I’ve dealt with lower back issues on and off over the past thirty years. When I was younger, significant back pain was infrequent, but recently I’ve had very painful occurrences about every three months. Fast forward to now and I’ve been pretty much pain free for the past three weeks. That’s something I didn’t think was possible, given that I’ve been in pain for the past 18 months. Here’s my story with the tremendous help of the staff at The Center for Physical Rehabilitation and a bit of dedication and hard work myself.
The last time I “pulled” my back was in September 2020 and it was so bad that I almost passed out from the pain. What triggered the occurrence this time? Just attempting to put on my socks! In the past, triggers have been bending forward to get a tissue, getting laundry out of a dryer, and picking up a light duffle bag. I could go on, but why embarrass myself any further. All of these things are so simple, that obviously my back was already in a state of distress and those simple things were the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. If you cope with back pain, I know you can relate.
For this last occurrence, I essentially needed to be carried into the chiropractor; although I was able to walk out after, my steps were short and painful and I needed help to get into my truck. The ride home was painful. Standing hurt, laying down hurt, getting up from a laying down position to standing was unbearably painful and I feared getting up every time.
I was fed up with this occurring so often that I took the advice of my co-workers, who also deal with lower back issues, to see their physical therapist. Until now, I’ve only sought the help of general practitioners and chiropractors. I quickly received a recommendation from my general practitioner and my first visit with The Center for Physical Rehabilitation was two weeks after my latest occurrence.
From the receptionist to the Physical Therapist (PT), I was greeted with professionalism and compassion. My first interaction with the PT was to assess the situation which included a request for me to bend forward to see how close I could get to touching my toes. I resisted the request for fear that I would throw my back out again but the PT gave me directions that allowed me to comply with the request and feel more comfortable doing so. That first act of compassion and understanding of my pain and fear was essential to building a trusting relationship. After the initial examination, we started going through a series of movements and assessing the discomfort associated with those movements.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to describe in detail the location and type of discomfort you are feeling no matter how small. I sometimes felt like it was difficult to clearly convey what I was feeling as I was discovering a language to adequately express my discomfort. Did I feel a pull, a pinch, a stretch, a tug, or a twinge? Where did I feel the discomfort? Radiating down the leg? How far? Was it focused on one spot? What spot? Is the movement making things feel better or worse?
Fairly quickly, we moved from stretches to exercises. It was pretty clear early on, that I’ve let myself be too sedentary over the years. It’s not that I’m a total couch potato. Heck, I built a cabin last summer with a couple buddies of mine, so I can’t be in that bad of shape, right? Well, I was surprised at how difficult some of the exercises were with only low resistance bands. With each session, we were either increasing resistance or adding a new exercise. With each stretch and exercise, there were questions about how I was feeling. Again, it’s important to be completely honest and open with everything you are feeling. It’s also important to know that all of the work doesn’t just happen at the PT session. I would take those stretches and exercises home and perform them once or twice a day depending on how I was feeling. I would also let the PT staff know what other physical activities I was performing and how I felt during and after the activity.
Over the first few weeks, I started building confidence that the stretches and exercises were enabling me to get to a level of physical activity that I didn’t think was going to be possible. We started having discussions about establishing a goal to help guide physical therapy further. For me, that goal was to carry two forty-pound bags of water softener salt at the same time. That may not seem like much to some of you, but it was something I thought I would never do again. I’m still working on this goal but I get closer every day.
Based on our collective assessment of my progress, I spent about eight weeks with the PT staff. Through the guidance of the PT staff, I feel more confident that I have strategies to avoid the possibility of a reoccurrence of a lower back issue. I definitely wouldn’t have thought that was possible at the beginning. Key strategies include: stretching (Cobra and knees to chest) before and after exercise. I’ve noticed that during long walks, I start feeling a buildup of “pressure” in my lower back and performing Cobra stretches afterward bring that “pressure” back to normal. I have several core exercises that have been prescribed by the PT staff that I do pretty much daily. I continue to see progress due to the guidance the PT staff has given me, but make no mistake, you will need to put in the work outside of the PT session to accelerate and maintain your progress and fitness too.
I can never thank the staff at The Center for Physical Rehabilitation enough for their help.