Lessons From Pain
If you’ve ever read any of my blogs, you have more than likely read all about my struggles with low back pain. This has been an ongoing battle, one that I certainly have not wasted the opportunity to exploit for content's sake. Well, get ready for yet another rendition of Jake-using-his-back-pain-to-try-and-convey-lessons-about-life-and-thriving.
This time, however, it will take a less “I conquered my low back pain” tone and embrace more of a “I was humbled by my back pain,” this year.
2010 – back injury
2010-2014 – up and down ongoing pain and fear
2014-2020 – I beat this SOB
2021 – “remember me?”
In October of 2020 I hired a strength coach to help me add some muscle mass, become more resilient, gain weight, and learn some new methods of coaching. It worked. I gained 10lbs and got up to my heaviest I’ve been since college…for me this was a good thing. I was stronger than I ever was.
Then, in March of 2021, my symptoms began to return, this time for no clear reason. I had no mechanism of injury. My symptoms just returned; symptoms that I thought were behind me. Things slowly got worse. I began seeking treatment with limited success. I changed certain dietary habits, started taking supplements, and changed my sleep environment. All with limited success.
By June I could hardly get out of bed in the morning, I couldn’t put on my own shoes, and I certainly couldn’t train at my former level. I was resigned to resting, standing, or laying on my stomach. Finally, I saw a physician who strongly recommended a steroid injection and listed surgery as an option.
I opted for the injection. And I'm glad I did. I had near instantaneous 100% relief… for a few days. Slowly, I regressed back to the mean, but with around 10-20% improvement. This injection helped me turn the corner. I was more willing to move freely, had more confidence in my ability to get better, and could put my shoes on by myself.
From June to present day my symptoms have improved another 50-60% and I am finally feeling confident and able to get back to working out on a progressive strength program.
In the midst of those symptoms, I was frustrated. But, it reminded me of a few things- namely, it reminded me what it’s like to think, “Will this ever go away? Will it always be like this?” In many ways, it made me feel a little pathetic. I never wanted to complain about how much pain I was in, but suddenly found myself verbalizing it more. I felt guilty about that.
It also reminded me to be more empathetic to those hurting. It is easy to become desensitized to other’s pain when you are a provider who almost exclusively works with people who generally don’t really want to be in your office because that means there is something wrong in their life. We forget what it’s like to be in their seat. This humbled me.
Lastly, it made me remember what REAL pain is. This wasn’t just an ache. This was straight up neurogenic pain that makes you a little fearful, depressed, and irritable. This was a good thing. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” This allowed me to reconnect with pain. It took me to some dark places, but it also allowed me to remember to be grateful.
While I wouldn’t wish the last 9 months on anyone, I learned some new lessons from it. I learned that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I learned to be more empathetic…hopefully this will allow me to help my patients more.
I hope this is the last time I must learn these hard lessons. I have a feeling it won’t be, so for now I’ll say, “until we meet again.”
A call to action: if you are struggling with ongoing, recurring, or sporadic symptoms that you just can’t beat, remember that there is almost always a solution out there. It may not be immediate. It may be costly. It may not be ideal. My advice? Be an ‘explorer;’ try different things. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Seek out help from others. And keep a good attitude. And DO NOT wallow in fear or misery. DO NOT let pain rob you of your joy and your self-efficacy!
Don’t know where to start? We do. Give us a call! 404-907-4196 | email@example.com
Thanks for reading!
Jake Reynolds, PT, DPT, OCS
Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy
Follow Jake on Instagram: @theswimmingphysio