When we are between our teens and mid adulthood, we often think: “I am invincible! I can do anything. I am strong. I have unlimited energy.” After all, usually nothing happens (that we can see) when we participate in risky behavior at that age. It takes getting older before we realize, “I screwed up!”
Where Did My Youth Go
When we get older and feel the wear and tear on our bodies from all of our abuses and extreme behaviors we start thinking in real time. We slip into the not so invincible, not so all powerful, not energetic and not so young: “What was I thinking? I wish I had known that! What did I do to myself?” We finally realize that we are no longer “spring chickens.”
Back Has “Mad” Communication Skills
Did you know that your back talks to you? Actually your body is constantly communicating with you through your brain chemically and neurologically. But I am discussing my back’s own communication skills because Back spoke clearly and eloquently.
Thanks to the ignorance of youth, a high tolerance for pain, and some physically stressful work during my adulthood Back gave me my first warning.
Upper Back’s First Message
The messages started when I was a nurse trying to keep a confused patient in bed while the rest of the staff were in a Code Blue emergency. As I struggled to loose the patient’s vise grip on the bed rails which he was trying to throw his legs over, I felt a sharp pain between my shoulder blades and numbness down my right arm almost immediately. Neck spasms followed quickly.
An MRI revealed two mildly bulging discs in my neck. I was placed on sick leave; given physical therapy and healed after about three weeks. But I soon discovered those discs were only temporarily healed.
Back Gets Reinforced
The exercises did strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles to support my upper back. But while using my shoulder and neck muscles at work later, I re-injured my neck. After a second failed recovery period, my supervisor told me to find another line of nursing because my neck could not handle the work in ICU/CCU. Back and my supervisor were telling me what I had refused to hear. So I worked in an outpatient pre-operative area with much less pulling, turning, or lifting. Things went well. Then my family moved.
Lower Back’s Warning Shots
After several years of floor nursing I developed a few flare ups of back ache and rare slight left leg pain. I would rest my back; apply ice and heat; get physical therapy, do some yoga stretches, and the back pain got better over a few days’ rest. And then I went right back to work. My back was talking to me but I wasn’t listening.
Back’s First SOS
Later I started home health nursing. While helping a family member lift a client up in their chair, I discovered that the patient did not help when I promptly had pain in my lower back and down my left leg.
A lower back MRI showed I had not only two slightly bulging discs in my lower back but a bone spur and degenerative changes!! After physical therapy and back rest, the doctor released me to return to work. The doctor even told me that people with worse bulges and degenerative changes than mine could lead normal lives after the initial healing period. So why should I worry, right?
So I continued to do floor nursing but on the telemetry floor. I almost always had help, the patient assignments were closer together so there was less walking. Everything seemed better.
Back’s Final SOS Received
Then at the age of 59, after 37 years of nursing, my two lower spinal discs revolted. Back started with a whimper and progressed to a scream. I noticed that when I sat to chart or look through orders my posterior started aching. This discomfort became a burning, aching pain. Soon I couldn’t sit or stand for more than 15-30 minutes without great discomfort. I couldn’t walk on concrete floors without having numbness and pain down my left leg or in my left buttock after just 5-10 minutes.
Back Sighs, “Finally!”
I went to the doctor with records in hand. Physical therapy did an assessment and studied the reports. The therapist told me that with the bone spur and the bulging discs that I should not lift over 20 pounds of weight. When I gave my supervisor this note, things changed. The hospital could not risk my re-injuring myself permanently. The hospital could also not risk being libel if someone fell and I couldn’t help them.
While on Long Term Disability through my hospital, I applied for several jobs. I was honest about my restrictions. No one hired me. Wonder why??? So I retired early.
A Happy Back
Finally after physical therapy from three different therapists, exercises, some weight loss, and after three different chiropractors over 5 years, I have only occasional back aches. My back (upper and lower) are much happier. I seldom have sciatica. I still have numbness down my arm if I sit or sleep with my head bent forward or at an odd angle for too long. But I can fix that with re-positioning myself.
Back Gets TLC
I also learned how to protect and treat my whole back. The last and present chiropractor has done more good for my back than the others put together! If one chiropractor doesn’t help, try another one but only after seeing a back specialist.
Back Guides Me
Knowing I had a weight lifting limit of 20 pounds helps tremendously. I studied the weights of things, so I could learn what was under 20 pounds to prevent throwing my back into the past misery! I still do stretching yoga exercises to pull those vertebrae apart and give the nerves more room when necessary.
Back Says Divide and Conquer
If I have a lot of groceries to bring in, I use one of the carts I have. If I have to travel, I have a rolling suitcase and smaller bags I attach to the handle and roll them without lifting. I can also divide and conquer most any big load that needs moving.
I don’t have to vacuum the whole condo if my back tells me “I am tired!” I try to stop and rest. (I haven’t totally mastered this one, especially when I am on a roll doing housework and close to being finished!)
Back Demands My Attention
But all of the therapy in the world would not have helped my back if I hadn’t started heeding Back’s messages. Some of the progress was slow because I had to learn not to do things just because I wanted to. Finally I learned that if I had to do a risky activity, I had to figure out how to execute it safely.
I am a 64 year old woman. I am not ashamed to ask for help lifting or moving a heavy object. (That took some time to learn!!) But I realized that protecting my back was more important than my pride. I have plenty of family and friends who would help if I need it. There is no shame in getting older and needing help.
If Back is Happy..
Since those early back injuries, I still have minor aches and pains but a lot of those go with arthritis and getting older. Back and I are on good terms now. When Back speaks I listen.