Tuesday, December 1, 2009

(How to) Heal Lower Back Pain

Okay, well I can't heal everyone's back pain, but I can share how I healed mine.

One of my 2009 intentions was to heal thy back. This time a year ago I was in such unbelievable, multiple cuss words when I got out of bed or a chair pain that I was fairly depressed about the whole thing. When you are in the throes of serious pain, it seems like you will never feel good again. And, most medical issues I'd had before had fairly simple treatment.

Sore muscle? Rub and stretch it out.
Wisdom tooth extraction? Eat soft foods.
Sprained ankle? Rest, then strengthen.
Cold or sinus infection? Hydrate, medicate, rest.

When you have a protruding disc in your back causing white hot shocks of pain down your leg and persistent dull ache in your low back, the treatment is rest, take it easy and try to figure out what will work for your body. You know, fairly vague and not at all targeted to fixing your individual problem. I needed a better plan for 2009.

But first, let me take you back a bit. No pun intended.

Sometime mid way through 2007 I started having some slight pain in my lower back on the left side. Nothing too major, more of a dull pain that came and went infrequently enough that I didn't even remember to tell my doctor about it. Near the end of the year I started taking two really intense gym classes. They were high energy, fast paced and made me push myself harder than I had before. They were great--especially for someone who sits at a computer for 8+ hours each day.

Right around the time I had trimmed my waistline, sculpted my booty, strengthened my arms and was in all around good shape, my back problems flared up. BIG TIME. I waited awhile to go to the doctor, but a trip to New Orleans in April 2008 had me dialing the office first thing Monday morning. I was in so much pain, the only thing that took my mind off of it was a hurricane at Pat O'Brien's.

In August, the problem was identified through an MRI. A bulging/protruding disc at the L5 S1.

Photo from here.

A few weeks later I had a pain shot (sweet, sweet relief), sort of tried to take it easy working out and paid mind to my back when picking things up, getting out of cars, etc. By December I was back at the doctors office crying for relief, prompting another another visit to the pain management clinic (after a super uncomfortable holiday break).

The second pain shot helped tremendously, and I've since taken lots of steps to tackle my pain, but the thing that really did it was the hardest: I stopped working out in May. Mind you, I still walked four times a week but I stopped doing one of the things I loved the most. And it was totally worth it. As I sit here thinking about December 2008, I feel like a whole new person. Eleventy-billion times better.

So, here are my steps for healing my back.

  • No more bouncing, hopping, jumping, high impact work outs. I've started going to classes again, but I modify the exercises to work for me. Did I mention no bouncing?
  • Pilates. Oh, sweet pilates. I started a class in late August and my back feels great. Pilates strengthened my core in a way other exercises didn't. It took me two and a half months to do a roll up, but that's when I knew things were looking good.
  • Strengthened my core muscles to better support my lower back
  • Sleep on my side with a pillow between my knees and with a side sleeper, neck aligning pillow
  • Use my knees to lift things, not my back. There was a good eight to ten months where picking up a bag of groceries was hard to do. I still have twinges of pain if I pick up something too heavy, but I'm pretty good at managing it now.
  • Sit up straight, shoulders back, don't hunch
  • Walking
  • You can't massage out an injury like this, but a massage to help increase bloodflow, helping to heal the the damage to the disc and reduce swelling. So, I've had two massages. Maybe I need another, no?

One intention down, seven more to recap.

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