Five years ago, in October of 2013, I suffered a back injury that sent me onto a path of forced self-improvement. All injuries are different, and mine was coupled with a terrible ending to an emotionally abusive relationship. Going through both of these things simultaneously is not something I wish for anyone, but in hindsight, it gave me an incredible opportunity. Think about it: every experience you have is on a spectrum. You don’t know your strength until you face your struggles.
MRI results showed my back injury was fairly common: a few disc herniations in my lumbar spine giving me sciatica in both legs. Because I ignored the pain for a year before I was diagnosed and continued to workout even harder, I made it worse. Eventually, I had to stop all exercise in September of 2014. The intensity of pain skyrocketed, magnified I’m sure by the depression I was experiencing from the breakup. All of the muscles in my core on the right side of my body tightened, and I was stuck hunched over for about seven months. I was literally crooked, and couldn’t breathe very well. I relied on crutches to get around, and spent most of my time trying to find a comfortable position on my floor.
Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Stayin’ Alive
Because of an outside influence, I declared war against pain meds and took nothing until it was too late. I regret this the most. Listen to your doctors and take the medicine. I spent plenty of time at the sports med doctor, osteopath doctor, the physical therapist, the acupuncturist, the E.R., and the counselor. I did it all, and I did it all by myself. I don’t recommend it, and this is one of the main reasons I am passionate about what I do. No one should ever have to feel like they are alone in a terrible experience.
After a lot of patience, hard work, and five months surviving on my floor, my body miraculously started to straighten out. The day came in May of 2015 when I was able to get back on my bicycle and ride along Mission Beach. It was then that I realized nothing is worth being in that much pain. There were a lot of “nevers” in my self-talk as I recovered. I said I would never pick up a barbell again. I would never touch a hundred pounds again. I would never go back to my old gym. I vowed to never let it happen again.
The problem is that my self-talk was coming from a place of fear. I was very grateful, yes, but I was secretly scared. I did not do any physical therapy because I was completely uneducated about it. Instead, I enrolled in grad school to study Performance Psychology. While in school, the gym sucked me back in. The following summer, in 2016, I did yoga teacher training and I fell in love with yoga practice. The pain was gone, and I finally went back to my old gym. Nervous was an understatement.
Oops, I Did It Again
Things went really well at first, and I pushed to get my strength back as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I started to experience pain again a year after I returned, right when I started a new job at a physical therapy office. I was working a stressful job full time, finishing school, and lifting hard five days a week. While it’s crazy to think that I could ignore pain again, I did. It was almost as if I could will it away.
In December of 2017, the pain pushed me to see my Doctor. I was prescribed Prednisone, and it worked! The pain was gone. What I didn’t realize is that the drug just soaked up the inflammation. My disc was still herniated and pressing on my left sciatic nerve. I went back to the gym, and the problem came back immediately.
What the Heck Were You Thinking?
While this may seem like pure stupidity, you have to understand the mindset of someone who is used to being very active. Fitness can be therapeutic, and you’ve trained your brain to push through tough physical endeavors. But, there’s a huge difference between pain and soreness.
So, I begged for another round of Prednisone. It did nothing! I was screwed and felt dread wash over me. This time, I went two more months before I called it quits in February of 2018. Once again, everything seized back up, but this time I was crumpled over to the left side in a ton of pain. I was so inflamed that I could barely move.
It could be easy for me to be hard on myself for letting it happen again. Instead, I chose to learn. I also sought out social support from friends and professionals. I waited a few months until I was finally able to start physical therapy. My initial Physical Therapist was scared to hurt me, and my therapy wasn’t good, so I switched over to a friend who understands the nature of training I enjoy. When it was time, deadlifts and squats became part of my therapy. Shocking? It shouldn’t be. Learning to not fear any movement again is important. In fact, it is everything.
Now, almost six months after beginning my training again, my strength is back. I have chosen to make new goals and not worry so much about the weight on the bar. Luckily, I don’t have to do anything crazy to get in a good workout. I’ve chosen longevity this time around.
Thank You for Sharing
The point of this self-disclosure is for you to understand that I can help because I have been there and made all the mistakes. Recovery from injury is not glamorous and it’s horribly depressing, but it’s NORMAL. Athletes, you will probably experience an injury at some point. Seek out help, physically AND mentally, and then do what you need to do to get better. You have one body. Make sure your choices are aligned with what you want for your whole life, and not just for what you want right now.
If you’re an injured athlete, send me a message about what you’re going through. I’d love to help!