How I overcome back pain

Back in the year 2006, I remember suddenly bending over in a certain way to pick something up, and suddenly my lower back twinged. This was the beginning of a long journey to try and understand how to fix a chronic back problem. An MRI was done, and it was found I had a bulging disc at L5S1 (one of the most common areas to get back issues), plus a tear in the cartilage of the general area too.

On top of this, I also began to have right hip problems. Another MRI revealed I had early arthritis where the ball and socket area of the hip was degrading fast for my age. I was 26. For a while, this was rather debilitating. I went to see physios, chiropractors, osteopaths-and while all these helped for a while, it didn’t really fix the problem. A while later, I had chronic left shoulder issues. I wondered why I seemed to be falling apart at such a young age.

I was a professional flute player at the time, regularly performing and practising. From a posture perspective, the flute is a pretty unnatural instrument to play. There is a twist in the pelvis, and each arm is doing something different, so you are in an asymmetrical position. It’s not uncommon for musicians to have repetitive strain injuries as they are in static positions for long periods. But not all musicians have these problems. Why is that?

Back in the day, I had a high intensity about how I approached my playing, and this translated into a high degree of muscle tension. So you could almost say, it was coming from a specific psychological stance that affected me on a physical level. I struggled to regulate when I needed to step up, and when I needed to take a break, so I was lacking balance.

After years of pain, and even a year off from playing, Bikram yoga came into my life. This was a complete game-changer for me. If you haven’t heard of Bikram yoga, it is where you go into a hot room for 90 minutes at 39 degrees Celsius and practice the same 26 postures each class. I call it ‘military yoga’. Every class is precisely the same-but you may experience it entirely differently based on the state of mind you walk in with. Some days the heat was bearable, other days it was completely intolerable. After every class, you walk out dripping wet with sweat as if you have just stepped out of a shower.

I remember the first class I ever did-I swore I would never go back. It was terrible.

But the next day, something amazing happened. I woke up with such a reduction in pain in my body overall that I thought I better go back. So I did….for another 4 years.

Bikram yoga put me back together again on a physical AND emotional level. And this was so life-changing that I decided to go and get my own qualifications in personal training and yoga-based programs, and then go on later to study bioenergetics.

Now, am I saying that anyone who has lower back pain and any other muscular-skeletal problems should go and do 4 years of Bikram? Or get some formal qualifications to understand what their issues are?

No.

What I AM saying is often the problem lies around lack of discipline. We actually need to DO the exercises we are prescribed by practitioners, plus actually keep fit in the first place.

You might think you are keeping fit, but are you challenging your body in all sorts of ways? Or are you doing the same exercise over and over again? Can you honestly say you are getting out at least 4-5 times per week and walking 10,000 steps most days?

Because I can tell you, when I don’t do these things, this is when my pain returns-everywhere!

There was nothing wrong with any of the practitioners I was seeing beforehand to try and fix my back. It was my lack of follow through with what they told me to do, combined with certain ’type A’ personality traits which encompass a high degree of intensity about everything.

In addition to the physical aspect of pain, there is often an emotional aspect. For example, different body parts can represent various psychological aspects. The shoulders can express how much you feel you are ’shouldering’ responsibility in your life-perhaps you feel burdened by something. The lower back can represent how much support you feel you have in life. Perhaps you wish people would support you more, or you feel worried about being able to support yourself, financially or in other ways.

But of course, this is always coupled with a bio-mechanical or structural problem. Perhaps you have one leg that is slightly longer than the other (more common than you think). Or maybe you have slight scoliosis in the spine, a swayback (an excessive anterior tilt in the pelvis). Or maybe your hip, knee and ankle alignment needs some work, or excessive tight hip flexor muscles need to be lengthened. Or, maybe you just sit down for too long each day and do not do enough walking and have weak glutes. Or maybe you have excessive stress in your life which leads to having more muscle pain and health challenges in general (daily meditation will help with this).

There are multiple reasons as to why you might have low back pain. However, with the right dedication and follow through with what your physical therapists tell you, most people can overcome their back pain. More often than not, an unfortunate HABIT will precede the pain/injury. This is not ALWAYS the case. But in my experience, having been around and worked in the health and fitness industry for 12 years, it usually is.

So, in a nutshell, to overcome lower back pain:

Walk every day-10,000 steps is ideal.
Do pilates and yoga to strengthen your core-see someone qualified.
My physical therapist of choice is an Osteopath.
Follow through with the exercises a physical therapist gives you (most people do not!)
Strengthen the glutes with squats, lunges.
Stretch the hip flexors
Contemplate what emotional aspects might be going on and how it could relate to your pain. Take practical steps to alleviate.
You may also want to look deeper and work with a bioenergetic practitioner. Bioenergetic practitioners work with sound and frequency and the electromagnetic spectrum and help you examine your emotional life. I would only recommend this if you have exhausted all other options and have been really disciplined with exercises.

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