Thursday, January 05, 2012

Back Pain and Spoon Theory

Christine Miserandino's essay The Spoon Theory is one of the great essays of the English language.  It is a must read, especially if you teach English or do counseling!

Now I can truly empathize with rationing of daily health.  Here is the story...

I've been dealing with severe back pain for almost two months.  I had one vertebra badly out of alignment, another less so, numerous vertebrae with limited or no flexibility, misaligned hips, and so much fascia solidification and poor posture muscle habits that I was unconsciously twisting my torso to the right when standing still.  (When I bent down to touch my toes you could see my hips swivel and return to proper alignment.)

How did this happen?  I am left handed, caring for an infant, and had terrible posture.  To keep my left hand available I was spending hours each day holding Gallant to my right.

When sitting, I would hold him with my right arm as I sat with him to play with him, feed him bottles, or soothe him.

When feeding him in his high chair I had been positioning my chair so I would be turning to the right to go from the bowl of food to him.

When standing, I carried him on my right shoulder.  Look how bent my normal holding him position was by the end of November!  (When we took this picture I thought I was standing properly.)

My back health is much better now.  I'll write later about the lessons I've learned about posture and core muscle use.  But first I should share what it was like to need to ration my daily back use.

(Regular readers of this blog know about the health issues I normally deal with: allergies, lax ligaments, poor posture, a six-month sinus infection, minor skin problems.  Some of these keep me from functioning at 100% energy and focus.  The sinus infection was truly dreadful: much worse in pain and limitations than my back problems.  But none of those required me to ration my efforts throughout the day.  This was a new phenomenon.)

At its worst, a month after the sharp pains began, I could not even lift a step stool or a gallon of milk without suffering an intense, stabbing pain that prohibited continued lifting.  A visit to a physical therapist and another to Bill helped enormously but temporarily.  When I left Bill's office most of my vertebrae were adjusted to be as they should be and my fascia problems were mostly cured.

But I soon regressed.  The problem was how my lax ligaments and very weak lower trapezius muscles (from years of bad posture) meant that my spine was now held together by almost nothing.  I was no longer trying to hold up my back with the wrong muscles and inappropriate fascia stiffening.  But as yet nothing was there to replace them.

Bending forward would slowly cause problems.  Smiley likes when I play with his toys on the floor with him.  Should I do this?  I could, but after half an hour or so I could feel that I had done something unpleasant to a vertebra or two.

Holding any weight while twisting my torso at all might immediately cause problems.  I had to learn to be very careful with how I sat down while holding Gallant.  Smiley likes to be in Gallant's baby corral to play with his baby brother.  When Smiley asks, should I lift him over?  I could, but only a limited number of times before my vertebrae went funkier.

I could carry Gallant's 16 pounds without problem, but holding Smiley's 32 pounds caused problems.  Smiley likes to be held, especially if he is sad, scared, or got a bump.  Should I pick him up?  I could, but my back would pay a price.

At first I needed to return to the physical therapist or Bill to "reset" the harm I did to my back by being with my boys.  So I needed to ration my back use efforts in three to five day spans.

After a few weeks of certain stretches and exercises my back muscles were strong enough and posture improved enough that less harm happened.  I still got very sore, but it was more of a surface level issue, and at home my wife could gently crack my back to "reset" it--but Bill recommended we only do that once each day (before bed to help me sleep).  I still had to ration my back use, except daily.

Today was the first day that I did not feel like needing to be "reset" at the end of the day.  My back muscles and posture are protecting me from nearly all back use harm.  Hooray!

But I'll surely remember two months of tough parenting decisions.  After a morning when Gallant has been especially demanding, so that Smiley really wants me to play with him, do I disappoint him and refuse to play with toys on the floor in case I need to carry him for more than a few minutes during the days until the next doctor appointment?  The boys really enjoy playing together, and I can relax a bit when they do play together, but can I risk lifting Smiley into the baby corral when it might hurt my back so I do not sleep as well that night?  Smiley bumps himself while playing: do I not pick him up to comfort him the way he most wants so that later in the day I will still have the back use to play on the floor with him?

1 comment:

Kelly Nell said...

It's great to know your back is much better now. It's a good thing you went to visit a physical therapist earlier. A little longer, and your back ache would have gotten worse. But you know what? I think you’re a great dad for are taking care of your kids, even though you’ve got back pains. I salute you!