Back update

by , under life

In November 2011, I wrote Consider the human back. Since then it’s gone up and down a bit. In early December I was ordering St Nicholas presents online because I couldn’t make it to a shop, and in mid-December I thought I’d be able to manage to run an early-dance workshop– which didn’t take place after all because only one person was interested. I limped my way through the New Year, and in the middle of January I made one wrong movement and everything cramped up, so much that the doctor came to our house and prescribed the Really Strong Pills again.

This turned out to be a mistake. Not only didn’t they work as well as the previous time, but I got all kinds of weird symptoms: chills, dizzy spells, depression and crankiness, and every one of those symptoms was in the list of side effects. I called the doctor, and stopped taking the pills, and the pain didn’t change much but the side effects cleared up, fortunately. Meanwhile my left leg was numb and mostly useless, and when I had the doctor on the phone anyway I asked whether physiotherapy would be a good idea and he said yes, so I went.

I love my physiotherapist. She’s a down-to-earth woman who guessed correctly that I’d want to know exactly what was going on so she explains everything. She showed on a model of the spine what’s wrong: what’s commonly but a bit misleadingly called a “slipped disk”, a spinal disc herniation. It’s fixable with some effort, exercise and patience.

The exercises are easy and shouldn’t hurt more than it’s already hurting (until now, they don’t). First: lie on back with knees drawn up, and move knees to chest alternately as far as they will go; 20 times (that’s 10 times per knee). This one is really easy. Then, move both knees left and right 20 times to make the spine turn. Sounds really easy too, but is somehow tiring. Next: stretch both sides of the spine by moving my buttocks as if I want them to end up at my ankles. Surprisingly uncomfortable. After that, hold one leg with both hands and stretch it, which makes me squeak and realise that I have to do it slowly, not like a ballet kick, and that I can stretch the right leg almost completely in that position and the left hardly at all.

And then there’s the McKenzie exercise, a kind of wimpy press-ups, which appears to be so popular that it’s extensively featured on YouTube. (I wonder how people with weaker arm muscles than mine manage 30 of these.)

I’ve done the full set three times now (yesterday morning and evening, and just now) and it already seems to be having some limbering-up effect. But the spots that still hurt a lot (side of the spine, back of left thigh) are essential swimming muscles. Also, though I want to go back to swimming, I’m still very slow in the morning, so I’ve given up trying for now. My aim is next week, so I can do the prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian in the water.

It’s frustrating not to get everything done that I want to get done, but I’m also trying to give up feeling guilty (which is my besetting sin anyway). When I have some energy, I do something. The most annoying thing is that the pain and discomfort and awkwardness also take some, and at times most, of my mental CPU: I avoid some stressful situations because if my body was cooperating I could handle the stress by willpower, and if the situation wasn’t stressful I could manage my body by willpower, but both at the same time doesn’t work at the moment.