Hello Back Problems. Where Have You Been Old Friend?

Hello Back Problems. Where Have You Been Old Friend?

Apr 08

Me and my spine have had quite a tumultuous relationship since I was 18 years old.   This relationship was born during the summer after I graduated high school. Released from the shackles and tyranny of our Catholic school existence, my friends and I went on a trip to Cancun to celebrate our newfound freedom.  One of the craziest weeks of our lives began with a beer at the Cancun Airport, handed to each of us as we boarded the hotel shuttle. From that moment on,  the beer and tequila flowed in ways that we could only fantasize about back home .  There were wet t-shirt contests and debauchery at epic levels.  There were cab drivers bribing cops.  There may or may not have been 18 year old American kids being chased by the Federales across golf course fairways (for the sake of my parents sanity, I won’t confirm or deny).  And there was bungee jumping.

It seemed like the obvious thing to do at the time…….A giant crane stood tall over the ocean, a small cord attached to people’s ankles as they jumped head first off a platform hundreds of feet up, plummeting towards the water and looking death right in the face.   What could possibly go wrong?  It was in the early days of bungee jumping and we were in Mexico, where I’m positive that this sort of thing was totally regulated.  Right?  RIGHT?

Ok, I admit it.  It probably wasn’t the wisest decision ever, but at the time it made complete sense.

So with Kanye West like cockiness and arrogance we took the plunge, feeling indestructible in a way that only an 18 year old can feel.  We were given some very basic instructions:  When you reach the bottom of your jump, bring your knees to your chest and wrap your arms around your legs.  Simple enough, but as I quickly found out, the simplest of tasks can become quite difficult when faced with (what felt like) certain death and an adrenaline rush that is unlike any other I’ve experienced.

My life flashed before my eyes as the crystal blue water of Cancun rushed towards me, and I completely forgot to wrap my arms around my legs.  What happened next would forever change my life.  As I neared the water below me, the bungee cord stretched like a rubber band.  It yanked me back up into the air, and when I reached that point where gravity overtook the forces propelling me upward, the bungee cord cracked like a whip, with me at the end.  Ahhhhhh, THAT was why they wanted us to grab our legs. My body, fully extended, was an extension of that whip, and with one crack of the whip my back problems were born.

What started out as an issue in my mid to upper back (I typically will throw my back out 1-3 times a year), eventually made its way down to my lumbar spine where Degenerative Disc Disease set in.  I have struggled to manage my back issues for 20 years but over that time have developed a pretty good system of maintenance and management that has really cut down the number of spasms I experience.

Couple that with weight loss and a very intentional shift away from sports that are jarring (less surfing/snowboarding and more cycling/swimming), and I’ve been blessed with significantly fewer issues over the past few years.  I can’t remember the last time my back seized up.  That is, until this past weekend.

I knew it was coming.  The boot I’ve been wearing for my busted foot adds a good 1-2 inches of length to my right leg.  Between the crutches and the hobbling around like Keyser Soze, my alignment has gradually been getting more and more tweaked over the past two weeks.  On Saturday night, as I was rolling onto my side in my sleep, my back finally decided it had enough.  The muscles in my lower back from the spine all the way out to my love handles completely seized up on me. My good friend that has been away served up a friendly reminder to me that “I’m not gone, I was just giving you some space”.  My back problems, in all of their glory, finally paid me a visit again.

Fortunately, along with the daily maintenance and management routines I’ve developed, I’ve also come up with a system for dealing with the spasms when they do occur.  I forced myself out of bed, even though I could barely walk because of the pain.  I popped 3 advil, then broke out my foam roller and yoga mat.  It was 3 in the morning, but I knew that if I didn’t deal with this right away I might be out of commission for the next week.  I spent the next hour stretching and rolling in an attempt to loosen up the muscles.  I grabbed an ice pack out of the freezer (I have a giant ‘back-sized’ ice pack) and iced for 15 minutes.  Then I stretched and foam-rolled some more.  The ice/advil combination reduced some of the inflammation, and the stretching got things loosened up to the point where I could fall back asleep.

When I woke up Sunday morning I wasn’t out of the woods but I definitely felt better.  The muscles in my back had loosened up but were desperately trying to seize up on me so I immediately repeated the same routine that I had done a few hours earlier.  I stretched every hour on Sunday and iced my back 4-5 times.  I was SUPPOSED to do a 2-3 mile swim on Sunday, but instead my day became about trying to minimize the duration of this back episode.

Thankfully, it looks my time tested techniques helped keep the spasms at bay.  But it definitely served as a reminder that my back problems aren’t gone, they were just lying dormant for awhile.  In a lot of ways, this was my fault.  I’ve gotten lazy with regards to my back.  I’ve felt so much better over the past year that my daily routine has become more of an every other or every 3rd/4th day routine.  I should know better by now, but when I’m feeling good its easy to forget.  At least I know that my back problems are a dependable friend.  They will always come back around, no matter how much I neglect my back.  :)

So do I regret jumping off that crane that day, considering the amount of trouble it has caused in my life over the years?  Not one bit.  Life is made for living, and there’s not better way to feel alive than to jump off of a perfectly good crane.  And besides, me and my back problems are such good buddies now that I can’t imagine not having them in my life.  In some ways its been a blessing as its forced me to become more in tune with my body, much in the way that my forays into Ironman training and nutrition have forced me to do the same.  I might not be saying this 10-15 years from now as the issues may very well become much more difficult to manage.  But there’s no sense in worrying about that now.  All is I know if that I feel better than I did yesterday, and that’s something I want to be able to say every time I wake up in the morning.

So with that said, I’m off to stretch. But before I go, I have to ask those of you that suffer from back issues what your time tested techniques are to deal with them?  Please feel free to share!