Recently I’ve found myself in a lot of pain. I’ve injured a disc in my low back. Going through this injury has taught me so much about myself, how I can relate to practice members and most importantly how incredible our bodies are at healing.
I was a little reluctant to share the details of my injury so “publicly” as I don’t want people to feel bad for me or be concerned about the pain in my ass (literally). However, there is just so much I’ve learned that ultimately I think its of value to share some of my insights that I’ve learned the past several months.
I want to start at the beginning and the questions I always get when I do tell people - “how did it happen?” My response “I don’t really know.” I usually get a weird look at this point - aren’t you a doctor? shouldn’t you know these things. And the truth is I do know how it happened but people are often looking for a simple answer to a much more complex question. I’m a cross fitter and go religiously 5-6x/week so that’s the most common thought of how I did this. Must have been lifting too heavy or going too hard on a WOD (workout of the day). This isn’t the case however. The thing with disc injuries is that they are a result of accumulated stress through the disc over time often to too repetitive trauma (i.e. sitting). So this has likely been an injury developing over years that even with all my training, I ignored the warning signs.
Here are some of the most valuable things I’ve learned about pain the last few months:
Pain SUCKS. Period. I’ve experienced pain before and often. My body is always sore from something so I’m “used to it.” This is different though. This is nerve pain and it is constant and intense and exhausting. My body just didn’t bounce back in a couple weeks like I am used to (insert the getting old pun). But here’s the thing, as frustrating, debilitating, and depressing as the pain is, I am so glad for it. It is a constant reminder that I have pushed my body beyond its threshold for too long, I ignored the warning signs that got me here in the first place and I need to be aware of what is going on in my back all the time as this injury heals.
Don’t get me wrong, I have struggled internally many days about getting pain killers or nerve blocks to get some relief but ultimately I’ve made the choice to avoid all medications - even over the counter. I’m a strong believer of everyone having the choice to make their own health care decisions so I won’t deep dive into this too much for this article and I’m also not making judgements on people who have gone the medicine route for their pain. Somewhere in our lives and society we have be taught that as humans we shouldn’t have to experience ANY human suffering. We shouldn’t ever experience a runny nose or cough - just take a Tylenol cold and flu. We shouldn’t have arthritis pain just starting taking Aleve twice a day. We are so far deep in a culture that is averse to any form of discomfort that we have completely lost sight of why we experience these symptoms in the first place.
I’m usually a broken record about this, but I myself needed this reminder several times the past 3 months and I’ll probably need it several more - we need to give it time. This is truly the most important factor of healing properly. Let’s look at my disc injury for example. This has likely been something occurring in my body for years - almost 10 years of post-secondary education, 5+ years of intense physical training in the gym where I’m not always in the best form, a global pandemic where I spent much more time sitting around at my desk and couch far more than normal etc. It is so unfair for me to put the pressure on myself and my body to heal in a couple weeks or months. But yet here I am - constantly battling with unreal expectations of my body.
These unrealistic expectations we put on our body leads to mental and emotional exhaustion. I usually have a good handle on my emotional health, I’m very grateful for what I have, what I’ve created and where I’ve gotten to this far in my life. But a big part of my life is my training and having fun in the gym with various workouts, pushing my body to new limits and abilities. When this got taken away from me because of this injury, I found myself losing my identity and my fun, my release at the gym. I didn’t want to stop going but I also couldn’t do what used to because I was in so much pain. Simple things, like putting on socks and tying up my shoes where near impossible. I could feel many thoughts of negative self talk creeping into my daily monologue.
But, I changed my expectation. I had to or else I was going to go down a road that lead to places I didn’t want to be. Of course I would need to modify my movements and my intensity - my body is healing from a major injury. With this I have swallowed my pride, embraced the amazing strides my body has already made in the short period of time since onset of symptoms and refocused my intentions. I can’t say that I’m having just as much fun as before but I’m excited for the future and how my body actually is healing.
Stop being afraid of the pain. Pain is there to guide you and remind you that you’ve injured something and your body is healing it. Do the rehabilitation, get the adjustments and therapy done, and have belief in your body’s incredible abilities. It’s not always about taking the easy quick way out.
Reach out for support when you need it. I’ve been lucky in the sense that I have the knowledge about what is going on in my back, but I can definitely appreciate now how scary this can be for someone. Never stop believing the truth about your body - it was designed to heal and has an amazing capacity to thrive. Give your body time, nutrients and respect.
Dr. Alfredo is a health enthusiast who’s goal is to help people and families live healthier, happier lives. My philosophy on health is simple - our body’s have the amazing ability and potential to self-adapt, self-regulate and THRIVE in this world.