What is "Back Ache"??
What does a bad back feel like???
It depends really on a few factors…. And how can a Pilates trainer be able to write about it..?
Well because I was there a few years ago and it wasn’t much fun at the time. I tell you a secret, I had a feeling I would have a back issue at some point in my life – didn’t think it would be when I was in my early 40s (bit too young in my head) but I’d sat so much of my life in a rounded back, as a kid I tucked my knees in my jumper – and got told off for stretching it. It was comfy and my body could do it – and hence now why I roll so well!!!
What happens when we sit like that for too long is that the tissues “creep”; over time they get longer and longer and stay there – it’s like a long sustained stretch. Tissues have elasticity and they bounce back to length and plasticity – which is where methods like yoga come into it, consistent holds of poses so the tissues lengthen and hold and not bounce back (which takes patience). When we sit or stand in a certain way the tissues adjust to that way – not good in my case. So my back got bendy in flexion and I used to ride a bike – A LOT – in a triathlete position more flexion. Oops
In my defence I did Pilates, strength training, stretched and what happened was a cumulation over instances – over training (typical triathlete) when my back ‘locked’ up when I twisted and I had to stop training for a week and then playing games my body wasn’t prepared for – running in circles and diving under legs, not the typical move a triathlete or a Pilates trainer does.
The first instance was the warning that I ignored, the second one I attempted to ignore until a lovely Scottish nurse said “Honey if you want to walk again I suggest you stop…..” – erm okay..
After the 'running in circles' incident I had no idea if I had slipped a disc or what I had done, all I knew was that to bend over to spit after brushing my teeth was a non event and I had to use my hands or the wall to get down to and up off the toilet - very elegant. It just hurt and felt like my back was one piece and if I tried to move it, it spasmed. Getting out of bed is interesting or even turning over in bed – you kinda roll and then push and hope the spasm doesn’t come and take your breath away. You learn quickly and when you forget......
After the circle game, I actually carried on for a while training in most ways (I know I know….) – not tri training but the gym and Pilates, even if it tingled a little. The break point came when I went running, ran barefoot a while as my shoe was rubbing and by the next day the area at the base of my back (sacrum) felt all numb and like I had wet myself (I hadn’t).
I fidgeted, never sat still as it “hurt” and had to sleep on 2 small 4” balls which I also sat on. Then my left foot sort of stopped working so well and I started to trip over it a bit – known as drop foot… oops again. The person I lived with forced me to A&E where they gently put their finger up my butt to check that my bowels were ok (big issue if the disc compresses those nerves..) and well it wasn’t. I was sent home (I could drive fine if I put the ball behind my left calf and under my left butt…) and booked in for an MRI. Oh I was still training.
MRI – they were more worried about my back tattoo and it getting burnt, I was more worried about staying still for 20 minutes. It was okay and I got to see the MRI after – so cool as a movement trainer to see it – and yup a disc out of place down in L4/L5 and L5/S1 kinda dehydrated and gone.
Now, if you are still reading I must be a great story teller!!! Seriously though many of us have discs that wander about and cause no pains, some people have back pain and no disc issues, some have neither some have both and you don’t know. The MRI is a snap shot in time and in only one position, unless we can MRI the body moving we don’t know how the discs really behaves – or until you have pain. Even with a diagnosis, treatment is so individual - which is where I started, the pains we feel are so individual - pain all the time vs a stab on movement vs pins and needles vs a throb, who knows other than you….And it much depends on your level of fitness, movement history, weight, pain barrier and mind set to pain.
What this taught me as a trainer was that I don’t know unless you tell me, what looks ok on the outside may not feel ok on the inside…
The nurse – so I went to the Dr as I was meant to for results and she asked what I did – erm rowing, skipping, weights….. that’s when I heard those words that stopped me in my tracks and I stopped the 'gym' and put myself into rehab.
What happened was the nerve controlling my left foot had got compressed and the message to my muscle to flex my left ankle stopped sending that rather important message – you need ankle flexion to walk. When it doesn’t happen you end up tripping over your foot because it drags along the floor. I could walk 20 paces and then be in tears because the throbbing in my left hip was too much – muscles were compensating so I could move.
The body is AMAZING and will find a way around the problem, which often can cause a new problem…and on and on… hence the need to stop!!
I went back to basics, had to focus on my 'lazy' deep core and not OVERWORKING and figure out how to get some sensation to the sleepy muscle. The power plate was my friend as was tapping the muscle dude that was asleep, anything I could think of to get some sensation back. I limited walking, still slept and sat on my balls and slowly built it all up. Sometimes I find things that my left leg struggles with, but less and less and I can feel if I am a bit off whack but I don’t let this stop me trying anything.
Running was easier than walking initially, I am a front foot lander not heel lander so not being able to flex didn’t matter much! But I walked first and if I felt the hip going I stopped, woke things up and carried on..
It was frustrating and if I tell you that 1 year before I had won my age group in IMUK and now I was just able to walk you can understand how much I had to work with my head as well as my body.
It was not easy but the lessons learnt were worth it.
The pain slowly went, I could walk and move easier, I took my time with moves that I knew might niggle it and I had to trust my body and that my left leg would hold me. My ankle still doesn’t have the same muscle strength, but at least the muscle gets the message now.
IT SUCKED, it does… and it takes time to heal. 3 years after I was back to pretty much everything, I knew the things I needed to do if I felt things going off a bit and I did them. 4 years after I started aerial arts – the trapeze I loved most but there were some things that as much as I tried, my fear response was too great and it wasn’t worth it, there were other things I could do and not risk hurting myself. When the fear happens it's quite illogical, for me I just got sweaty and my brain and body didn't communicate well... I would try but it just wasn't going to happen.
Trampolining is another fear place – low jumps are easy – high jumps and knees to chest, not happening unless I wear a nappy. The rest of the time no problem, but I know if I sit in my rounded 'kid' body or don’t do back strength work or pay attention to certain signs, it may not be a happy day and I do not want to experience it all again…
Everything is a lesson if we are open to it. This taught me not to push all the time, to be more aware more of the time, to trust, to be in awe of the body and to be a more empathetic trainer. This type of pain is not fun, it’s big and scary and it takes a lot to face the fears. I am lucky it is my job and I am a life coach and I get the brain's working and that I can sense my body, but I still ignored the warnings….. Another lesson – don’t ignore them…!!
There is a way out of the pain most of the time, not always I know but there are ways to regain life and movement. It might not be the same so we find new things to do instead – the positive mindset and embracing change.
It is so important to move and move well with awareness and it’s okay to not always be in alignment too! We need to be out of line to know being in line and challenge the body ‘safely’.
If we can help in any way, please be in touch – otherwise find a great osteo/Pilates trainer/physio who can watch you and guide you into moving optimally. Work with your mind too, that for me was and is still invaluable for rehab… and be kind and patient with yourself…