Monday, June 21, 2010

Back in the game...

After replying to a post on the TCSD email list, I realized I hadn't posted here in a while. Here's the post:

I have a friend who is a strength and conditioning coach with whom we were doing some circuit training. One circuit being a dumbbell clean & jerk.

Well....i believe this was the motion that has now left me almost immobilized.

At work today only because i work in an office environment.

I have the SDIT this Sunday and this injury (one that has never happened before) could not have come at WORST time!

Last week of training will be severely hampered if not totally eliminated.

Have any Club Members had lower back strains / sprains ect....

How long were you on the mend and what recovery aids did you use, if any, to speed up the recovery time of this injury.

Thank in advance for any input.

My training has been the best it ever has and i was looking forward to one good final week, before my first International Distance Race Sunday!

And my reply:
I'm no medical professional, but I have learned a few things about my own back over the past year.

First, find out just what HAS happened to your back: It could be anything from a muscle strain (most common) to a damaged/displaced disc (especially if over 40), or a damaged vertebra (rarely). Go to a Sports Medicine MD for a diagnosis, and also be sure to stop by Rehab United for a FREE Injury Assessment.

For what follows, I'm assuming your back hurts all the time, even first thing in the morning. I'll also assume some motions are impossible for you due to back weakness, and other motions cause varying degrees of added pain.

Since muscle strain is a common factor to just about all back injuries, you may be treating that anyway, no matter what else may be wrong, possibly with a combination of physical therapy and muscle relaxants. My own experiences over the past year with a degenerated disc taught me a few things:

1. Don't wait to seek professional opinions! See your Sports MD and Rehab United immediately. Waiting increases the risk of further injury, and needlessly prolongs the pain. I waited over 4 months, hoping to adjust my training to take the load off my back. Dumbest thing I've ever done (well, that depends on who you ask).

2. There are some things that can help temporarily, but may NOT lead to any real recovery: Applying heat/cold, sports massage, very gentle stretching, and NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.). I used these, and the partial improvement I saw is what led me to delay diagnosis and treatment. Not smart! But do use them to help you "get by", but only until you do get your diagnosis.

3. Trying to "train around" a back injury is also of doubtful usefulness. I recommend you stop all running, biking and weight training until you get a diagnosis and training advice, though you may be able to continue swimming in the ocean or bay (avoid pool turns). After my initial injury, I spent months modifying my training, all of which simply made things worse and delayed my eventual recovery.

My current philosophy concerning fitness and competition is simple: I want to be doing this when I'm 80! Any injury or over-training that jeopardizes that goal gets corrected promptly and thoroughly.

My specific injury was a degenerated L5-S1 disc. The disc had been degenerating for a decade, but it became an issue only when my bike training reached new PRs. I was really hammering hard on the hills, and going faster than ever in aero. So when I started getting back pain, I naturally blamed my bike workouts. Turned out my flat-footed running was also a factor, and the two together did a double-whammy on my lowest disc and my back muscles.

The good news is that, once I was properly diagnosed, my recovery literally started with my first physical therapy session. After my therapy ended, I completely overhauled my training to minimize back stresses: First, I became a toe runner (I've got the calves to prove it). Second, I switched from my carbon princess to a TitanFlex (like switching from a hard-tail Harley to a SuperGlide), and I raised my bars 4 inches.

My expectation was that I would eventually compete again, but that I would be much slower than I was before (not that I was ever that fast). The reality has been surprisingly different! I'm now running at speeds I haven't seen in 25 years (though I'm still building my distance back up), and my bike endurance (comfort in the saddle) is better than before (though I'm still building power).

My new expectation is that my race times will become faster than ever! Strange but true: I never would have reached this place if my back had NOT failed. That failure led me to learn more about how my body really works, and to also learn how to use it better.

I also had a huge piece of Pure Luck: About 90% of those with my level of disc degeneration and pain get an immediate spinal fusion. I was a candidate for PT only because my core fitness permitted my back to take tons of punishment without allowing my spine to slip out of alignment. My Sports MD said my successful therapy and return to training will probably postpone my need for spinal fusion by 5 years. I'm hoping for 20.

'Nuf said: Take it easy, get to your Sports MD, and get a FREE Injury Assessment from Rehab United.
Hopefully, my next post won't be so long in coming...

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