For the past several months, every few weeks I wake up with a slight pinch in my lower back. I’ve been pretty sure of the cause – the timing lines up perfectly with the time I spent working with a sports chiropractor to repair my fractured and dislocated tailbone last May – but the discomfort is mild and hasn’t prevented me from going about my normal activities, so I’ve pretty much ignored it.
Last Wednesday morning, while I was out shoveling snow, I noticed that the pinch was a little bit more persistent than it had been to that point, so I called the same chiropractor and made an appointment for the following week.
I didn’t think much of it after that, and the next day, I went about business as usual, never even considering the possibility of canceling my two planned snowshoeing dates or night at the climbing gym.
I felt fine all day Thursday, but on Friday morning, I woke up with my entire lower back screaming at me.
I’ve never dealt with back issues before, but I had an idea of what had happened – I figured that I’d been overcompensating for the pinch by relying too much on other muscles, and I’d thrown things a little out of whack.
So, I popped a couple ibuprofen, replaced my planned run with a mid-length bike ride, and assumed everything would work itself out.
Not quite as simple as I’d imagined.
I went through the weekend feeling as though I was walking on eggshells. It wasn’t a big deal so long as I was careful, but any time I let my guard down, I’d twist or turn the wrong way and feel a jolt of pain shoot up either side of my spine. I felt like I’d aged 40 years in the span of 24 hours.
But of course, being the model patient that I am, rather than shutting things down, I continued to pop IB, continued to swap runs for rides, and continued to wait for it to pass. (Yeah, that unintended stairs workout on Monday night probably didn’t help either…)
Finally, I woke up this morning and decided that I’d had enough. I called off a planned morning on the trails and headed to the chiropractor for my scheduled visit.
After 20 minutes of heat, the doc came in to see what was the trouble.
“Yep,” he said, as soon as he dug into the muscles. “Your back is definitely in spasm.”
He worked on me for a solid half hour, readjusting this and kneading and stretching that. I’ve known this guy for years – since I screwed up my shoulders swimming – so we chatted about family and sports and his kids’ budding aquatic careers. Gradually, the shots of pain subsided, leaving only a dull ache in their wake.
“Well,” he said, “your left such-and-such is locked up which is causing your right whosa-whatsit to tighten, pulling your thing-a-mah-jig out of alignment.”
I sifted through jargon to catch the words ‘tailbone,’ ‘hip flexors,’ ‘spine,’ and tendon.’
“So,” he continued, giving me a rundown of restrictions (he knows that I need concrete guidelines of what I can and cannot do or else I’ll get myself into trouble). “No running or biking for the next week. Walking and hiking and swimming are fine. Heat and hottubs and advil are better.”
He didn’t mention climbing or core work, but I have a feeling those are off-limits as well.
He also didn’t say, “next time you feel a small pinch in your back, don’t wait eight months to come see me…”
But I suspect he was thinking it.