Other People's Backs

I had a very exciting Sunday – I was finally able to go back to yoga. I had been going quite regularly before I hurt my back this summer, and was incredibly disappointed to have to stop. Although Bikram yoga (on which I have opined previously), is ridiculously hard, I love it and always feel better after it's done. Like I've actually exercised. It feels like an accomplishment, and when you've been mostly going on strolls for months, it feels great to actually be stiff and sore, like some sort of real athlete.

Of course, I was also petrified. As one of my good friends says, when the Bikram yoga class starts, she feels like she's just been strapped in for a scary roller coaster ride – there's no going back. Of course, that's not actually true. You can always sit down or lie down if the heat and the exercise get too much. The instructors never say anything to you (or prod you with a stick to get up, which I can imagine some evil gym instructors doing). This is one of the reasons I like the class so much – they are totally on side with the whole 'you know your body best' philosophy.

Anyway, I don't mean to write another post on Bikram. What I really want to talk about today is my back, or rather, other people's backs. For those who haven't been reading my blog since its inception, my back injury from May has nothing to do with the issues I originally tackled in physiotheraphy (my neck/shoulders/arm problems – the muscle imbalance, what some would call Repetitive Strain Injury, or RSI. Read The Whole Story if you're interested).

But in May, I hurt my back moving house. I was jet lagged, exhausted and lifted too many things, packed too many boxes, cleaned too many shelves and drawers. This was an acute injury to my lower back, as opposed to a long-term chronic one.

Luckily, I have a physiotherapist (physical therapist for American readers) and I was going in to see her for regular reviews, just to make sure everything else was working OK. When you've spent that much money and time, why not just check in every once in a while? So she noticed what I had done.

And we worked all summer to fix it. Now everything is working relatively smoothly again. I'm back to my regular exercising. But what if I didn't have a physio already? Perhaps I would have found one. Maybe one of the reasons I didn't call her straight away when I hurt it was that I did have some exercises to do that stretched it out and helped with the immediate pain. But what I didn't realize was how badly I had actually hurt it.

And I'm afraid that must happen to people all the time. They hurt their back or their neck and ignore it, wait for the pain to go away (or not) and just go on with their lives. But then it comes back and becomes more of a chronic problem.

What's struck me the most about this back injury was how easy it was to fix with a professional's help in a short amount of time – because it was caught quite quickly.

I worry a lot about the rest of the world and their muscular problems, their aching backs and hips and knees. I worry that people resort to surgery when they could very well sort out their problems through physio exercises. I worry that there are physiotherapists out there who don't help people much (I know, I went to one before finding my current one), so people give up and stop moving and exercising and lose a little part of the lives they would like, because they are in pain.

I worry about all sorts of therapists out there who offer some help and relief for muscular problems, through massage and manipulation, but aren't treating the core of the problem – the muscular imbalance.

I can't send everyone who has back or knee pain in the world to see my physio. Although believe me, I've tried. Anyone who knows me has either gone to see her or has probably become annoyed with me for urging them to go. But the sad reality is that whenever I talk about what I've been through, the person who I am telling either says they are suffering with some sort of pain or they know someone else who is suffering.

Who knows what I can do as one little person to get the word out about muscular pain. But I'm certainly going to try. Because educating people, I believe, is the first step.

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