I was in agony. I couldn't move. As I lay on my bed, the pain down my back and through my right upper leg and calf muscles was so great that I didn't think I would get through it. Eventually, I rolled very carefully to the side of my bed and somehow managed to get up … very slowly. What was happening to me?
It was January this year. I had overdone it with lifting a month earlier – moving house and moving a heap of boxes (762!) of my dad's books with the help of my son Josiah and a few of his mates. Now I was paying the price.
Panadol didn't help much with the pain but Voltarin and anti-inflammatory tablets did … and lots of them. Just to get through the incredible pain each day.
A visit to the doctor in early February indicated that I most likely had 'sciatica' – severe nerve pain coming from my lower back. I have never had nerve pain before but wow, it is painful. Then a CT scan confirmed that I had two slipped lower disks in my back with one of them pressing on a main root nerve. The doctor said the next steps were to see a physio then a specialist neurologist. Mild exercise could help, otherwise I was looking at an epidural procedure or an operation. Bad news. I'm only 55. I was just about to finish up a long term job and enter a new season and yet I now have debilitating pain every day. So discouraging.
Off to the physiotherapist, first in Melbourne (with some help and advice from my good friend Jason Smith founder of Back in Motion) then in Queensland. "Motion is lotion" was my new mantra. Sitting for extended periods of time was deadly. I had to move … regularly. My upper back, abdomen and leg muscles were all locked up, compensating for the pain elsewhere. A range of stretching exercises to loosen them up (I never knew my gluteus could be so sore!) and other exercises to strengthen my core. Swimming. Walking. Slowly but surely. Still many days of my right leg bones and muscles throbbing with considerable pain. It took many weeks and even months … but eventually the back pain has gone. I can move freely now. But I have to keep my exercises up. No sitting for more than 30 minutes without getting up and moving around. Lots of stretching. But it's worth it. After all, health is energy and energy is life.
A few lessons:
We are stewards of our physical body and it deserves our care and attention. As we get older, we can't do the things we did when we were younger and we need to adjust our expectations.
When one member suffers, we all suffer. Don't ignore the pain. It's calling for your attention. Attend to it and everyone will eventually benefit.
Motion is lotion. We are made to move. Don't give in to the sedentary life of the overly comfortable. Stand up, stretch, walk, swim, get outside. As they sing in the kids movie Madagascar, "I like to move it, move it!"
Problems can often be solved indirectly. My focus on loosening up the muscles in my upper back and legs helped relieve the pain in my lower back. This is a principle in life. Sometimes simple activities such as exercise, doing a simply task, or getting a good night's sleep can relieve destructive emotions such as depression. Spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation can help us overcome temptation (See Psalm 119:11 and Matthew 26:41). Don't shout at the darkness. Turn on a light.
It's okay to ask for help. I like to look after myself and push through problems until I solve them. However, this one was beyond me. Reading a good book on treating your own back was helpful … but not enough. I am thankful for doctors and physiotherapists who were able to help me work through my pain.
Recovery takes time. We often over-estimate what we can accomplish in a few days but we under-estimate what we can achieve in a few months. It takes time to end up in trouble and we won't always get out of it in an instant. Pick the right path then persist with it until you are where you want to be. Even 'baby steps' will do it.
I hope that sharing this with you is an encouragement, even in some small way.
Enjoy the rest of your week.