In the year 2000, I injured my neck playing softball for the University of Massachusetts. I remember it clearly, we were playing Boston College and I dove for a line drive in the outfield. I made the catch and got up to start making my way off the field and collapsed. It was the last play I made in a UMass uniform.
Dealing with the pain of the injury and the disappointment of not being able to play were one thing, but the hardest part turned out to be the isolation of rehabilitation. While my teammates were heading to class, training and travelling to games, I was visiting doctors, surgeons, and physical therapists. I had lost my routine, stress relief through physical activity and social group all at once and to top it off I was 2000 miles from home. It was before everyone had a cell phone, before social media and I felt very alone in my recovery.
Facebook now boasts 900 million users, and is posed to reach 1 billion users soon. Twitter is estimated to have more than 500 million users. With this many users, communities within communities have developed in each social network. These communities have served to fill a void in the lives of people who face health problems, satisfying the universal human desire to know ‘you are not alone.’ The Empowered Patient: 5 ways Social Media Makes Patients Stronger.
Two months ago a close friend of mine tore her Achilles’ tendon while playing tennis. She is a very active individual and her social life revolves mainly around the activity clubs she belongs to. I found out about her injury via a Facebook post. Throughout the past eight weeks she has posted updates on her rehab progress. Updates ranged from her progress at physical therapy, to who popped by for a visit and boosted her spirits, to how her incision was healing. And though I could have gone without the pictures of the surgery incision, I have appreciated the honesty and raw emotion behind her posts. Facebook has allowed her to keep in close contact with her support system even though she can’t make it to the tennis court 3 times a week. It has also allowed me as a friend who lives in another province the ability to keep up to date and support her even if it is with a “like” or a small comment here or there.
Even professional athletes flock to social media for additional support. Olympic and World Cup skier, Lindsey Vohn recently announced on Facebook that her knee surgery went well and took the opportunity to thank her family, friends and fans for all their support.
The Internet can be so powerful in the way that it connects people, educates them on their illness or injury and empowers them to take charge of their recovery. People can now share their experiences with strangers who have the same injuries or illnesses, research their own treatment options or even become advocates for others long after they have recovered.
I can only imagine how much social networks such as Facebook or Twitter would have helped me had they been around while I was recovering from my injury. Perhaps I could have continued at UMass rather then head home to rehabilitate? Hard to say. However, I do know that I will continue to encourage family and friends to use social media as a tool to interact, learn, and take charge of their overall health.