Life transitions can be some of the most debilitating seasons of life you can go through. Some transitions are filled with positive upswings like a new dream job with higher pay and a shorter commute. While others are built around taking risks pursuing a dream or different life. Not promising anything better but simply different. To me, these transitions can be very different but both very necessary in life. Today, I want to bring you up to speed on what has been the biggest “transition” in my life and what I have learned about back pain and progressing through it.
Don’t worry, this post will be more about your back pain and 2 of my most recent mental shifts I have had in the past year that I’ve used to gain more control of any underlying pain. I wanted to give a little back story from personal experience first. Without speaking from personal experience, this website would be just another medical site pushing worthless information that gets people nowhere in their own rehab journey.
I can’t have that!
Long story short about 5 months ago my family and I decided we wanted to sell our home (purchased 2 years ago) and explore other options that would better suit our family of 4. We didn’t want to go bigger or anything just wanted to be able to keep her home with the kids and not having to work. Like the majority of Americans, we purchased the home on two incomes. When we decided to keep her home that put some obvious strain on us financially so we decided more money in our account was more important than owning a big beautiful home.
In order for this to happen the exact way we needed it to, we would have to sell our home for sale by owner. On top of that to hit the goal my wife set out for us we would need a buyer who WASN’T REPRESENTED either. That’s in all caps because what are the freaking odds right? Well after 4 months on the market with lots of showings but no solid offers we were days away with signing a contract with a local Realtor when I got a call at work from a young family wanting to buy and guess what, they didn’t want to involve realtors either!
Fast forward to now. All our stuff is in storage and we have been living out of random homes two weeks at a time (which is a crazy leap of faith story in itself) waiting for our next step. All while my 7-year-old lab (first son) has been bouncing house to house himself due to our living arrangements not being dog-friendly and my wives grandmother in hospice. It’s been tough.
After a month living like this, we finally have the open door to take our next step.
We are 18+ year veterans of the great state of Virginia but wanted a change with new challenges and opportunities. So, we are making the leap and heading out!
The point of this story is to show you the reality of life and the timing of events in our life that can really send you and your rehab into a tailspin. This big transition we are in was expected and very much brought on willingly but the stress level is still through the roof. Where will we live? Do we want to change cities? Stay close to family? Move across the country? How will the timing in all this work out?
All of this takes your focus off of your recovery and rehab and turns it towards stress, late nights, poor habits and decisions with your body. Your priorities change.
Which is okay. As long as you have been putting the time in and really focusing on your rehab prior to this life event, you would be surprised at what you will learn about your body and progress you may have made without even knowing it.
I want to share 2 things that have really stood out to me this past year that I think anyone reading this can apply to their own situation and personal recovery.
Shift Your Thinking
Back pain management, recovery, rehab, and prevention has its ebbs and flows. Especially if you are coming from the place of having pain and working towards recovery. You will take one step forward and two steps back at times. That’s just how it is. Life is not perfectly organized and designed to help you succeed in your recovery. Life doesn’t care that you have back pain and can’t do this or that due to a fusion or any other disc operation.
The key is to shift your way of thinking from “If I can just get through this next 4-6 week rehab plan I’ll be all better” to “What is the NEXT STEP once the 4-6 weeks is up?”
This mindset shift is the difference between those who bounce back from a major surgery a year later and those who are constantly in and out of the doctors office 5-10 years after the procedure, still looking for relief.
At the end of those 4-6 weeks, you may still be in pain and that’s okay. As long as you are slowly challenging pain-free movements your body will continue to recover and the pain will slowly diminish. If done right, movements that once caused pain will be less and less as your body continues to heal and get stronger.
I hear a lot of people talk about how they tried this or that and saw a little relief but…they still have pain…so they find someone like me or they switch to the next resource thinking what they were doing before wasn’t working. Odds are it was working, you just have to trust the process and focus on the small wins. Those small wins lead to huge victories!
Challange what you are afraid to do.
This has been a crazy month for me lifting hundreds of boxes and numerous pieces furniture along with helping my dad cut down a 25+-year-old Bradford Pear tree. That thing was a beast and I was in all kinds of awkward positions lifting and using a chain saw. The cool part was despite the work and poor treatment of my back I could tell my rehab efforts have made a difference. I spent 6 hours cutting that tree down and hauling branches and logs off. Days after that big job I felt great. The very next day I wasn’t in any pain or discomfort at all. 3 years ago I would have been on an every 4 hour, 800mg of ibuprofen, pill popping regimen until the bottle was empty.
This was simply because I was doing too much at the wrong time. My rehab program was sub par and I was still treating my body as if I hadn’t ruptured my disc.
Thinking back on the past month with all of the stressful movements I put my body through I noticed 2 things.
- I had flexed my spine more than I have in a long time.
- I allowed the muscles to fire on their own instead of me feeling like I had to walk around with my core clenched and back straight as if I had a stiff rod for a spine.
I was able to bend and flex all while still lifting smart and using my critical hinge and neutral spine when I needed it the most. The past few years that I’ve spent rebuilding my core and learning to use the muscles correctly have paid off. Not only has my spine grown to be more resilient but I can tell my body feels safer in the positions more now where before my lower back would stiffen for days if I flexed it more than a couple times.
The moral to this is, eventually you will need to introduce “normal movement” back into your day. That means heaven forbid you flex your lumbar spine to tie your shoes. It is okay to do that. If you are with a good recovery coach they should eventually be introducing flexion back into your program anyway. It may take months depending on the severity of your situation and how your body is adapting but eventually, you can. You can’t go the rest of your life and never flex or bend your lumbar spine and think that’s healthy. So, as you continue to diligently pursue a stronger more resilient spine slowly introduce those flexion movements back into your life.
Every lumber spine injury or disc pain is different for everyone. Introducing flexion back into a recovering lower back should be done with extreme caution and with specific timing. The point I want to make with this flexion statement is that if you are 2 years post-op and you’re still doing glute extensions on your back to “strengthen your glutes”, It’s time to move on to a more challenging exercise. Just because your doctor gave you that exercise two years ago on your first visit doesn’t mean that single exercise is all you will need for the rest of your life. Make sure what you are applying and experimenting with on your own body is the right thing for you.
If you are wondering what I typically focus on after a hard days work in the yard, cutting trees, mowing the grass, cleaning the house etc.
I created a video post showing you exactly what to do and how to do it in this article HERE
Thanks for reading!
I can’t wait to get settled in and back on my content grind for you guys. September (not only is it my birthday month) but I am hoping to have something BIG launching!
p.s If you think someone you know could benefit from this post please share! You never know how it may help!