Tuesday, June 17, 2008

i'm back and on my back

I had such a good time relaxing and sunning and slurrrping poolside over the long weekend that I came home and promptly put my back out. Or, more technically, strained a ligament while reaching for a tennis ball. Proving once again the theory that I call "The Homeostatic Pleasure Pain Principle" which states that a body can only have so much fun without paying a price.

I've had lower back pain for years. It really got out of hand after carrying twins for 40 weeks. Since then, I've had chronic lower backache and lots of small episodes of smarting pain down my back and into my butt and thigh (known as sciatica). Especially after long periods of standing in line or standing on hard floors, such as the stained concrete floors in my kitchen.

A few years ago I started playing competitive tennis. At the start of my third season, I found myself hobbling off the court in pain. After several days of pain and stiffness, I was afraid to play. A teammate recommended an Iyengar yoga instructor who specialized in rehabilitative yoga.

"But I'm not very limber, even on my best day" I protested.

"That's exactly why you need to see her," she insisted.

Fearful and skeptical, I went. To a private yoga session. And then to a follow up visit. It was two of the most well spent hours of my life.

Iyengar is the type of yoga, I learned, that concentrates on getting the poses just right, making sure the skeletal system is lined up just so, identifying alignments that are maximally therapeutic for healing, that reduce the risk of injury.

I learned a lot about the mechanics of my back and the importance of particular postures. For example, switching my normal stance of feet splayed outward, to facing my toes inward slightly.

She told me I had sacro-illiac joint issues (aka, S-I Joint). She recommended a regimen of simple, gentle yoga poses that incorporate back and hamstring stretches. I learned that part of my problem is that I have large, tight hamstring muscles.

I had always hated and avoided stretching. Any kind of stretching. Tight hamstrings run in my family and they were the muscle group I was least fond of stretching. I'm one of four kids; three of us have lower back problems. I now know how important it is to routinely stretch my hamstrings.

With so much good information about my back problems, why am I flat on my back as I type this?
This is what I think: In a previous post I mentioned that this blogging addiction has meant I've stopped doing lots of important things in my life, including my back stretches. In other words, I've been slacking again. Except for immediately prior to tennis, I haven't been stretching much at all. I think I've learned the hard way that pre-exercise stretching isn't enough. I've got to make it a part of my daily routine.

I also think the weekend of sun and cocktails contributed to dehydration. Apparently a girl CAN have too much fun.

For those interested, here are books that has been helpful for my lower back.

The yoga instructor recommended this wonderful book: Back Care Basics: A Doctor's Gentle Yoga Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief by Mary Pullig Schatz and William Connor. It has a preface by B.K. Iyengar. With lots of pictures, its divided into sections on the different types of back issues.

Backache: What Exercises Work by Dava Sobel & Arthur C. Klein. I find this book helpful immediately after I've had a back episode. It has gentle stretches that help me get back to the basics of stretching as I work my way back to regular movement.

Treat Your Own Back by Robin McKenzie. This is one of the first books I read about lower back problems. McKenzie is a widely recognized back and spine specialist from New Zealand. Many physical therapy regimens encorporate McKenzie's exercises.

And here's a blog I've been checking out: the backpainblaster blog. Its got selfhelp posts and good back information.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

It was my chiropractor and Pilates that got me pain free after 20 years. My problem stemmed from broken ribs in my upper back that healed out of alignment.

If your back hurts, life just isn't all that pleasant.

shrink on the couch said...

jenn - unpleasant is exactly it. i'm not in terrible pain, just have to move verrrrrrry slowly and rest in between. glad you found your cure. there are a lot of walking wounded out there, in chronic pain.

Manic Mommy said...

I started Hatha yoga almost a year and half ago, partially to get away from my kids for an hour and partially to improve my body. I never realized the postives it would have for my mind and spirit as well. I credit it for keeping me sane as I move through the SAHM years.

Queers United said...

im gonna try the position in the little cartoon figure it looks helpful thank you.

JCK said...

Yoga just keeps coming up in all sorts of ways. Amazing. I've also heard great things about Pilates, like Jenn mentioned. I hope your back feels better soon. I'd attribute a good portion to the computer time and not stretching. You go and have fun! Uh, when you can...

laurie said...

your lower back; my neck and shoulders.

we KNOW stretching is the way to stay limber and pain-free. but do we do it? oh, no, we do not...

shrink on the couch said...

manic mommy - great name! I wish I had time for more yoga in my life, because yes, it is very soothing in physical AND mental ways.

queers - the bottom pic, I've heard called "the box position" It is how I will be spending the next few weeks, as I recover. It takes all pressure off the lower back, like no other.

jck - you're right, too much time in the computer chair is a big culprit. I try to computer in the box position (above) and on the floor (where I am now) but I've spent plenty of time sitting, which is bad for SI-Joint issues. It sucks getting old. Grrrr.

laurie - exactly. I know what to do, I just get tired of doing it. Even though I feel SO good after doing my stretches, I get lazy and just want couch time.

HP said...

Ha. I reckon you had waaaayy too much fun on your weekend away.

Sorry to hear about your back, Hope you get some relief soon.

Mrs. G. said...

My lower back thanks you for this post. I think the whole laptop/blogging position is contributing to some recent aches and twinges.

Hey, I want you add to to my blogroll-let me know if you want to be listed by state or country.

shrink on the couch said...

health psych - my dh brought me three-musketeers bars last night. there is no better relief than that!

mrs g - blog site setups should come with a warning: doing this could be (1) addictive and (2) bad for your back

HP said...

Not sure what those are HP. Am I sensing chocolate, the great healer? HP

Anonymous said...

Oh this was a brilliant post for me. I really must learn to do some exercises for mine. I see a chiropractor twice a week and that keeps things mostly OK but I am sure I could do more at home and it would save me a lot of money in the long run.
I think my problem is congenital - I'm very tall and my mother and grandfather also suffered with lower back pain. Like you I also carried twins so that didn't help. But for me I think a lot of it these days is down to bad posture when working on my laptop.

Right I shall think about these books.