A therapist's journey with low back pain
I'm sharing this personal journey to inspire myself again, and my clients that its possible to ride through pain to greater self-empowerment, self-understanding, better self-care, and real well being, integrated with our already-unified spirit-mind-feeling-body consciousness.
For a period of three years, I experienced moderate to severe, constant, persistant pain in my low back, with added jolts of pain with: standing, bending over, and lifting. Not great, while having a newborn slash toddler. Massage, physical therapy and chiropractic didn't help. I tried all the go-to strategies I recommend to my clients: ice and heat, rest, stretches and exercises, breathwork, improving ergonomics. I took acetaminiphen and ibuprofen when needed. Unfortunately, after a while, it became daily for a time.
Then, in 2011, seismic life changes occurred. This is a common pattern therapists see in their clients and their own lives; significant logistical or emotional events conjoin with injury, illness or even healing.
Within a month, I began a yoga practice, 4 days a week. Yoga gave me what I needed during major transition. It gave me a foundation to move forward in strength, vulnerability, support, love, and grace. The severity of my pain was still there, but it lessened in severity. I could stop taking over the counter pain medication.
The same year, I began a serious study of Craniosacral Therapy (CST) in Ursula Popp's Craniosacral Certification Program. I have so much gratitude for the close friend who encouraged me to begin this study when I thought I couldn't possibly do it then. My colleagues and I gave and received Craniosacral Therapy many times each month. My back pain was still there, but it occurred less frequently.
At the end of the year, in addition to the yoga and Craniosacral, I was fortunate to have 8 weeks of Acupuncture. My favorite Acupuncturist invited me to do a trade for Craniosacral. We were both fortunate. Precisely at the end of the 8 weekly Acupuncture sessions, the pain left entirely for years. If you're reading this, you might relate to the relief, and the burden.
I continued with yoga, and Craniosacral Therapy. I continued to enjoy wellbeing, fortitude, and much more contentedness even though life's difficulties were still there. I felt up to the task.
The way I see it, all those therapies worked together. They all supported the conditions for my low back pain to resolve holistically. And I shouldn't neglect to mention the importance of strong emotional support from loved ones. The success of that recovery built a new fortitude in me. I could feel, not for the first time, but in a more profound place in myself, deep trust of myself. I can trust myself and my body to go through tough experiences and know I'll get support, and emerge stronger.
Yoga, CST, and Acupuncture were the magical, trusted combination. It was amazing. But its not the end of the back pain....!
Any combination of healing modalities may only be helpful for some individuals for only certain periods. Our physical mechanism undergoes constant biological and neurological changes, plus changing mental-emotional-physical environments. I found out that one combination of therapy might help for a time, and then exacerbate later. Deeper sigh....but still there's a good end to the story.
All of that was a preamble to the second episode of pain, I experienced. It flared up two years later. At first I was in some denial and kept doing yoga even though it made me feel worse. This time, the things that helped me before did not help. I fully resisted not only the pain but my disappointment. Eventually I stopped yoga. I continued to receive Craniosacral once a month. It was great, but the low back pain did not respond at all. My PCP found no injury or reason to get an MRI, insisting it was stress related, and suggested continuing with yoga and meditation.
Every direction was a confusing re-loop or dead end. The pain did not act like anything I understood. I consulted Vidyamala Burch's book, Living Well with Pain and Illness and Craig Williamson's Muscular Retraining for Pain-Free Living and Louise Hay's Heal Your Body. I practiced the "body tool" a Shaman taught me.
When I couldn't hike up Lookout Mountain without surging pain in every step I was finally willing to pause. So, for a time. I stopped. There's a section in my favorite translation of the Tao te Ching that says, when there's an obstacle, the water simply waits until it has built up enough around the obstacle to just simply move around it.
I stopped physical activity, except for walking. It was not out of giving up. I was trying a new direction. Rest. Resting the nerve impulses that had set up habitual patterns that had begun to cause a flare up of old pain. Therapeutically, it is something to try. Rest is highly undervalued in our culture. I gave it a go. Some therapists will not agree ...but I needed a deeper connection with what was happening besides "doing more" of "what I knew."
I paid attention to my body as I laid down, as I walked, drove, played, worked. I drank lots of water. Took great care of myself; salting, oiling, supplements regularly.
Six months later I tolerated a hike with no pain. I can now do yoga again, and with the help of a loved one who studied yoga deeply. I learned which poses I need to modify and I learned remedial poses instead of forcing myself into ones that are meant for a different body type.
New mysteries. This time the pain responds to the "first tier" of self care, alleviated by: meditating and breathwork, massage, walking, cardio and core work, adequate hydration, stretching, exercising muscles in the pelvis, sacrum, legs, and low back. Also muscle rolling, analgesic topicals and ice/heat. Right now my favorite is resting with positional release supports. I can show you that.
This time a physical therapist, Amy Burtt at Swedish in Ballard, found "the missing piece" of the puzzle, locating a restricted lumbar vertebrae that was referring pain far from the source. Just one week of her suggestions brought the pain level way down.
This time meditation helps. After a few minutes of sitting, I can feel gravity all the way down on the sits bones, and feel the hinge at thoracic spine at the lower edge of the rib cage having the possibility to rise in extension. I'm more able to consciously relax my lower body. On a firmer, yet more pliable lower body, my cervical spine is well supported, and the mandible finds its placement elevated above the clavicle, upright instead of tucked. My nervous system settles, supported and quieted; inflammation slowing and unwinding.
The pain might return, or it might not. I keep up with modified yoga, Craniosacral, my usual self-care, the stretches in learned in PT, and also with suggestions by Pete Escogue for hip alignment. But just as ever, I feel encouraged to believe that with consistent, informed care...and a willingness to keep changing the program as needed, the body does go to its next level of health, with or without symptoms.
Health can be regarded as "feeling free within the harness." An ability to adapt and to be free to choose. Let's again choose to be open to finding out what we are called to next.
I'd love to hear about your healing journeys. May you be happy.