Even Physios Get Sore
What Does a Physiotherapist With A Sore Lower Back Do?
One month ago I had the good fortune of having a birthday. I say good fortune, as once you hit 40, still having birthdays is a bit of an honour. I hear this sense of good fortune grows as you hit 50, 60 and so on.
I have a tradition of always doing some hard workouts on the days surrounding my birthday, and on the “big day “. This year I did a solid effort on the indoor bike, a day later went to the gym for an hour, and on my birthday went for a hard 10 km run. I was also very busy at work, doing long days on my feet and at the desk. These efforts weren’t massively unusual for me, but as it had been a busy winter with family responsibilities and our business, I was not as fit as I like to be by my birthday. A few days later I woke early to do some morning stretches. So should I have been surprised that I felt tight in my lower back as I put my socks on a bit later? In retrospect, no. I ramped things up for a few days and was now going to pay the price. As one of my professors in university would say, “Your mind is writing cheques that your body can’t cash!”. By that afternoon I was quite sore. By the next morning, I was grimacing and holding my breath just getting out of bed. Coughing and sneezing was a killer.
The point of writing this is to let you know what I did about it. As a physiotherapist, I have treated thousands of patients with lower back pain over the last 16 years. Now I was going through it myself.
The most valuable thing I did was get my head straight. Yes, it hurt … a lot. However, I kept trying to stay positive and practice what I preach. That is, the vast majority of back pain events are fairly short-term (a few days to a few weeks). When negative thoughts rolled in (my race season is over, I’m going to miss a month of work, etc. ) I worked on seeing them for what they were … negative emotions that were serving no purpose in my recovery. Some corners of the medical “system”, including physiotherapy, chiropractic and many other forms of physical medicine are guilty of perpetuating the myth, or should I call it the fear, that acute (sudden) back pain is always a very serious concern and that people should be extremely concerned when these events happen. The research tells us that 80 % of people get lower back pain. We also can all tell that most people are functioning well, living their lives and staying fit. In other words, back pain is not a jail sentence.
I also did some easy back movements, that I was pretty sure would help. I did cat/ cow yoga moves on my hands and knees, and some hip and gluteal stretches. I went for a few walks when I would normally have been running. I did have one of my Physio colleagues do a bit of IMS/ dry needling acupuncture on my hips and lower back. Within 7 days I was definitely on the mend. On the seventh night, I went for a “float”. This allowed me to relax on my back in an environment that is a bit like being in space in zero G. If you haven’t tried floating, I strongly recommend it for mental relaxation and back tightness. If you are claustrophobic, you may want to do a bit of research though; it may not be for you.
By day nine I was able to do a light bike ride, and a couple of days later I did my first run. It felt tight and stiff on both the run and the ride and I was moving awkwardly or at least, not smoothly. Unfortunately, by 2 weeks later I had a very sore left knee, partly due to the less than optimal movements. I was definitely feeling like that recent birthday was a jinx! This speaks to another point I wanted to make: recovery and rehabilitation is not a straight line going up from zero (“bad” ) to ten (“good”). It is more like a shaky line going up. You make some improvements, and then you have a setback and feel worse again. Over time, though, the pattern is usually about improvement.
Over the last month, since this all occurred, I have stayed calm and plugged along doing some rehab exercises and pushing my running, kayaking and riding a bit more.
I can now say I’m feeling almost back to normal and feeling really good. If, or rather when, I strain my back again, I plan on repeating what worked for me this time. That is, staying calm and positive, focusing on easy movements and stretches, and a doing bit of physiotherapy.
Now, have I told you about my sore left foot…?