I chuckled to myself yesterday as I looked around my home and realized I could run a therapy clinic out of this place. Heating pads, cold pads, kinesiotape, massage mats, therapy balls .. the list goes on.
As a former occupational therapist I’m no stranger to modalities. Now as a yoga therapist, I enjoy teaching others how to create their own back care tool kit to keep their bodies pain free, agile, and strong.
As of late, I am the creator and administrator of a Facebook group, Forever Fused, that I started for people, like myself, who have had spine fusions for scoliosis surgery. We get together in a virtual hub and chat about all things rods, hardware, stiff spines, and the like. It is amazing to have a resource like this and we have learned so much from each other there.
The body-mind connection is powerful and strong. I hold on to the belief that the body is always searching for its best health, or homeostasis, and we just have to listen and support the process. The body is not designed to hold on to pain in a chronic state. If it flares up, it will calm down. So when “things” get exacerbated in my body, I drag myself to my meditation mat and LISTEN. I usually learn that my Type A, overachieving nature is getting the best of me again. I find I’m overworking, overexercising, or just trying to DO more than I need to. I’ve learned this 40 year old body requires a high level of self care to run at its best. I got away with a lot in my 20s and early 30s but at some point things change. For everyone. Usually the message comes loud and clear. We just have to LISTEN.
SLOW DOWN AND REST. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS ON YOUR OWN. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS JUST PERFECTLY. PACE YOURSELF.
A flare up forces me to rest more and quiet my body. I used to get very frustrated as I like to use and move my body every day, but now I welcome these times as a respite. A time to heal and be more gentle with my activities. I welcome Restorative yoga, meditation, and pranayama (breathing) practices. I walk. I alternate activity and rest, activity and rest. AND I pull out my back care toolkit. My tools in my toolbox are a necessity! Sometimes I don’t need any of them for months as my body stays flare free. But when the back or neck gets angry I’ve got my resources.
AND here they are (drumroll ) ….
* DISCLAIMER* – This is not medical advice! Always consult your doctor to design your own unique individual plan of care. This is MY plan based on years of education and working with my own body almost 30 years post extensive spine fusion for scoliosis.
1. All activities of daily living are modified and superb body mechanics are in place. Lighten the loads, pace yourself, think energy conservation and work simplification. No lifting (spine fusion patients should not lift over 15 lbs ever), no bending forward at the waist. If you don’t know basic back care body mechanics visit youtube.com and you will find great tutorials there. “Body mechanics for back care” should be the search you use. Also, little spurts of activities at a time. For example … cleaning the house. Take it in small little segments. Www.flylady.com helped me with this tremendously. A little something everyday so the work doesn’t pile up and stays manageable. Small daily loads of laundry instead of huge piles. Daily routines is the key.
LISTEN at the FIRST SIGN that something in your body needs RICE. Rest, ice, compression, elevation.
I can’t say this enough. The body will usually give you a “twinge” before a full blown flare. Treat aggressively and on first sign, don’t wait or blow off that little twinge or twitch. Don’t push through it. This is very important ! ALSO, when it calms down you must go another week with your rest plan. We always think OK “it” has calmed down, so tomorrow I will go full speed back at the gym. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Once pain free, go another week pain free. Then ease back in slowly, very slowly. Trust me on this one.
2. I pull out my go-to resources a Physical Therapist once gave me. These are two books I hold tightly; Treat Your Own Back and Treat Your Own Neck by Robin McKenzie. I work the protocols. (*note if you have a low lumbar fusion (fused to the sacrum) or a total cervical fusion these programs will not apply).*
3. For a low back flare I have a few things I do including the Treat Your Own Back protocol.
A. Brace it ! Compression helps A LOT. I have a few lumbar braces (drug store variations) but I really like my old fashioned Miraclesuit girdle. It is tight and has eye hooks up the front, but fits well under clothing. The compression dulls other sensations, stabilizes my lumbar spine area just enough, and reminds me not to move too much in order to let any inflammation cool off. If I need more compression I will wrap an ACE wrap around my lumbar spine and cover it with a compression girdle.
B. Thermacare – these things stay warm all day. Don’t buy the generic it has to be the brand name. Wear one under your compression garment. There is also a patch called Icy Hot. Ice or heat ? It’s a little confusing which to use but THIS should help you sort that out a bit.
C. Supported bridge pose. This is my go-to when my low back gets cranky. I put a yoga block at the level of the sacrolumbar junction and rest here for 5-7 minutes throughout the day whenever I can. It provides a tiny light traction and a gentle massage if you GENTLY rock your knees side to side.