Yoga After a Hip Fracture: In the Hospital and Rehab

In this era of quarantine and social isolation recently thrust on us so suddenly and unexpectedly, we have the opportunity to creatively re-examine our environment to see what can support us—physically, mentally, and spiritually—in our personal yoga practice. I got a head start on this process (also suddenly and unexpectedly!) this past January when I slipped and fell on snowy ground and broke my hip. 

A surgeon at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca pinned my femur back together during 2.5 hours of emergency surgery, and put me on “toe-touch weight-bearing only” (meaning that I could only use my right leg for balance, toes touching the floor while getting around with a walker and taking the weight on my hands and arms with each step.) With fifty-one staples holding together the two incisions along my bandaged outer thigh, I had little  access to movement in my stiff and swollen right leg.

Waking up before sunrise in my hospital bed, five days after the surgery, I found myself—for the first time since the ambulance ride—in tears for all that had vanished in a fraction of a second: Mobility. Strength. Career. Income. Independence. As the tears subsided, this simple question surfaced: Yes, but what can I do? Breath by breath, my arms extended overhead in Urdhva Hastasana. Gradually my arms straightened, my shoulders loosened up a bit, and both hands established a hold on the openings in the headboard railing. I began to extend both legs (even my injured leg stirred and came along for the ride) toward the footboard railing.  An expanded inhalation and extended exhalation accompanied the traction pull of my arms and legs. Little by little I felt the prana began to stir and my spine to release and lengthen. Work around the injury. Let the strong leg guide the weak one. Don’t define yourself by what you can’t do.

During the next hour, with gentle repetitive movements, on my back amidst the sheets, blankets and squishy pillows of my hospital bed, the blessed light of yoga  made its way into my morning. Here is the sequence that evolved from that first supine exploration of yogasana after surgery for a hip fracture:

o  Urdhva Hastasana in Supta Tadasana - arms extend overhead, legs extend away

o   Knee circles -  hands move bent knees in a  circular pattern, for hip rotation

o   Supta Padangustasana 1- hold back of thigh, flex foot and extend leg

o   Purvottanasana - straighten arms and legs, engage buttocks, press hands and heels,  push up from bed 

o   Urdhva Hastasana in Dandasana - sit up on pillows with legs extended out straight, raise arms

o   Supta Tadasana - bend and straighten one leg at a time, pushing heel away

o   Matsyasana - legs straight, press elbows down and arch upper back; look back, open chest

o   Mari III and Janusirsasana - left side only

o   Urdhva Muka Paschimottanasana  (second try was able to reach my feet and remove my red-and-white polka-dot hospital socks!)

o   Savasana II - head and chest elevated on pillows and towels

And here is the (toe-touch weight-bearing only) yoga practice sequence that my photo colleague and friend Harry Littell recorded on my iPhone, nine days later in my room in the rehab facility. Props available included the wall, the bed, the walker, towels, pillows, and a ‘leg lifter’ supplied by Physical Therapy.

1 - Viparita Dandasana with support: I needed to begin practice with getting some length and space  in my front body after sitting and lying in bed for almost three weeks.

2 - Tadasana with support: The walker, plus this section of wall, helped with vertical alignment as well as support.

3 - Especially for Urdhva Hastasana (you can see the tightness in my shoulders!)

4 - Ditto for Urdhva Baddanguliyasana!

5 - Virasana, forward, using the walker for  extension  AND support. This was as wide as my legs would go, and as much bend as my knees would permit.

6 - Seated Bharadvajasana: Using the walker for lift and length in the torso as well as for support.

7 - The “leg lifter” was invaluable for getting on and off the bed.

8 - Supta Padangustasana, injured leg supported. A towel or the leg lifter could have been used (in place of a yoga strap) to reach my extended leg.

9 - Urdhva Hastasana in Dandasana, in preparation for Urdhva Muka Paschimottanasana. (Straight leg symmetrical poses were more accessible than those with bent knees.)

10 - Urdhva Muka Paschimottanasana, buttocks raised up on folded towels.

11. Savasana, head supported on folded towels and both feet elevated on pillows to help ease the swelling.

Next post: Iyengar Yoga for the Immune System - Home Practice suggestions!

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