Being a somewhat fit and healthy yoga teacher with a bendable body does not exactly add credibility in the field of back pain. Have I ever had a sore back? The answer is a clear and loud -yes! I have, and its been bad. But I’ve moved my way out of it (literally and figuratively) and I’d like to share what insights I’ve learned from the journey to becoming completely pain free (knock on wood!). Firstly, recognise that pain can be a great teacher. It’s not meaningless and completely bad to experience pain, at least seeing it as meaningless and bad might be an obstacle to becoming pain free. I’d like to think of the relationship between me and my back pain as the relationship between me and an old, slightly too traditional, a bit stubborn and hard-necked professor in a tweed suit whose standards are too high and who forces you to tie yourself in knots in order to prove yourself, but who you still hold on to because you know deep inside that he has a lot to teach you, even thought he can be a real idiot sometimes.
Important note: I don’t identify myself with my pain. I’m essentially pain free, the pain is just a visitor.
However, the first round of back pain happened when I was a teenager. I remember seeing a physiotherapist and being diagnosed with sciatica. That just made feel like an old lady so I didn’t make much of a fuzz about it. The second round of back pain happened when I was 22 or 23. It was a nagging, dull pain and a feeling of stiffness, to such an extent I feared my back would actually brake if I forced it to flex. I could not bend over to wash my face, brushing my teeth was a challenge and to put on my shoes, I had to lie down on one side and slowly try to pull the shoes on without moving my back. The pain was so bad I literally cried. (And just a parenthesis about how some people don’t really have a tradition of seeking professional help when shit happens, so to speak, I’m one of those people. Most people would probably, and rightfully, have gone to the hospital when putting on their shoes had them crying of pain.) The pain came and went for some years. At this time I was a member of a large gym chain and they would have a campaign where a chiropractor visited the gym, giving brief examinations for free. I signed up for one and the first thing the chiropractor commented upon was my way of sitting in the chair, ”do you always lean forward like that?” he asked. This was the first time I came to reflect upon how my posture and my way of moving affected my body. He also recommended some treatments and that I worked on building strength in my back and in my abdominal muscles. I did and eventually got pain free.
The third round of back pain started when I was in my thirties. This time I had a regular yoga practice, I was doing weight lifting at a gym and I had developed a huge interest for anatomy and movement. During the second round of back pain I was really suffering from it, this time the suffering was not as bad, even though the pain was. Like someone wise once said: pain is inevitable – suffering is optional. I had learned so many things about my body during the years that had passed since the last time my back hurt and I believe that all that knowledge helped improve my experience of the pain. (It is scientifically proven that knowledge about pain helps aiding pain.) Also, I acted straight away in a desperate ”if I cannot move I’m gonna die!”-kind of fashion. I went to see a regular physician at the health centre, I went to a physiotherapist and a naprapat. The physician performed an x-ray and compiled a letter saying he did not recommend surgery in my case. The physiotherapist gave me some excercises to find stability in my core. She also taught me about the important difference between hyper mobile people and stiff people, more on that in a later post! The naprapat did some adjustments and suggested that I had a bulging disc that I could try to treat by bending my back backwards and slightly to the right. It all made sense, and I dare to say that all of it (except for the physician) helped in some way, yet nothing took the pain away completely.
In retrospect, and now that I know how to work it away every time I feel a little nag in my back, I can see that the most important features of my last round of getting well from back pain was my fearlessness and my wish to learn everything about pain. The second round I really thought my back was seriously hurt and that forcing it to move would most definitely be dangerous. The last round I was more into experiencing, I did quite intensive backbends and tried to bend and flex my back in every way possible, assured nothing was going to break, so to speak. I’d like to explore the theme of fear in relation to pain a bit more, but first we’re going scientific. The next post will be about what science has to say about pain, look for it tomorrow!