Tuesday, July 27, 2010

6 Things I'm Learning from Back Pain

Over the past 4 and 1/2 months I have been battling chronic mid-upper (thorasic) back pain.  It has been a miserable struggle, and has had me off the bike for weeks at a time, and at others has confined me to just paved road riding.  In addition to this back difficulty, I have been experiencing stomach pain along with it for the past 2 months or more.

I have seen 2 chiropractors, 2 doctors, and 1 physical therapist over the past 2 1/2 months.  I have undergone a battery of treatments and tests, and am still not fully recovered.  However, I think that now I am on the path to a full recovery and maybe I will be completely healed within another month.

Over the course of this physical struggle, I have been learning many things about myself, and about life.  Below are 6 key things that I've been learning and pondering:
  1. Not to take my health or physical fitness for granted.  It can disappear in the blink of an eye, without any warning or apparent cause.  Be thankful for what you have!  For so long I lived oblivious to the fact of how healthy I really was.  I took it so for granted, and I shouldn't have.
  2. To take advantage of my health.  As a corollary of #1, if you are healthy and pain free, don't sit around on your bum!  Get out and exercise!  Enjoy your body while you have the chance!  I was no slouch in this. Still, after having experienced this much pain and downtime, as I hopefully struggle my way back to a full recovery I am going to seize every opportunity with so much more zeal and fervor than I used to! I'll revel in the simple ability to make myself tired, without having unnatural pain.
  3. To be thankful for the ability to ride a mountain bike. This is implied by numbers 1 and 2 above, but stems even beyond it.  Every time I get out and pedal the bike, especially when it is on singletrack, it is such a blessing!  Yes, I'm blessed by being able to be healthy and active and not be in pain. Also, I'm blessed by not having to struggle for survival, so I have free time on my hands to do things like ride singletrack.  Not only that, I'm blessed to be able to own a decent mountain bike, and to be able to keep it in good running condition (most of the time).
  4. Life is pain. Life is full of pain, and the moments that we aren't in some sort of discomfort should be cherished! Pain/discomfort can definitely be physically oriented, but it can also be mental or emotional too.  I figure I might as well get used to it.  
  5. I can't always fix things by myself.  Sometimes, I need other people's help.  Yes, this means that sometimes I need to go to the doctor.  Despite the fact that I think I know my body inside and out and can tell what's wrong, I am not an expert.   Sometimes, you just need expert help. That's what doctors and physical therapists are for.
  6. Doctors aren't always right. Despite #5 above, doctors are not always right and don't know everything! I know myself pretty well, and sometimes it pays to just go with my gut instinct.  Also, using wisdom and discernment between differing medical opinions is key in making beneficial decisions.
Your Turn: Have there been hard times in your life that you have learned something from?  If you feel confident to share, please drop a comment below!  Feel free to share your struggles, their conclusion, and what you gained from them.

Click here to check out part 2.


    Reed July 27, 2010 at 9:58 AM  

    I have had three lower back surgeries. I feel your pain and agree with your observations. There very few things more debilitating than a back injury, so take care, don't push it and keep up a core fitness routine and stretching. Hope you get past this soon.

    E-Man,  July 27, 2010 at 10:25 AM  

    I'm right with ya on the back pain. I've got a double s-curve spine. In other words, really, really bad scholiosis(sp?), as well as one good lung. Like you, I've learned how to manage it on/off the bike. Coll post, dude.

    Anonymous,  July 27, 2010 at 10:31 AM  

    my lower back pain is annoying as well but I have been doing stretches and it seems to help. Tiger Paw works better than icy hot as well. I have not seen a professional yet bc the pain is not that terrible yet.

    Greg Heil July 27, 2010 at 5:44 PM  

    Hey Reed, thanks for the sympathy/empathy and advice, I really appreciate it.

    @e-man, That's really rough. Its amazing how many people are living with just really tough physical stuff to deal with.

    @crush#41, like Reed was saying, core exercises are key to keeping your lower back balanced out. And thanks for the tip on Tiger Paw.

    scott,  July 27, 2010 at 6:12 PM  

    Just some thoughts. I am forty plus and look forward to mtb into my fifties. Keeping in shape is key. I do many things in order to maintain my body. One thing that comes to my mind first when I hear about back pain is I am thankful that I do a pilates workout twice a week. This helps with the center or core of the body. Which is the ab area and the lower back. We do a lot of sitting in life which does not help posture. In front of the computer, behind the wheel of car and on a bike. It's no wonder lower back can become a problem area. Add a little spare tire around the waist and the problem multiple. Try pilates and you will find that even the simple movements can be helpful if you focus on doing them right and often.

    Greg Heil July 28, 2010 at 9:01 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Greg Heil July 28, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

    Hey Scott, definitely thanks for the pilates recommendation! I've heard pilates, yoga, and etc are great strengthening exercises!

    Mark July 28, 2010 at 9:32 AM  

    Exercise and stretching! Neither of which I don't do enough of in the warmer months but when I am riding less in the colder months I am in the gym more often.

    As for your back pain, have you tried acupuncture?

    Greg Heil July 29, 2010 at 6:05 PM  

    Hey Mark, thanks for the insight. No, I have not tried acupuncture. Hopefully i don't have to, as I am currently on the mend. The homework from my therapist from today: "Play hard all next week, and I'll see you the week after that."

    Hopefully I'll be able to put this (mostly) behind me soon!

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    Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com. He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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