Backed into a Corner

Backed into a Corner

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

Backed into a Corner

“Come on, Evan, it’s time to go,” I said, as sternly as I could. It was late afternoon and my son and I were at the park. It was time to go home. But Evan wasn’t budging. He plunked down on the grass and began wailing.

I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to pick him up and haul him off to the car. But my back was killing me. Evan was thirty pounds of solid, squirming three-year-old.

I’d had a bad back for a long time, but my son usually was so obedient that this situation hadn’t come up before. I couldn’t think of a good solution. I blurted out the only thing that came to mind — and I didn’t like it.

“Evan, if you don’t come with me right now, I’ll have to spank you,” I warned.

Please, please get up, I pleaded silently. I’d never spanked my child and I didn’t want to start now.

But he didn’t get up. He just kept crying.

Reluctantly, I leaned down — yow, that hurt! — and pulled Evan to his feet. I tried to swat him on the behind, but had trouble finding it with him wriggling to break free. I tapped at him awkwardly. I’m not even sure I made contact.

Thankfully, it was enough. He came along with me to the car, still crying, but no longer balking.

That afternoon in the park convinced me that I had to do something about my back. I had let it go on far too long.

It all began after childbirth. In pregnancy, the body’s ligaments loosen and stretch to accommodate the growing baby and coming birth. Afterward, they may not support a woman’s joints and bones the way they once did.

I first noticed how severe my troubles were when we signed Evan up for swim lessons. He was still a baby, so it was a “mommy and me” class. We were in the pool with our babies, hoisting them in and out of the water, swishing them back and forth. Except after the first class it was clear this was going to be a “daddy and me” activity.

Over the next few years, my pain grew worse. I tried to compensate. I wore loose clothes. I got one of those grabber gadgets, so I didn’t have to bend down to pick up toys. I slept on the floor.

Then one day, in one of those quick sideways motions you make without thinking, I reached down to pick up the cat and — OUCH! I felt a stabbing pain in my lower back.

This was pain of a different order. It radiated down into my left leg and immobilized me. I searched the Internet for solutions — moms are too busy to go to the doctor! I read that most back pains resolve themselves in six to eight weeks. Stupidly, I set that mental deadline.

Eight painful weeks dragged by, including the day of the park tantrum. After that, I lost faith in the Internet and went to my doctor, who packed me off to physical therapy.

My therapist did what therapists do. At first, it was just gentle manipulation of my legs, up and down, back and forth. Soon, she brought in a TENS unit — an electrical gadget that stimulates and relaxes the muscles that have tightened around the strained area.

Despite the treatment, I was dismayed to find that my pain worsened over the next few weeks. I cried to the therapist that I wanted to stop.

“Have patience,” she said. “It feels worse for a while, and then suddenly, it gets better.”

And she was right. Especially after she introduced me to what I fondly call The Rack. It’s really not a medieval torture device, but a two-part cushioned traction table. At regular intervals, the parts separate and then close back together. The outward motion stretches out the vertebrae, relieving your pain for a few blissful moments.

I loved my rack! It was in a private room. I’d take a book in with me and read uninterrupted for a blessed half hour while the table whirred quietly out and back.

Eventually, I had to do the hard work. In the exercise area, I was given a routine meant to strengthen my muscles, especially the abdominal ones that support the back. I used resistance bands and gently worked my arms and legs on the machines.

A few weeks later, I was thrilled to graduate. I could accomplish daily tasks again, and I was smarter about it. I bent my knees to lift things. I got up and moved around after sitting for a while. I bought a firmer mattress. I did my floor exercises.

After a few years, though, the pain began to assert itself again. I was carrying around those extra pounds you tend to accumulate in mid-life. My blood pressure was high, and my doctor was suggesting medication.

Thankfully, I figured out how to help myself. I joined a gym and began to swim laps three times a week. In the water, your back troubles virtually disappear. I gradually worked my way up from ten minutes to half an hour. Afterward, I’d sit in the hot tub and let the jets massage my back.

It’s been seven years now, and I still swim every few days. It keeps my back pain at bay, and I’ve lost thirty pounds to boot. The other day, I picked up three ten-pound bags of flour, curious to see how heavy those extra pounds feel, whether you happen to be wearing them or hoisting them.

Those thirty pounds of flour reminded me of that day in the park when I was forced into a decision. I never again had to try to spank my son. Today, at age twelve, he is an easygoing and agreeable young person, and I’m thankful for that — because even with a good back, I don’t think I could lift nine bags of flour!

~ Nancy B. Kennedy ~

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