It was the fall of 2014 and I just stepped out of yet another appointment with my highly-respected Manhattan orthopedic surgeon. Unlike prior appointments however, I pulled the trigger and scheduled a surgery to finally cure my hip pain once and for all. I’ve already gotten three separate MRIs confirming a labral tear and received a cortisone shot in my hip socket which apparently further proved that surgery is the appropriate next step (the above image is from an actual MRI I received from the summer of 2013). I was nervous but excited to finally cure my Femoral Acetabular Impingement (“FAI”) which has been holding me back for years.
About a week later, I’m in the office and I’m on hour five of a 9-hour sitting-all-day work session. My hip is not bothering me that much but I continuously stretch and rotate my leg to ensure the FAI is “still there.” I go back and forth in my mind but forcefully convince myself that my scheduled hip arthroscopic surgery in two days is a sound decision. However, something in my gut keeps pulling at me and sending me signals that something is not right. I’ve lived long enough to know that this type of instinct can never be ignored.
I move my current task to the side and begin obsessively searching Google for some hidden information on FAI that I may not have come across yet. I went to the second and third pages in the Google search, searched news and videos, scoured through social media and even went on craigslist to find something. Then, I arrived at YouTube and quickly realized that I’ve reached my destination. I luckily stumbled on Matt Hsu’s Upright Health channel and watched his video, “I don’t buy FAI.” In the video, Matt talked about his own experience with FAI and why he didn’t get surgery. He was also a living example of someone who got out of hip pain by utilizing an alternative holistic strategy.
This was a life-changing moment for me and I am forever grateful to Matt and his team at Upright Health for not only helping me get out of hip pain but also for giving me the skills and mindset to question any advice given by a so-called “specialist.” I watched the video multiple times and something just suddenly clicked in my brain; I knew surgery wasn’t for me. With only two days before the surgery left, I called one of the finest hospitals in the country and cancelled my surgery.
What happened next was completely unpredictable. Not only did I begin properly restoring my hip health but I began to understand functional movement and health to a degree I never anticipated. I also realized that doctors are not responsible for your health, but you are! Humans have been around for quite some time and most of our problems, including hip pain, has been figured out by someone at some point – you just have to do some digging. What’s important to realize however is that there is no “magic pill” and hip pain (and most other chronic joint pain) is almost always the result of years of improper movement patterns.
After reflecting on my experience, I would say there are two main reasons why I decided not to get surgery.
(1) Noticing Immediate Temporary Pain Relief
One of the first things Matt at Upright Health had me do during our first session was get in a position where I felt hip pain. Then, he asked me to contract my glute muscle while in that position. It was remarkable – when I contracted my glutes while being in that position, I no longer experienced the pain. This alone was eye-opening for me and it made me wonder, what if my glutes were stronger? What if it was possible to reverse years of atrophy that my glutes suffered from sitting at a desk every day? If my glutes were more functional, would I experience less pain in other more natural positions as well?
These questions were enough for me to cancel my surgery and explore an alternative method to treating my hip pain. If I really thought about it, I never really worked on strengthening my glutes despite sitting on my butt all day. The more I started to experiment with different stretches and muscle contractions, I noticed even more pain relief. I knew that I was on to something.
(2) Performing an Objective Assessment of my Functional Movement
Another important factor that contributed to my decision to cancel surgery was the humbling realization that my functional movements were severely dysfunctional. I could not squat even close to parallel without lifting my heels off the ground – in fact I never knew what a real squat was even supposed to look like. I couldn’t perform a hip hinge without severely rounding my back and I had barely any range of motion in my hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors, and many other muscles.
My first instinct was to brush this all off and blame these movement deficiencies on the FAI diagnosis. However, I had to be honest with myself. Did I ever learn to squat properly or did I just keep believing what I learned from a senior on my high-school basketball team? Did I ever truly think what eight to nine hours of sitting at a desk can do to my body? Did I ever really try to stretch extremely tight muscles and strengthen weak muscles? Or did I just go to the gym, hit the bench press and do some bicep curls? I took pride in my health and conditioning so it was not easy to admit how dysfunctional my body was. But it was and it was time to get to work.
It is common to assume that an orthopedic surgeon will “cure” your hip. However, these specialists have five to ten minutes to spend with you every month or so and within that time frame, it is impossible for them to go over all the possible factors contributing to the pain you’re experiencing. Instead, they’ll give you some painkillers, shoot you up with some cortisone or even worse, cut you open! With a little guidance from an experienced coach, I have no doubt that you can alleviate your hip pain like I did.
This is part I of a three-part series. Next week, I’ll discuss which specific strategies I found to be most helpful during my recovery process.