From a Mom, For a Mom

Today’s blog post comes to you from the other half of the Restore/Thrive team, Dr. Jess Cummings. I hope all of you enjoy her as much as I do on a daily basis. Enter, Jess:

Jess & KidsHi, everyone! I want to start by giving you some of my personal and professional background, and then we can dive into something I am super excited to share with you.

As I sit here today, I feel better in my 30’s as a working mom of a 5 year old, 3.5 year old and 16 month old than I ever did in my childless 20’s. I fit into clothes that I wore in high school. In a lot of ways I’m in much better shape today than I was in my teens, even though I played volleyball year round and was supposedly in excellent physical shape.

What is wrong with that picture? Aren’t we supposed to be the picture of health as young women? Aren’t our 20’s supposed to be the years we’re full of energy, building our careers, socializing, traveling and doing any of the things that we love to do?

Looking back, I can see there were many things I did not know about taking care of my health in my teens and 20’s.

I started having health problems at the age of 15. I had two episodes of heart palpitations (a racing heart rate for brief periods of time) about 6 months apart. Both instances happened while I was playing volleyball. It was chalked up as an electrolyte imbalance, but my physician sent me for some heart testing to be sure. Everything checked out fine and it was just dropped.

During this same time I also had constant feelings of anxiety and shakiness. I had to pee all the time. My appetite decreased significantly and I lost a lot of weight. I think my lowest weight was 125 lbs. I am 5’8 and an athlete. Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, how awesome, I wish,” but that weight was way too low for someone my height who’s not built like a twig and lifted weights multiple days a week while playing competitive volleyball.

During my sophomore year of high school my appetite suddenly came back and I put back on a lot of the weight I had lost. The shakiness disappeared. But I started noticing another problem: I never woke up feeling rested, even when I got plenty of sleep. I would wake up feeling super lethargic in the mornings. On weekends I would sleep until 10:30am and still feel like I needed more sleep. My energy wasn’t even good in the afternoons and if I wasn’t constantly moving I just felt like a blob.

I spent the rest of my high school years not really mentioning the above symptoms to anyone. I was young and naive and had no idea anything might be wrong.

Leaving for college was an exciting time and I had a wonderful college experience. Unfortunately, my health started to decline even more during my college years. My energy level continued to be flat. I was sick a lot. I had multiple rounds of minor colds even though I had previously hardly ever been sick. I was still sleeping poorly. I had a hard time concentrating when trying to study, I had diarrhea all the time, I had hot flashes, and I woke up nauseous every morning.

Then, during my senior year, my heart palpitations returned with a vengeance. Again, I wrote it off, assuming it was the stress of applying to graduate schools, anxiety over future unknowns, or my Type-A personality.

During my first year of grad school I went to a physician’s assistant for a normal well visit check-up. I mentioned I was having heart palpitations multiple times a day and the physician’s assistant immediately had my blood drawn to look at my thyroid. Sure enough, my numbers were off and I was referred to an endocrinologist.

The endocrinologist officially diagnosed me with Grave’s Disease. For those of you who have never heard of Graves, it’s an over-active thyroid condition in which my immune system was attacking my thyroid. I was put on medication and thankfully my heart palpitations resolved and I felt a little better overall.

I was in the middle of grad school, so I didn’t think much of my thyroid problems until my last year of school. I started having heart palpitations again. They would happen randomly and much less frequently than prior to being treated for Grave’s which made it hard to figure out the “why” behind them. Whenever I had heart tests everything looked fine. I even wore a special continuous heart monitor for 48 hours, but because I only had random palpitation episodes it didn’t catch anything.

By this point in my life, I always assumed my thyroid was off. I would call my endocrinologist, get lab draws, and everything would come back “normal”, even though I felt anything but normal.

Meanwhile, I still woke up nauseous every morning and had a horrible energy level in general. Tim and I would come up to KC to visit his folks, and while we were busy visiting lots of family, I would just crash in the afternoons. I mean, we weren’t THAT busy (no kids yet) and we were young. I should have felt fine.

Though I had an easy first pregnancy and delivery with our oldest, after my pregnancy when my thyroid was checked it had started to become under-active. I was told the antibody for Hashimotos was now present (Hashimotos is the autoimmune form of under-active thyroid). This was not discovered until 3 months postpartum, because at 6 weeks after delivery my labs were “normal”.

I had milk supply issues and had to supplement. I had significant difficulty sleeping, even when my baby was sleeping, and felt like I could hardly function during the day. I definitely felt better once I was taking medication to help my thyroid, but I started asking the question: WHY is my immune system freaking out? How can I have two different antibodies in my blood stream for opposite thyroid conditions? How do we fix me? How can we get to the root of the problem?

Whenever I asked these questions to my physician he just told me thyroid conditions were genetic and I would be on medication the rest of my life. Another physician told me I was predisposed to thyroid cancer and encouraged me to have my thyroid removed (you cannot live without your thyroid-I would be taking medication for the rest of my life if I chose that option).

When our oldest was about 18 months old Tim started doing some research on nutrition and autoimmune issues. He mentioned that some of his research had pointed to gluten as a big problem for people with autoimmune issues. Honestly, I think I laughed in his face at the time and told him I could never not eat bread. Then he told me dairy might cause the same issues.

Honestly, I was freaking out: what the heck were we going to eat? So much of our diet consisted of health whole grains and low-fat dairy. I couldn’t imagine not having these things as part of our daily staples. Long story short, we decided to experiment with going gluten-free shortly after this. We changed our dairy sources (only dairy from grass fed cows, and FULL-FAT, not fat-free versions) and started eating mostly whole foods: meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

I started seeing an Integrative Medicine physician in town and had a bunch of testing done to look at my gut health, my vitamin and mineral levels, even my genetics. I was actually low in a lot of important vitamin and mineral levels. And it turned out I have two copies of a gluten-sensitive gene.

Tim and I have fine-tuned our nutrition multiple times over the past 4 years as we have continued to research, test and figure out what works best for us individually and as a family. At present our entire family is gluten-free and dairy-free. We eat significantly more veggies and meat now than I ever have in my entire life.

After making those dietary and supplement changes, my first year postpartum with my second and third children were dramatically different.

My milk supply was great and I was able to exclusively nurse for a year with my second and third children. I slept great when the kids were sleeping even when we were up multiple times a night for feedings. My energy level was now steady throughout the day, which if you’ve had a newborn is pretty much a miracle. I felt like I could actually function, even in a sleep-deprived state. I no longer had anxiety or shakiness.

Today, I wake up feeling rested without nausea, and despite having a super-scheduled life with three extended families, three small children, two working parents, a new business and a partridge in a pear tree, I feel like I can handle it all.

Did I mention I haven’t had any heart palpitations in years?

My personal health journey has profoundly influenced my own approach as a health care provider. I love science. Sometimes I feel like my 5 year old asking, ”why, why, why…but mommy why?”. I like understanding the mechanics of things and working hard to learn about topics that interest me, particularly when it comes to physical health and wellness.

I can no longer ignore lifestyle and nutrition in my practice as a physical therapist. EVERYTHING factors into the physical pain, injury or performance issues you are having.

The things that I have learned in the last 5 years have been truly life changing and my hope is to pass on the wisdom I have gained to optimize my own health to you so we can all look and feel our best. I am a better wife, mommy and physical therapist when I’m feeling my best. I handle stress better when I’m at my best (and let’s face it, life is full of ups and downs and there’s no getting around stress).

An Integrative approach to physical therapy means something entirely new for you-even if you’ve had physical therapy before. We are a system of systems. When I have a patient who comes in with lower back pain, I don’t just treat their lower back. How their big toes move when they walk affects their ankle which affects their knee which affects their hip which affects their lower back. The upper back is connected to the lower back and if the upper back is stiff, the lower back suffers. It is rarely the painful joint that is the issue, but rather something upstream or downstream that is causing stress to the painful area.

And it isn’t just about painful or stiff joints.

How my patients are sleeping, what they are eating (or not eating), how they are handling day-to-day stress, their daily movement habits, and how well they move all contribute to our bodies abilities to heal themselves.

Every patient I see wants their pain gone ASAP. The majority of patients we see have chronic pain (pain lasting longer than 3 months). I’d estimate my average patient has had pain on and off for 5 years. FIVE YEARS! I don’t know about you, but I am cranky when I don’t feel good for 5 minutes, let alone 5 years. Many of my patients have seen a number of other health practitioners prior to me and they still have unresolved pain. If we are not addressing their entire lifestyle, it takes longer to resolve their pain and keep it gone. So much of the time my patients have never gotten the chance to talk to a healthcare provider about the lifestyle factors they can change to help their bodies heal so they feel their best. It breaks my heart. Life is much too short to feel awful most of the time. The normal state of our body is pain-free. Let me state that again:

THE NORMAL STATE OF OUR BODY IS PAIN-FREE.

It is NOT normal to have pain just because we are aging. It is not normal to sleep poorly. It is not normal to have low energy. Ladies, it is NOT normal to have PMS. Our society assumes so much: that we will be in a constant state of chronic stress, low energy (hence the reason Starbucks is a multi-billion dollar company) and pain. We have all sorts of devices and pills to cover up symptoms of poor health, many of which cause more symptoms and issues.

What if there was a better way?

There are many unique issues that can crop up postpartum: pelvic floor issues (peeing on yourself), abdominal separation (diastasis recti), lower back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, and knee pain, just to name a few. It is possible to heal well from pregnancy and birth-related trauma. If you don’t have a history of postpartum pain or dysfunction but have an acute episode of pain from either carrying your kids and all their stuff around all day its time to step it up and start training your body for these tasks.

Pain is an indicator that something is off. None of you would even consider running a marathon without training first. Why do we assume that we are prepared for our bodies to go through the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth and then care-giving for our children without the proper training? Many women I know view training as something to do to get bigger muscles or look better, but I would argue it is SO much more than that. We should be training for the demands of our day, whether that is because we have a demanding job or because we have small children who need us to be physically strong for them.

ALL OF THESE PROBLEMS ARE FIXABLE OR PREVENTABLE!

Going through pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and motherhood three times in the last 5 years has given me a huge heart for my fellow moms. Just because we are lifting kids and car seats like we’re getting paid to do it does not mean that we need to be in pain because of it. There is SO much we can accomplish from physical therapy and lifestyle changes to optimize our physical health so that we are better prepared for the challenges of motherhood.

Take it from a mom who has put in a lot of effort into changing my lifestyle and exercise habits: It is possible to feel great while raising small children and to keep yourself injury-free. There is nothing I have asked my patients to do that I have not already done myself. I would love to see you young moms not just survive, but THRIVE throughout your years of motherhood.

So, Tim and I want to offer all you moms a special option for the next 30 days. If you have any questions at all about optimizing your physical health-solving a back pain issue that won’t go away, feeling tired all of the time, or just unsure where to start and who to talk to in the sea of conflicting internet opinions-e-mail us at restorethrive@gmail.com and write in the subject line “MOM BLOG”. We will send you a link to schedule a FREE 30-minute, face-to-face consultation.  Don’t wait! E-mail us now, we’re ready to help you live the life you deserve!

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