Back Inaction

Backs – why are they garbage?!

I managed to hurt my back, again. This time there wasn’t any single defining moment of stupidity that did it, just an accumulation of all the physical labor that my body is not used to plus the additional labor of trying to build this hay shed (we have about 1/3 of the “foundation beams” constructed so far, plus we made three saw horses). Luckily after about five days of being pretty painful my back is feeling about 90% better. Probably because Leeloo helped with chores.

Leeloo helping put out hay, good thing the hay box is no longer scary.

I come from a long line of people with terrible backs. The first time I threw my back out was about nine years ago and after several days of not being able to stand up I decided to go see my physical therapist. Of course I had to go see a general practitioner first and get a referral to see the physical therapist, you know, to make sure I wasn’t wasting my insurance company’s money. I had a great go-to physical therapists, Sandy Wilson at The Institute for Athletic Medicine, who I had started working with a few years prior to help with some ongoing shoulder and neck pain. (Side note – it appears that The Institute for Athletic Medicine has been renamed as M Health Fairview Rehabilitation Services and that Sandy has retired. This makes me sad because I loved working with Sandy.) Sandy assigned me a reasonable amount of exercises, which we adjusted at subsequent visits as my back slowly got better. That was the start of a daily strength focused exercise routine that I still do every weekday, though it has been modified over the years. The neck/shoulder stuff had been more about stretching and changing daily habits; the biggest being a switch from carrying all my class stuff in an over the shoulder bag to carrying it in an obnoxiously loud rolling cart . That sucker is loud on our school’s tiled floors, but totally worth it! The back issues however needed more than just a few lifestyle changes and stretches, I really needed to strengthen my overall abdominal core, which is an ongoing effort. Though having a stronger core isn’t always enough, sometimes I need to go beyond exercises to deal with the various back pain issues that continue to bother me.

Sometimes the back pain has nothing to do with core muscles but is all about the joints. Like the time I locked a facet joint in my upper back and the only thing that helped that was my chiropractor; one visit and it was immediately fixed. I started working with a chiropractor around 2011 to see if they could offer relief for some of my various aches and pains and chronic headaches. I saw that first chiropractor pretty regularly for a few years, but since then I have gotten better at identifying when my pain would be helped by an adjustment and when it wouldn’t. I have also learned that certain things just throw my body out of whack and that an adjustment will make it better (driving long distances, flying, sleeping on terrible mattresses). I used to automatically go in for an adjustment after any such event but my chiropractor recently moved and I haven’t found a new one yet.

A quality massage also makes a big difference for some of my back pain, particularly when the pain seems to be muscle based. However, despite lots of evidence that massages provide relief for pain and help with healing, they aren’t covered by insurance and I’m too cheap to pay for them on any sort of regular basis (that barn won’t pay for itself!), so I don’t get them nearly as often as my back would like.

For many years that was the routine. Do core strengthening exercises five times a week but still hurt my back or have random back pain set in, go see Sandy and/or see the chiropractor and/or get a massage and it would eventually fade away. It wasn’t the worst system, but I was still dealing with back pain pretty regularly. Then I saw this article of a summary of a TED Talk about sitting and my world changed. I read the article, then watched the TED Talk it referenced, then googled for more videos by Esther Gokhale. I started doing some of the things on my own, like stacksitting (stacksitting is the BEST,  though it does tire out your core muscles if they aren’t strong enough yet) and the shoulder roll; but I felt like there was more to learn than what I could find from scouring for videos on YouTube. This was also in the midst of “high covid” so everything had switched to online formats, which in this case was great, because the Gokhale classes had never been offered anywhere near me but now they were all on zoom! This may have been the only time in my life I was genuinely excited about something being on Zoom. I was also in desperate need of a new office chair at this point. My old one had one and a half broken wheels so you had to have the chair just right or it would be all tippy or at an unreasonable angle, and now that we were doing everything from home because of covid what had been a major, but only occasional, inconvenience was now a major, and all the time, inconvenience. After talking to Nate, we decided it would be worth the money to do a whole package which would get me a new chair, and the Gokhale Method video, book, and online classes. It has changed my life. The biggest thing is that it’s not about exercises and trying to find time to fit new things into your life, it’s about changing the very basic things you do constantly to be better for your back. I sit differently, I stand differently, I walk differently, and my back is so much better! Even when I do manage to hurt it by being dumb, or in this case the overall accumulation of more activity than I’m used to, I recover much faster and more fully than I ever did before.

That isn’t to say I don’t need an extra boost once in a while to get over a back issue. This spring when I hurt my back nothing was making it better until I went back to acupuncture. I had originally started working with Dr. He (who has retired, seriously, why is everyone leaving? I also need to find a new dentist!) for some other health issues and stopped going a few years ago when those were resolved, but since nothing else was working I thought it was worth a try. I saw Dr. Yang at TCM Health Center and after just two visits my back was better. This time what seemed to do the trick was a ten minute back massage from Nate (or possibly just time, but we’ll say it was the massage). Side note – Nate and I play a game or two of cribbage almost every day; however, we are both salty about losing, so several years ago we instituted a rule that after eight losses the losing person gets a ten-minute massage, and that if you get skunked it counts as two losses. This has added an odd twist to the game because now if one of us is losing we would prefer to get skunked and get annoyed when we don’t.

Speaking of which, I need to go ask Nate if he wants to play a game of cribbage, I need to lose a few more times and bank another massage!

Though Leeloo is pretty sure my back got better because she was helping.