Holistic pain management
Let’s begin by saying there is no “one size fits all” approach to pain management. Pain is a symptom and often not the cause. The spot where we feel pain may not be the source of the issue.
If pain is hindering your life in some way, it is advisable to test out some tools and techniques to alleviate the discomfort by finding the root of the problem. If you are not bothered by what you feel, then keep doing what you are doing.
I took the "keep doing what you are doing" approach for a long time hoping the discomfort would just go away. Yet the symptoms endured and the nagging discomfort and occasional back stabs day in and day out finally got in the way from doing things I enjoyed. I couldn’t even sit for long during family dinners or work meetings because I was physically uncomfortable.
Potential causes of pain
Going to the root of the problem to discover why we have pain today may not always be so simple. Sometimes it is evident, I can recall many ski wipe out’s in my life or even just falling on an icy side walk that caused immediate pain that subsided after a week or two. Other times I notice my hips are stiff and achy after a day of sitting at my desk behind my computer screen which sometimes lead to a low back and neck ache if I didn’t take the time to stretch or ice.
Sometimes my back ache showed up two days after an intense workout and often woke me up at night because I couldn’t find a comfortable position. Stress plays a huge role or me. I often joke saying that my lower back is my stress barometer! The higher the stress and tension, the more pain and burning sensation I would feel.
To treat the discomfort, we need to understand potential causes. How do we get to the foundation of the issue? In some cases it is a complex journey since the pain can stem from years of poor posture and belief systems which may require correcting movement patterns and re-educating our muscles to fire correctly. Accumulated stress and tension can trigger brain centers to be on alert for too long creating prolonged systemic tension in the body which can also wear us down.
Beyond doing the right exercises
Prevention is important to reduce pain. In the go-go world we live in, it is more important than ever to take a time out each day to download all the input from social media, technology, family and work challenges. By time out, I mean retraining our nervous system to switch into rest and repair mode. Systematic breathing techniques, progressive relaxation methods and meditation are a few of the most effective methods.
Several years ago, I sat in the waiting room of my doctors office, I wiggled in my chair while I waited to be called in since I couldn’t find a comfortable seated position. During my appointment, I explained my frustration of living with chronic discomfort that caused numbness in my hip and sent radiating nerve pains down my thigh and lower leg.
Over the years, I had developed relationships with the specialists I regularly consulted with: osteopaths, sports medicine doctor, physiotherapists, athletic therapists and chiropractors. I always found relief following my appointments but it was temporary. After several weeks, the pain would return.
It was recommended to get more accurate diagnostic tests to know for sure what was going on.
My doctor prescribed an abdominal ultrasound to rule out anything internal along with spinal and hip x-rays which didn’t reveal anything problematic. He then ordered an MRI which showed inflammatory arthrosis in my lower spine with slight disc degeneration and one disc bulge between L4 and L5.
According to specialists, my MRI results were common and similar to most of the population who have scans. Does that mean this is the “new normal”? Do we just need to learn to live with it and deal with the consequences? I went home, reflected on the results as tears streamed down my face. I thought “Wow, I did this to myself through a lifetime of sports and being hard on my body”. Now what was I going to do about it? I still wanted to stay active, feel vibrant and enjoy the work that I do as a movement specialist.
What I did to be well again
I became more attuned to the patterns of my pain and began shifting my daily habits to feel well again. I had to make a radical shift in my profession too. I had been teaching fitness and spinning classes and demonstrating physical movement for over 20 years at the time of the diagnosis. In my 20s and 30s I used to love heavy weight training along with spending hours a week on my bike. I needed to strike a better balance and do less of the intense workouts and more recovery workouts. I slowed down, I turned to functional fitness exercises and slower practices of yoga to re-balance my body, along with meditation to clear my mind and calm my internal restlessness.
To this day, I still work on correcting movement patterns in my body to continuously improve my posture. To be well, I needed to make my well-being a priority; mind, body and spirit. I now spend more time in nature, I love hiking in wooded areas. Before heading out for a hike I take 5 minutes to do a few dynamic stretches and if my walk is more than a half an hour I usually need to stretch my hips and legs afterwards otherwise the muscle and tissue tension affects my back.
I take time outs during my work day (even while sitting at my desk) to practice deep rhythmic breathing exercises which helps reduce tension and keep my internal organs functioning optimally. I get up and stretch a few minutes every hour. Before going to sleep each night, I have gotten into the habit of listing what I am grateful for. I will dive into the details of these practices in another blog.
Take home tips:
1. Get a proper diagnosis from a trained certified professional so you can begin your back care journey
2. Implement good practices to restore balance in your body; 30 minutes of daily movement designed for your body including functional corrective exercises.
3. Make your well-being a priority by scheduling time for yourself. Just ten minutes of focused breathing and meditation will help keep your stress levels lower allowing your body to naturally repair itself.
Our journey towards a better back starts with awareness and a willingness to get better. I am fortunate to have a great team of professionals that I can turn to when I seek answers. We have included many of these daily tips and tools in our Mend my Back Program – ones that I have used over the years to take better care of myself, and now I am happy to make them available to you.
Better backs for life,