Looking back, I can recall a couple times in my younger years injuring my back. Once was after an intense week of volleyball training when I was about 16, and another time in my early 20s after a day trying to keep up with some yahoos snowboarding in the Swiss Alps. Neither incident was an acute injury; rather I went to sleep feeling fine and woke up the next day hardly able to stand. In both cases, however, a week went by and my supple young spine forgave me, and sadly I forgot.
In retrospect, it was my poor posture and muscle imbalance during the jarring motions of sports that led to both of these instances. Of all those who might have advised a young man on the impending troubles, I can recall a coach and a physiotherapist who cautioned me. But it simply wasn’t enough to distract a young man from his seeming invincibility.
On through my 20s my posture and muscle balance worsened as I logged ever greater hours interacting with a relatively short man made world: hunching over work surfaces, cramming into cars, slouching through doorways, on goes the list… And yet I continued to push myself in a variety of sports.
I first started noticing my back pain again after a week of slalom skiing in the summer of 2008. I chalked it up to a muscle strain. But the problem progressively got worse through the fall and winter, bothering me most when driving or sitting at the computer. My MRI in the spring turned up multiple disc protrusions, degenerative disc disease throughout my thoracic spine, a schmorls node, and some end plate osteophytes. Nothing requiring immediate surgery, but not the youthful spine I envisioned for myself…
Always the extremist, I went overboard trying to fix myself. I dropped all sports but swimming and biking and took up yoga. I consulted sports doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, massage therapists, a physiatrist, and even a spine researcher. I read up on spine anatomy and mechanics and modified my daily habits. I had a spine brace made. I consulted with three surgeons, all of which stated the inherent problems with thoracic surgery (the ribs, heart, and lungs make access to the thoracic intervertabral discs difficult) and felt my case did not warrant this kind of risky surgery. I tried various drugs, supplements (glucosamine, omega-3s, etc.), and switched to an anti-inflammatory diet. Still searching for relief, I turned to the mind. I took classes, read up on, and practiced meditation, tried counseling, and more generally tried to accept rather than fight the pain.
It’s been 5 years of ups and downs. Currently, I’m doing good. I attribute this partly to desensitization to pain signals from the damaged tissues that comes with time as well as some improvements to my life circumstances, the loving support of my family, and distraction from the problem. However, much of the above items have also contributed. Perhaps the most helpful have been cardiovascular exercise, meditation, yoga, diet improvements, postural strengthening, and activity modification. Part of the activity modification means adaptations between me and this relatively short man made world to suit my tall stature: cars, chairs, desks, kitchens etc. I’v started this blog to share this lifelong project and to connect with others with similar predicaments.