Naturally, the best time to start getting your back in shape is NOT when it’s killing you. But, we humans being the procrastinators we are, most of us don’t worry about it when we’re feeling okay. Inevitably, however, you’ll have one of those days. It’s cold and damp. Or you just raked all the leaves in the yard that you didn’t get to rake last fall before the snow started falling. Or you picked up your grandson, who is turning out to be quite the bruiser. Or you started taking Arimidex and all your joints ache and you feel like you’re about 150 years old. Whatever it is, suddenly you have a really sore back.
Sure, I’m a physical therapist, and I should know better. But I’m not immune to the vagaries of human nature. The good thing is that I know all the tricks. The bad thing is that, on paper — such as my last lumbar MRI report — my back is a complete disaster. The neurosurgeon who removed a severely herniated disk from my lumbar spine seven years ago, told me that reading your MRI report is a really good way to get depressed, because even if you feel okay, the average report for most of us past a certain age will make your back sound like a train wreck. Point taken. Let’s just say that I only ever needed back surgery once, and that was only because that disk I’d herniated had squirted into my spinal canal. It was ugly. If you’ve never had a pinched nerve, you have no idea what pain really is. My entire left leg was on fire. There was no way to get that blob of disk jelly off my L4 nerve root without having the neurosurgeon go in there and fish it out. Otherwise, considering all the other herniated disks I’ve had, plus the arthritis and the spinal stenosis and the muscle spasms and the sacroliliac flare-ups I’ve lived through, I’m doing exceptionally well! But that’s because I know what to do to keep the back hounds at bay.
As some of you know, last week, after a couple of especially rough days of doing my admittedly physically-demanding job, I ended up with severe back pain. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand up straight. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t turn over in bed without whimpering. I spent an entire day mostly in bed, alternating cold packs and hot packs, gobbling anti-inflammatories, and moaning a lot. But I also did my back-rescue exercises, which is a series of graduating, gentle stretches that I have taught hundreds of patients over the years. I started off with Sore Back 101 in the morning, graduated to Sore Back 201 in the afternoon, and got myself to Sore Back 301 by the evening. By the next morning, I could sit, stand, drive and go to work. Sounds miraculous, doesn’t it? Well, not really. I just know my body and I know what I’m doing. And I know how to take it slowly and gently. And I can tell the difference between abject agony and the momentary but good kind of soreness you feel when you stretch properly, that leaves you feeling human afterward.
So, without further ado, here’s Sore Back 101. Sore Back 201 and 301 will follow in my next post. [I don’t want you all to kill yourselves all at once!!] First off, slap on an ice pack for 10-15 minutes. Yes, ice. Ice is first aid. When you have injured yourself, you have inflammation. As in flame. As in heat. And swelling. So you need to cool it off first. Then take anti-inflammatories if you’re allowed to, and analgesics if you’re not. Later on, you can use a hot pack. And then you can try these. If you click anywhere on the pictures, you will get to a link for a PDF of all these that you can download. Don’t juggle them. Do them in the order shown. It makes a difference. Just take it slow, and STOP IF IT CAUSES MORE PAIN!!!
Now, tell the truth: Do I draw a mean stick figure or what??? Oh, and feel better, okay?
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