“The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom” – Arthur Schopenhauer
(Courtesy of Google Images)
“Ow” is the phrase I think I’ve uttered the third most often over the last several months (“Stop that!” and “SHHHHHH!” are the first and second, in case you were wondering). The utterance of “ow” has been directed at some chronic lower back pain I’ve been experiencing almost constantly since sometime last year. Like so many people, I’ve had intermittent back pain over my adult years, but I never thought much about it, with few exceptions. But this pain, this pain just wouldn’t quit. I blamed it on bad form during workouts, running too much, muscle strain, job stress, running too little, and various other lame reasons. By November, I couldn’t even stand up for more than a few minutes without pain in my lower back, pain and weakness in my leg and numbness in the corresponding foot. Even standing outside waiting for the bus with my kids for ten minutes had become almost excruciating. I did continue to run and do other workouts, pushing through the pain, hoping that this would just work itself out. But some days, like the days after doing some trail runs and the Hartford Marathon Relay, it just hurt to do anything and everything.
So I eventually did what I should have done six months previously. I went to my primary care doctor and dealt with the mild scolding for not coming in sooner. I was sent for an x-ray of my spine and prescribed physical therapy and a mega-dose of naproxen (commonly known in the over-the-counter version as Aleve). The results of the x-ray prompted my doctor to do the very last thing that I wanted, which was order a MRI.
I had a MRI done on my shoulder several years ago, and, being claustrophobic, having to lie perfectly still with my face inches from the top of this extremely loud tomb-like structure was absolutely terrifying. I was totally that person who stopped the technician from sliding me into the machine three times, begging for reassurance again and again that I wasn’t going to die in there. Obviously I didn’t die, but it wasn’t an experience that I have ever wished to repeat. I was being sent to a different location this time around, so I harbored some hope that this experience would be different. I did have a screening call prior to the MRI and was asked, are you claustrophobic? To which I replied, “EXTREMELY”. And then we moved on to the rest of the questions without further comment.
When I arrived for the MRI, I asked the technician who was prepping me for the MRI why I was asked about being claustrophobic; was it merely for their information, was there an asterisk on my paperwork warning them that I letting them know that I might be a complete pain in the ass? She looked at me and said, “Oh, honey…you should have been told to get a little something from your doctor that would help keep you calm.” My gut immediately twisted itself almost inside out. She patted my arm and said they would do what they could. And they did. They put me in the machine only as far as they had too, and I could partially see the ceiling with the soothing palm tree image. I still felt pretty panicked initially, but my heartrate eventually slowed down and I made it through without freaking out.
As it turns out, I have some arthritis in my lower spine, and some bulging discs in my lower back that are pressing on my sciatic nerve. After consulting with a neurosurgeon, I did get the good news that continuing with physical therapy and anti-inflammatories is the way to go, for now.
In addition, I’ve started taking yoga classes, mostly restorative and gentle yoga, as well as a Mother-Daughter class. I’ve noticed a lot of the yoga poses are similar to what I’m doing in physical therapy, so I have made the connection that it’s a good thing that I’m doing. And I’ve noticed an added benefit; I’m learning to quiet my mind and just BE. That’s no small feat for my overthinking, anxious self. It feels pretty amazing, and I am going to continue with it, and as my back improves I plan on attending some of the more challenging classes.
Now that I’ve been doing all of this for several weeks, I have to admit, I’m not feeling nearly as improved as I’d like to be. I feel great during physical therapy and for a few hours afterward, and I feel great during yoga and for a few hours afterward, but then the pain and discomfort returns. But the intensity has been decreasing, and I am feeling better and more mobile that I have in months. I am feeling good enough to return to more intense physical activity; no running yet, but I did some miles on the elliptical machine at the gym last night. I was hoping for 4 miles, and my body felt great starting out, my arms and legs and core felt strong. At 1.75 miles, the lower back pain started. I tried to work it out and ignore it, but I couldn’t. Even though I was feeling absolutely no muscle fatigue, I had to stop at 2 miles. It just hurt too much.
I’m trying to consider last night a victory, because it’s the first time that I’ve been able to move my body for that kind of distance since early December. And today my back feels pretty good. But I’m also nervous because I am supposed to run a half marathon at the end of May. Which might seem far away now, but if I’m going to cover 13.1 miles on foot, I need to be able to start a training program soon.
Overall, I’m feeling a little frustrated, but I’m hopeful that the small improvements I’ve experienced thus far will continue and I’ll be back to normal physical activity soon. I have to admit that working through this, physically and mentally, has taught me so much; mostly not to put off taking care of yourself, and about the real benefits of allowing yourself to be still and quiet for a bit.
(Courtesy of Google Images)