Finding Strength: My injury story and how I used CrossFit to rehab.

I have a vivid memory of lying on a tennis court yelling out in pain knowing that something bad had just happened to my knee. I was a Junior in high school and I had just torn my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) weeks before our State tennis tournament. I tried denying that it was torn, even tried playing tennis, but my knee kept giving way. I would need surgery to repair it and be out for the rest of the season.

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I have another distinct memory of sitting on the sideline, crying uncontrollably as I watched my teammates play at State. I felt angry that this had happened to me, weak and hopeless knowing there was nothing I could do except have surgery and go through rehab. 

I ended up having ACL reconstruction in the Spring of 2005 at age 17. Part of my hamstring was used as the ligament graft. I completed physical therapy and returned to play tennis at State my Senior year. As the years of college and then graduate school passed I still didn’t feel strong physically or mentally. I had doubts about my career choices, my relationships and I hadn’t really gained trust in my physical capacity either. It wasn’t until a few years later that I truly felt strong…

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I wanted to write this post to share my injuries over the years and hopefully demonstrate that even with setbacks you can find your strength.


I first heard about CrossFit in 2011 through a guy I was dating. I remember thinking, “Wow, there’s no way I could do that” but it sounded interesting.

I was intimidated.

I’m not sure when my fear of not being strong enough started. Maybe pressure I had always put on myself to be better? Maybe because of my injury in high school I felt weak? Maybe it was society telling me that I am a woman and shouldn’t be strong or lift heavy weights? 

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After I graduated physical therapy school in 2012, I worked as a travelling PT and moved to the Pacific Northwest. During one of my contracts there was a CrossFit box across the street from where I was living.

This was it. This was my chance to take a leap & try it.

I soon found out that everything in CrossFit is scalable and that my fear of not being ready or not being strong enough was unfounded. Over the past 6 years I’ve had the chance to work with great CrossFit coaches and other amazing athletes that have guided me along the way (shout out to my previous CF boxes: Aegis Team CrossFit, CrossFit ThunderRidge, and Kitsap CrossFit and my current home: CrossFit Twenty Pound Hammer)


Over the past few years I have had some other injuries that I want to mention:

2005: Right knee ACL reconstruction with hamstring graft

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This led to right leg weakness that I didn’t really notice until I started crossfitting. I soon realized that with all the bilateral exercises in CrossFit, I was using my left leg more so my right leg remained weaker. Over the last few years I have focused more on single leg strengthening which has helped this imbalance. But still something I have to work on!

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2015: Right patella subluxation 

I simply landed weird on my kneecap coming down into a burpee. Luckily this hasn’t happened again and I still love burpees!

2015-2017: Low back pain with right radiculopathy 

I didn’t have any specific injury that started my back pain and leg numbness. It gradually came on and then I realized that it wasn’t going away. I tried self-diagnosing, formal physical therapy, chiropractic, and massage with little success. I tried limiting heavy weight at the gym and completely resting but that also didn’t change my symptoms. I decided to get an MRI since my symptoms hadn’t changed over a significant amount of time and I wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything more serious going on.

Oct 2016: MRI on lumbar spine 

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Results: 

L4-L5: Disc desiccation and small annular tear. Mild broad disc bulge without focal protrusion. 

L5-S1: Similar broad disc bulge asymmetries to the left and mild disc desiccation. Annular tear present. Left neuroforaminal narrowing but no central canal narrowing. 

Yikes! Even as a physical therapist and knowing what all those words mean, it was scary to see on paper. Was that causing my pain? Was I broken? Am I going to have to stop lifting weights?

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None of those results are life ending. An annular tear can cause pain but it can also heal. Results like this is also not something that should prevent a person from being active or continuing to lift weights.

You just have to train SMART! 

I can’t really tell you what improved my back pain and numbness but after getting over the initial shock of the MRI results and also knowing I didn’t have a tumor or something more serious going on, I decided to change my mindset. I stopped thinking about my back pain and numbness all the time. I got back to the gym and just really focused on my form with exercises. 

I realized that I had the most difficulty controlling my back position and staying “tight” and stable when pressing overhead and catching jerks. I worked on core strengthening and preventing my low back from arching by keeping my rib cage down, (read about keeping your bowls closed here) After a few months my pain and numbness went away and hasn’t returned. 

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2017: Left hip impingement 

Over the last 2 years I have been dealing with left hip impingement and pain with squatting which actually led me to Sarah and Arrow Physical Therapy. I had read Sarah’s bio and her injury story. I was excited to hear about someone dealing with similar issues while not only being a crossfitter but also a coach. Little did I know it would lead to an interview and now working with Sarah at Arrow!  

2019: Pelvic pain and continued left hip and groin pain 

I had improvement in my anterior hip pain after working with Sarah but I began having pelvic and groin pain this year. I attributed it to getting an IUD 2 years ago but my pain seemed to be getting more intense and constant. 

I decided to see a Women’s Health PT, at Flow Rehab in Fremont, since 1) I refer patients to women’s health so I wanted to experience it myself and 2) I wanted to see if they found anything that could be causing my pelvic pain.

Well sure enough I found out that my pelvic floor muscles were tight especially on the left side! So tight that they had trigger points that reproduced my pelvic pain and were contributing to my hip pain. After 4 visits I had no more pelvic pain and my hip is feeling great!

Pain free squatting!

Pain free squatting!


Through CrossFit I have done things I never thought possible. I have gotten stronger both physically and mentally. I started CrossFit right before the 2013 CrossFit Open and didn’t even get through 150 wall balls with a 10# ball in 12 minutes on workout 13.3. But you know what started to change? My belief in myself. Okay maybe I couldn’t finish those that day…but I knew that I could eventually

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I look back to the feelings I had after my first injury in high school.

Those feelings of being weak, angry and hopeless.

Thoughts of not being good enough or strong enough.

For whatever the reason, I see this so often in other people, especially women. At times I still struggle with the feeling of “being weak” or that I should be better at certain things in the gym. However, I do know that since I started CrossFit and strength training, I feel stronger every year than the year before. Not only physically, but mentally. I have also learned that showing weakness is a strength. And most importantly I know that I can do those things in the future if I work hard.

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Many of you reading this have probably had similar experiences but there may also be some of you reading this that are skeptical about CrossFit and that’s okay!

I simply want to share my story and hopefully inspire you to at least start to think about strength training in some way. 

 

I want to bring to light that yes, injuries can happen in CrossFit and injuries can happen in life. But to me that seems so minor compared to decreasing my risk for chronic disease and improving my mental capacity and belief in myself that I CAN DO anything that I want to do. Injuries don’t mean we have to stop being active. They may lead to a change in our activity in some way but let’s not let our diagnosis define us or define what we CAN do. 

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It’s okay to have weak points in our lives, vulnerability is necessary for growth. But know your strengths and continue to strive to get stronger daily. CrossFit doesn’t have to be the avenue but don’t let fear limit you.

Don’t be afraid to get stronger! 


Written by Beth Ansley, PT, DPT, OCS, CF-L1
For questions contact me at beth@arrowptseattle.com