I have chronic back pain due to injuries from a past accident. The pain didn’t start immediately after the accident, in fact it wasn’t until several years later, two pregnancies, and my weight gain that I got my first spasm. This spasm was paralyzing and I wound up in the ER. I was told that I had several degenerated discs up and down my spine and that my movement and ability to exercise would be limited from that point forward. The doctor did suggest that losing weight would make it better, but of course that was the last thing I wanted to hear at the time.
So I began swimming and walking–but even just walking was difficult because I’d feel sore for days after no matter how much I stretched. I felt like a rickety old woman and felt really sad at the thought of not being able to do certain fun things in life like run around outside with my kids. The possibility of doing cartwheels and handstands with them never entered my mind at the time.
Fast forward a few years later…
After cleaning up my diet and making lifestyle changes to proactively affect my skin, weight, and health, I lost 80 pounds, cleared up my skin, and significantly improved my back condition. I am not pain free all the time–certain changes in weather, sleeping in different beds when I travel, long rides in cars or planes, and other factors still cause my back to go out of whack and cause minor spasms and pain. I’ve also identified that stress is one of my biggest triggers for back pain. The difference now is that I know these triggers and can take precautions to prevent pain. I can also feel a spasm coming on so I can do something (ice, heat, essential oils) to prevent a full-on spasm.
Eating a diet rich in naturally anti-inflammatory foods, supplementation with essential oils, collagen, and hyaluronic acid; raw, whole foods-based phytonutrient/antioxidant supplements; and practices like yoga, massage, meditation, Reiki, Pilates, inversion therapy, and regular stretching have totally saved my back. I no longer have to rely on OTC or prescription anti-inflammatory or pain medications, and I am not in pain all day every day anymore.
I can also do much more with my body than I ever thought I could because of the core and upper body strength I’ve developed mostly from doing yoga. For instance, I can now plank like a champ and do push ups. I know those seem like just arm exercises that might not involve the back, but the truth is that if you have a weak core and don’t know where to focus your energy (or clench ;), you can actually injure your lower back doing these exercises.
I had a photo shoot a few days ago for new images for this site as well as for my book cover and towards the end of the 90 minute session, we started getting a little silly with yoga poses. I wanted to get a pretty yoga pose that also shows strength, so I went up in side plank and of course the photographer said “Hold that!” over and over again–by pulling up with my core, I was able to get several shots without straining my lower back or hurting my wrist (I did have to shake it out a bit though). When I first tried side planks, I fell down. That wasn’t that long ago either–less than a year.
Check out my side plank now:
Degenerative disc disease? Whatever.
Many of my degenerated discs are located in the thoracic (middle) region of my spine which has caused numbness, stiffness, inflexibility; and at times, paralysis in that area. The idea of doing backbending poses like camel, wheel, bow, or even upward dog was quite scary and early on I got over-confident and really hurt myself. I had to start back at baby cobra, which is a teeny tiny bend, and with the assistance of my yoga instructor, I learned how to focus the attention off of my back. It took time, again, almost a year–but now look what I can do–and in jeans!
There are still many poses in yoga that I cannot do, but when I look at these photos and I remember how much pain I used to have on a daily basis it makes me feel confident that given more time and attention, I’ll get them.
Having a good teacher was a really important factor for me and I recommend that everyone find a great teacher or trainer, especially if you have a chronic condition or injury.
I think the main message here, though, is to not focus so much on what you wish you could do, or what you can’t do right now. Instead, focus on whatever little bit you CAN do just as you are, right now, and do it. Do it a lot–every day.