A Healthier Lifestyle with Spondilitis

A Healthier Lifestyle with Spondilitis

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain!

A Healthier Lifestyle with Spondilitis

It may be a strange way to put it, but my back had always been my “Achilles’ heel.” As a child I remember being plagued by an aching back and aching limbs. “Growing pains,” said the local physician, with a dismissive wave of his hands, as I wept my way through the excruciating pain that racked my bones throughout childhood. This was in the early Sixties, when painkillers in India were not considered safe for children, especially for long-term use.

Could it be attributed to genetics? My brother, two years my senior, also suffered from backaches so severe that even during his school days he was advised to sit on a specially constructed hard wooden chair, and had to wear a back brace. My memories of my maternal grandmother are wrapped around a soft-spoken lady who otherwise beautiful, was bent double at the waist. My mother suffered the same affliction, and even before she had reached sixty, was bent like a leaning-forward L. I often wondered if I would suffer the same way.

While the backaches retreated in my late teens, they were back with renewed vigor when I had my baby at twenty-three. As I sat up for successive nights, rocking, feeding and soothing a bawling infant, my back took a severe beating. I developed a chronic low back pain, which continued even when my daughter reached her teens. Even with regular walks, advised by doctors, the pain never really went away. A low back pain was my constant companion. It became worse when we were posted to regions that had high atmospheric levels of humidity, but with a husband in the Air Force, this was an occupational hazard we had to accept.

A decade and a half later, I began to experience additional symptoms. My shoulders became achy and sore, and it became increasingly difficult and painful to turn my neck or lift my arms. Soon, I began to experience shooting pains radiating from my neck, right up to my eyes. Matters came to a head one evening, when I could not raise my arms even to take off my dress.

“Acute cervical spondylitis!” pronounced the orthopedic surgeon the next day. I had a choice between an unwieldy neck brace or an hour of traction, followed by deep heat therapy and massage at the physio-therapy department, every day. I would have to follow up at home with a regimen of special exercises thrice a day. When I mentioned my low back pain, the doctor diagnosed it as lumbar spondilitis and added a few more exercises to my routine.

This was precious time that I had to squeeze in between my teaching job, housework and a little craft-production that I did from home, but I kept it up. A month later, the physio-therapist pronounced that since I’d been an earnest student, I could stop the visits to the physio-therapy department. “But the exercises must continue. You have to do them every day for the rest of your life, or you may even need surgery,” he warned me, explaining that exercise would help strengthen the muscles and joints.

I was lucky to get a wonderful physio-therapist, who took the time to explain the nature and treatment of the ailment. He advised me to throw away my fluffy pillow. “It’s best to sleep without one, but if that is uncomfortable, use a flat one, not thicker than a plump pizza,” was his advice. The soft mattress had to be replaced with a firm one. I was told to give up my stitching, knitting and other crafting hobbies since they involved bending my head forward, a posture that pressed on crucial spinal nerves.

Today, twenty-one years later, I follow the entire gamut of exercises for six days of the week. I start with simple calisthenics to warm up, followed by isometric exercises and neck rotations for the cervical spondilitis. Next come some stretches, bends and yoga poses (Boat Pose, Cat-Cow Pose and Plough Pose) to help the lumbar spondilitis. After a hysterectomy, on the advice of a gynecologist, I even added a few rounds of Kegels to strengthen the pelvic muscles. Forty minutes of this routine every morning helps to tone up the muscles of the upper body.

In the evening, the lower muscles get their share of exercise with a brisk four-kilometer walk. Menopause brings with it an additional risk of osteoporosis, which could result in weakening and bending of the spine. Sunshine was necessary to keep this at bay, so I factored that in by walking in bright sunshine and doing a bit of gardening, too.

Since my life would be barren without my knitting, crochet and embroidery, I devised a method to help me continue. I use a small pillow on my knees to raise the height of the material I’m working on, and for additional support, I use two small pillows under each elbow.

While backaches may certainly have a physiological reason, medical experts are increasingly linking emotional and mental stress to tightening of muscles and nerves, which could result in backaches. While some healers advise meditation, I found my own ways to de-stress. I took up volunteer work — my husband and I make music. We visit cancer patients, disabled people, senior citizens, orphanages. Singing, laughing and talking to them, being able to bring a spark to their eyes and a smile to their lips, gives me a warm oozy feeling, and loosens up the knots in my joints. It’s like a restful gentle massage.

And my most important de-stressor — talking to my Creator. Every morning as I get up, I thank the Almighty for the new day and new opportunity; and every night along with the day’s review, I give thanks for the many happy hours which were gifted to me that day. It doesn’t take more than five minutes, but it creates a soft restful glow. As I move towards my sixtieth birthday, I begin to think that the spondilitis has given me a richer and healthier lifestyle — physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Does the cervical or lumbar spondilitis still bother me? In these two decades, I’ve had only a single relapse. This was five years ago, when I went to visit my daughter. When my neck, shoulder and arms became severely achy, I visited the hospital right next door, and the resident physio-therapist confirmed that it was my old friend (spondilitis) visiting me again. While a week of the usual routine of traction, heat and massage took care of the matter, I was at a loss why it had recurred. It didn’t take long to spot the culprit. Forgetting previous advice, I was using a beautiful plump pillow again! The moment I got rid of it, my pain too vanished. And now I take care never to repeat that mistake.

~ Mita Banerjee ~

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