Saturday we had crazy beautiful January weather. It was in the 60's for crying out loud. Obviously a hike was in order. More than just being excited for a warm day in winter, this hike felt especially exciting as it was the first time I've hiked since my herniated disk over a year ago. Hiking alone I'm sure I've could have handled many times, but hiking with our family means B wears Lamp on his back and I wear Zuzu on mine. And I did it! I hiked carrying Zuzu on my back and it was fantastic! It had been so long since I had Zuzu in the carrier that at first she was not having it. But after just a few feet, looking around and seeing her big sister in a carrier next to her, she loved it.
The hike itself wasn't very long or challenging, or even that amazing if we're being honest (most of it was a dirt path but since it was super muddy we only let the 2 little girls down on this boardwalk), but getting out in nature and being together as a family is as nourishing as the fresh air and movement of our legs. I grew up in a family that didn't do a lot of activities together--I don't want that for my kids. I've learned that the activity itself isn't nearly as important as the simple act of gathering as a family and sharing experiences together. Sure, maybe if you're surfers, hikers or campers that activity becomes part of your family identity, but I think that regardless of what you do it's really togetherness that becomes part of your family identity, which helps create your personal identity, as well as lasting family bonds. Ever since we hiked Arches as a family I had been excited about more hiking (and camping) but when my back situation happened, all of that stopped. And that wasn't the only thing that stopped--I stopped rigorous workouts, I avoided picking up my kids at all costs, even sitting in the car for more than a couple hours at a time was out of the question. But no more! I am happy to report that my back is no longer in constant pain. I can't tell you how great it feels to be pain-free and to live life without first worrying about my back! I gave an update a while ago on my back progress and particularly the role acupuncture played, but I have a new update and something I'd like to share with any fellow back-sufferers out there.
The quick run-down on my back:
--In November of 2014 (1 year 3 months ago) I started to have some lower back pain that in the course of a few hours went from mild back pain to a trip to the ER a couple days later because I was in such severe pain
--I'm talking CRAZY back pain that left me unable to walk (or take care of my kids in any capacity) for 2 weeks, second only to natural childbirth on my personal pain scale.
--Through medication and rest things got gradually better. About 6 weeks out I was about 85-90% better, but with that lingering 10-15% still causing me near constant pain. I assumed that in a few more weeks I would get back to 100%. (Wrong.)
--I was constantly advised to be careful with my back so I backed off my regular work-out routine, (but started doing yoga 3-4 times a week) and I stopped picking up the kids, heavy groceries or anything that would strain my back. I even avoided sitting for long periods of time.
--Sometimes I would go a few days at a time feeling better, but never more than a few days.
--The following July I had a replapse that while not as bad as the first time, but I was again off my feet for about a week. This time I started to become more emotionally affected. Would I ever be pain-free again? Would I ever be able to work out and return to an active lifestyle? I was starting to feel hopeless.
After that relapse, I decided I needed to get more serious. So I started physical therapy and acupuncture. I honestly couldn't believe how well acupuncture helped--the first time I went I felt immediate relief! I kept going and even went when I didn't feel pain for the sake of maintenance. I was so relieved to finally have results and to feel relief from the pain that I even blogged about my experience with acupuncture here. I was sure I had finally found the answer. I figured that I would continue treatment for a while, but that eventually my appointments would be further and further apart until I no longer needed them. Unfortunately, one day I went to treatment and my back pain didn't go away. I tried to be relaxed about it, but this was definitely a source of stress and worry for me. I went the next time and it was a little helpful, but not much. 4 or 5 more trips later and sadly acupuncture suddenly wasn't working for me anymore.
In search of more answers one night I came across a couple books. The first was Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection. No thanks, a little too new-agey and far fetched for me. The next was 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back--the focus of this book was all about posture and how we hold ourselves in our modern Western society and the incidence of back pain, vs the back pain incidence of our forefathers and even in current indigenous cultures today.
To make a long story short (too late), I ended up buying both, but it turns out that the first book--Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection is what has really turned things around. Initially I was super skeptical, but it really makes a lot of sense to me...and it has made ALL the difference in the world, I would highly recommend it for anyone suffering chronic back pain. The book is not about how it's "all in your head" which would mean the pain isn't really there, your mind is just fabricating it. No, the pain is there and it's real, but the source of the pain isn't that there is something wrong with your musculoskeletal system, but rather the source of your pain is emotional stress. The author, Dr. Sarno, makes the comparison to ulcers. Ulcers are one of the few maladies that doctors will agree stem from an emotional issue (stress, worry), yet with most other maladies the medical community at large (Western medicine) is slow to attribute causes to an emotional issue. You really have to read the book (and some of it is a little repetitive) but honestly, just reading the book, addressing some of the causes of stress in my life and returning to normal physical activity (one of his recommendations) have been amazing. The book has over 1k reviews on Amazon and 4.5 stars. To be clear the author definitely recommends seeing a doctor if you have a incidence of severe back pain! (As do I!) But if you've been dealing with a chronic issue and nothing else has seemed to help, I really recommend this book. In all honestly I started feeling better even after reading just the first couple of chapters.
Like I said, at first I was hesitant...mind body connection? What's that? The thing is I am definitely someone who believes very strongly in the connection of our physical and emotional health, the spiritual and the physical even. I love yoga, I dig meditation (and need to do more of it) I believe our thoughts are the most powerful factors in determining who we are. But at the same time I also believe in Western medicine. I've taken medication for postpartum depression and have no problems reaching for the Advil when I have an ache or pain. I assumed this book was going to cross some sort of line in my head about mind/body healing... I assumed (wrongly) that Dr. Sarno was going to suggest I use my mind to heal my back, like use meditation and visualization to push my disk back into place or something. But it's not like that at all...and really, what turned me around were all the reviews on Amazon. Like anything, I don't think it's a one-size-fits-all situation--somethings work for one person, they don't for another...but for me this was just the information I needed. I still have little twinges of pain from time to time, and have even had it jump from my lower-back to my neck (he actually talks about this happening) but overall this has been the best advice/prescription for my lower back. I could write about this for a while and go deeper into my experience, but I'm going to leave it at that... but if anyone has any questions for me about this I'd be happy to share more!
Anyone else ever dealt with chronic low back pain that didn't go away? Did anything finally work, are you still looking for something? What about the whole family togetherness thing? Did you grow up with a family that did or did not spend a lot of time together? How did that affect you? If you're a parent do you feel as strongly as I do about family togetherness regardless of what you're actually doing? (Although, doing things the kids enjoy should certainly be part of the plan or eventually they'll revolt!)