff calling on him to bus tables, carrying two bins of dishes at a time, that would have been impossible for a smaller person.
Golf Emerges, Along With Pain and Two More Injuries
By 1992 he’d moved to Winston-Salem, married Sarah and was actively pursuing his photography. He’d found a challenging new sport – Ultimate Frisbie, which he describes as a cross between football, basketball and frisbie tossing. That foray cost him the surgical removal of a tab of torn cartilage in his right knee in 1995, and began the slow degradation of his right shoulder. Meanwhile, golf had entered the picture. It seems that Sarah had watched him doing his underwater photography a few times, so she learned to dive in order to accompany him. Then, when she decided to learn to play golf, Alan chose to learn also, so he could play with her, and they never looked back. “Sometimes, after we had gotten into it, we’d play three to five rounds on a holiday weekend. She loved it – the intermittent positive reinforcement of it.”
So they’d play every chance they got.
When he finally sought help for the shoulder and back, he found medical approaches unsatisfactory. Creating further exacerbation, he injured the shoulder twice more -- once in a fall on stairs at his home, and once making repairs at the studio. The former required surgery to correct. Meanwhile, the pain from the herniated disk grew stronger, making glolf less and less fun. He tried massage for awhile, which provided some temporary relief, but little resolution of the problem. It wasn’t until he found Billy McLain as a yoga instructor, and an inversion board, that he began to find some permanent relief. Even after a year of faithful yoga practice under McLain’s expert tutelage, though much progress had been made, sometimes hard back and shoulder pain still took the fun out of many activities.
Increased Pain Saps Energy, Kills Fun
His right shoulder, particularly, was still troublesome, and became a kind of scourge that resulted from playing golf. Eighteen holes left him unhappy with his shoulder, and a multi-round tournament left him feeling ragged. It was in yoga that he realized, too, that his right elbow did not extend as far as the left. When lying flat on his back with arms extended 45º from his body, his left hand would lie flat on the floor, but the right forearm and hand remained a couple of inches above the surface.
None of these challenges stopped him from his work or his golf, but they often robbed him of the pleasure and satisfaction of the activities. He was open to help, but didn’t really know where else to look.
Then one evening at Winston-Salem’s monthly Gallery Hop event, he met us at the studio space Alan shares with my wife, Elsa, and several other artists. They got to talking, and we demonstrated some of our work on the shoulder. That stand-up demo, with all the customers and the curious milling around, made a noticeable difference that had Alan sign on for treatment. His response following the first treatment was enthusiastic. When he got off the table that first time, his excited remark was, “My shoulders are much more level [with one-another]. I’m not having to work hard to maintain optimal pelvic position [yeah, he says things like that], and there’s no knee pain!” For two sessions he experienced pain re-orienting in different areas of his body, as the fascial network released in its own order of priorities. “I haven’t noticed my knees, the lower back pain isn’t talking, because the shouldergets all my attention.”
Plays 81 Holes In One Week Without Pain
The next week he reported “I left here, played 18, 27, then 18 holes of golf over the next three days, then 18 more three days later. My shoulders felt really good all week!” Further work with knees and shoulders yielded the following, for which there’s a little preliminary explanation for those who don’t practice yoga.
"Downward facing dog,” or “down dog,” and “crab” are positions (asanas) that are held for strengthening, lengthening and expanding the range-of-motion in arms, legs shoulders, and, really, the entire body. In down dog, the body, face down, forms an arch from head to foot, with legs extended, feet flat on floor, arms extended beyond head, palms flat with extended fingers; head is then tucked so that the top of head faces floor. In “Crab,” another asana, the body is again supported by the legs and arms, but the person is facing upwards. Hands are flat on the floor, arms extended, with fingers pointing towards feet; back and buttocks (ideally) form an arc. This is less difficult than a back-bend position, but still quite challenging.
With those pictures in mind, the progress Miller had made will be readily apparent. “I played four rounds of golf last week, and when I got to yoga class, people were amazed that I could move directly from down dog to crab without pain, flinch or doubt!.” This roll from one position to the other, without lowering the body to the floor, requires a great deal of strength in the rotator cuff and upper arm muscles, as well as totally free lateral mobility. “There was no way I could have done that before our [Therapy 360º] sessions.
Swing Improves With Elbow Opening
From the beginning of treatment, as time permitted in each session, there was focus on increasing the angle of Miller’s right elbow towards 180º. As his attenuated range was, as far as he knew, lifelong, the transition towards full extension (straight arm) was necessarily slower. As of this writing, he has between 80-90% of the full opening range. With the resolution of shoulder and back pain, a greater portion of the session can be devoted to the elbow, and he can also concentrate on continued opening in his yoga practice.
His latest account of his progress was particularly satisfying from the golfer’s point of view. Standing happily in front of us, he says, “I played golf yesterday [first outing in a couple of months -- 2/8/2009]. What was so great was, during the backswing, my right elbow used to flare out, away from my body, [making the fore-swing difficult to control]. Now [swings an imaginary club], my elbow hugs my body, and I follow through smoothly,” and he grins his infectious grin.