By the age of 26 I had been fighting some type of back pain for years. It had become a normal way of life. I still was able to do most of anything I wanted to until “The Day.” While replacing our garage door, I went to lift the old door when it happened, a big pop in my back. Four hours later I was unable to get out of bed. I was experiencing what we know as a “classic disc protrusion.” For the next two weeks I was bed ridden. After that I went back to work using a cane for about a month to keep weight off my left leg.
The reality of the situation hit me. I am not able to walk without a cane, I can barely work, and all the things I found joy in were no longer a reality. It was a glum reality that I would not be able to work in the next ten years due to the progression of “spinal degeneration.” A comment from a radiologist said it all, “you got a back of a 60 year old.”
I was not willing to accept that story. I enjoyed my job. I wanted to be able to play with my kids. I no longer wanted to leave my wife to handle the luggage when traveling and I certainly did not want the guilt of walking by her when she is carrying the entire load.
The next ten years were filled with self-experiments (good and bad) trying to find ways to overcome the inevitable outcome of being crippled by forty. I had back surgery, lots of physical therapy, prolotherapy, cortisone injections, huge amounts of naproxen and ibuprofen and a lot of frustrations. I would find treatments that would work wonders for patients and then try to apply them to myself and there would not be that same amazing response.
Jumping ahead to the present, I just volunteered to do some trail work involving a lot of shoveling and heavy lifting of pavers. I was excited to participate due to my immense love for mountain biking and wanting to give back to the trails. We worked for about four hours digging and placing 60 pound pavers to make some sweet trail. Afterwards, in the parking lot getting ready to ride the trail we just worked on, I became aware of some amazing things. I was not hurting. There was no increase of pain, no stiffness and I was ready to ride with no fear of what I was going to feel like the next day. The next day, by the way, was great. Just some muscle soreness here and there but I feel that I could go out and do it again. What has changed? How am I getting stronger in time rather than “getting older?”
I feel there are a few key concepts that are helpful to embrace after 30:
- Mindfulness: Being aware of your body and function is a great start to figure out what you need to work on. Physical therapy is helpful developing a functional movement list. Be mindful of your body and try to correct the faults that are present rather than fight through it.
- Body maintenance: Most feel if they run or lift weights, they are maintaining their body. I use the analogy of a car. Fitness activities are like driving the sports car you love and driving it hard. There is nothing wrong with that – it is what it is made for – but if you do not do proper maintenance, how do you expect it to perform as time goes on? The same goes with your body. General body maintenance including foam rolling, stretching and mobility work.
- Nutritional Health: Nutrition can be a huge roadblock when it comes to healing. Getting the proper nutrients can be difficult for a patient that is fighting pain. Similarly difficult is avoiding the foods that can be detrimental to your health and healing. Nutrition seems to be overlooked by most medical professionals and is one of the most accessible and powerful adjustments a patient can make.
As physical therapists we see a lot of this type of issue and will only continue to. Enhance your skills to address them for your patients with one of these upcoming manual therapy continuing education courses including Advanced Lower Quadrant Integration and Lumbopelvic Spine.
If this article speaks to you on a personal level and you would like to explore your potential to live life with less pain and dysfunction, please do not hesitate to contact me for an individualized assessment of your function. I will help you develop a Body Maintenance Schedule to keep you operating at your best.
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About the Author
Rajesh is a Physical Therapist, who is passionate about health and wellness. He is interested in all aspects of general well being including fitness, nutrition and mindfulness. He continues to learn and grow from the profession he loves.
If this article is helpful to you or you would like to get more information, please do not hesitate to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org