Recumbent Reflections: Thoughts on Back Pain, Gratitude & Self-Care
Important notes: I am not a medical professional and this article is based on my personal experience. If you have a severe back injury, see your doctor immediately.
When I was in high school and college, I spent my winter weekends and vacations racing down the slopes at high rates of speed. I was part of a few ski teams and loved to race. My love of high speeds eventually led to a few epic crashes during my racing years. As a result, I ended up with back problems and a finicky knee.
Over the years, I’ve experienced painful muscles spams in my back and usually these types of spasms leave me prone for two or three days. In the past, good chiropractors have been able to fix me up quickly. Typically, stress, improper warm-ups prior to exercise, or overdoing my exercise routine has brought on back pain.
Luckily, over the last three years I haven’t experienced any back problems. I’ve done my best to take good care of myself, despite numerous stressors that have occurred over the last year and a half. For example, my dad died in June 2012, my partner lost his job, and we moved three times. By the time May 2013 rolled around, I was less stressed and felt better about my personal life. Plus, I was thrilled to move to Chico on July 1, 2013.
We spent the first few weeks in Chico cycling, getting to know our neighbors and then on the 12th Logan and I celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary! Everything seemed to be going really well and I felt happy, at least until I woke-up on July 13th. As I watched the sunlight stream through my loft window, I raised my arms to stretch my muscles. I felt something pop in my upper back and I immediately knew something was very wrong. I spent the morning laying on our window bench with intense muscles spasms. It felt like someone was squeezing my back muscles incredibly tightly and then jumping on them with all their weight. This continued on and off for the next week and I went to a chiropractor for help.
Initially, my chiropractor thought I pulled a muscle in my back. However, after ten days of intense pain, I went to Enloe Prompt Care and the doctor who helped me said I had thoracic strain. In my exit care paper work, the doctor noted:
“You have injured the tendons that attach to the upper part of your back behind your chest. This injury is called a thoracic strain, thoracic sprain, or mid-back strain. The cause of thoracic strain varies. A less sever injury involves pulling a muscle or tendon without tearing it. A more severe injury involves tearing a muscle or tendon . . . Longstanding strains may be caused by overuse or improper form during certain movements. Sudden strains may occur due to injury of not warming up properly before exercise. Often, there is no obvious cause for a thoracic strain. Torn ligaments and tendons require as long to heal as broken bones. Average healing times may be only 1 week for a mild strain. For torn muscles and tendons, healing time maybe be up to 6 weeks to 2 months.”
At this point, it looks like my recovery time will be up to 6 weeks; maybe longer. I’m hopeful that I will be able to move with more ease by the end of the week. So far today has been a good day and I’m looking forward to more of them!
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned from this experience and wanted to share some of those reflections with you.
Sleep is vital to recovery. Following my injury, I tried to be “tough.” But I was in so much pain that I wasn’t sleeping through the night. After ten days, I reached a breaking point and I decided to visit Enloe Prompt Care. The doctor who diagnosed my injury also prescribed medication to help me sleep and manage pain. I’ve found that if I don’t get enough sleep, it makes recovering from an injury challenging.
Accepting help is hard. I’m extremely grateful for all the help I’ve received over the past few weeks. However, it can be hard accepting help because I feel so vulnerable. Not being able to do basic things, like walk to the bus stop, bicycle, or go shopping makes me weak and unworthy. Logically, I know those things aren’t true. However, being housebound for the last few weeks has left me emotionally run down.
Living in the tiny house with a serious injury is challenging. Since I injured myself, I’ve been sleeping downstairs. Our window nook turns into a single bed and I’m grateful we built that feature into the tiny house. It’s too difficult for me to climb up and down the loft ladder with back pain.
Living in our little house works perfectly 90% of the time. However, the last few weeks have tested me. It’s the first time since we moved in that I’ve wanted a traditional shower in my home, an extra bedroom, a refrigerator, and a little more space overall. I love our little abode, yet this experience made question the long-term feasibility of tiny house living.
Being car-free with an injury is difficult. We are about a half mile from the nearest bus stop and currently I can’t walk that far, so car-sharing has come in handy over last few weeks. Luckily, my brother and sister in-law and my neighbors have been extremely generous and have let us borrow their cars. However, if my back problems continue we might have to buy a car or do a short-term car rental.
Reading on my Kindle and iPhone is awesome. Right after I strained my back I couldn’t hold a traditional book and looking down was painful. The Kindle and iPhone are lightweight and enabled me to read with ease. I’ve read more than ten books over the last few weeks and so far my favorite reads include, “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress” & “Orange is the New Black.”
Engaging in one creative activity everyday brings me joy. My normal routine has been disrupted. However, I’ve been doing one (or more) creative activity everyday, whether that’s writing a paragraph or two in my journal or taking a photo for “My Morning View” photography series. Keeping my creative juices flowing keeps me motivated and happy.
Practicing gratitude keeps me sane. Being housebound for the last few weeks hasn’t been fun. I didn’t want my summer unfolding in this way. I want to be in Bidwell Park, walking, cycling, and taking photos. I'd also love to spend mornings writing in coffee shops or taking weekend trips with Logan. But that isn't the reality. It hurts to type, sit, and walk for long periods of time. If I want to recovery fully, I have to take care of myself; and that means taking naps, continuing to see my doctors, and doing gentle physical therapy.
Even though I'm not happy about this situation, I'm incredibly grateful. I'm married to an amazing human — Logan — who has been incredibly patient and helpful throughout this process! Plus, my neighbors are wonderful and my brother and sister in-law have been so helpful! And as an added bonus, my mom is only an hour away from Chico. Over the last few weeks, she has come over for dinner a few times and has kept me company. I'm so grateful for my family and new neighbors.
Teaching. I will still be teaching my writing e-course this summer. I feel well enough to teach and to engage with my students. With that being said, my blogging schedule will be different during August.
“Back in August 2010 I decided to give myself a break from writing blog posts and instead shared a photo or two each day as a way to be present in my days without the pressure of finding words. I blogged about it (of course), invited everyone to join me and lo, The August Break was born. This is the fourth year I’ve hosted it and it’s been SO MUCH FUN to see it take off as a month-long community project.”
During the month of August, I won’t be telling stories with words. Instead, I will only be posting photo essays to the blog. My normal posting schedule will resume in September.
Healing & self-care. Over the next month, I will continue to visit the community acupuncture clinic, my chiropractor, and doctor. Also, a few readers encouraged me to check out Essential Somatics. I recently purchased “Move without Pain” and I might do a consultation with Martha Peterson.
Also, I chatted with my friend Dee last week and she gave me really good advice. She said:
“If you had the flu you wouldn’t feel bad about resting would you? I’d encourage you to give yourself permission not to do the things you want to do. How you take care of your body over the next few months will determine how you feel over the next twenty years.”
As I go about my days, I’m keeping Dee’s advice in the forefront of my mind. I want to fully recovery from this injury. I don’t want to push myself too hard and end up with chronic back pain for the rest of my life.