Yeah, it’s another personal / health post. Tsk.
It’s been a month since I started a new, more informed regime designed to address my back problems - regular walks, stretching & strengthening exercises and so forth. Generally, it’s gone well, although I did have a couple of ‘blips’ around Christmas and New Year. I’ve discovered some interesting facts from analysing what I’ve been doing and the results.
- Variety is hugely important. Sitting at the desk too long is bad (as I now know), but equally lie-ins in bed, sitting on sofas playing games, watching films or just socialising (like over xmas) also set it off if I do any of it too much. Switching what I’m doing on a regular basis is vital. I now try to make sure that I’m always mixing up my routine, both within the day and between days. Exercise is part of that, but it’s no good just doing the same sedentary things all the time in between the 30-60 minutes daily exercise. That’s why you won’t see me on the 360 every night, and when you do, it’s usually for no more than a couple of hours at a time. Happily Rock Band is good variety to regular games, since it involves a mixture of postures depending on the instrument and drums are particularly active. The human body was designed for a large range of movement, and not using it is encouraging it to seize up. But no, I don’t intend to take up modern interpretive dance any time soon. Nor am I much of a fan of Wii Fit - I find the ‘trainers’ patronising and would much rather exercise in the real world.
- Calibrating your limits, and pushing on them gently. After having so many disproportionately bad reactions from doing seemingly innocuous things, I became paranoid of doing almost anything potentially damaging to my back, avoiding anything I thought might come back to bite me the next day. I still have some moments like that on bad days, but I’ve come to realise that taking self-imposed limitations too far can in fact contribute to the problem, because motion & moderate stress are an important part of the spinal recovery process. Muscle tissue needs to be put under strain to get stronger, and discs can only absorb enough water & nutrients to repair themselves through motion. What the book’s regime has helped me do is become gradually more confident of where my limits are, and how much I can push them. I avoided drumming for a while for example, but I’ve found now that while it does still make me sore, I seem to be able to take a little more each time. The same goes for playing my relatively heavy electric guitar standing up with a strap - it adds some strain, but if I’m careful it’s manageable. Doing these things is also good because they add more variety (see 1).
- Learning to pay attention to what your body tells you. Ok, that’s verging dangerously on hippie vegan talk, but it’s surprising how much information your body gives you that you generally ignore. When everything’s working generally ok, unless you’re of a certain disposition already you tend not to pay that much attention to the signals your fleshy transportation device sends to the master computer perched on top of your neck, aside from the more ‘extreme’ ones, so you’re just not used to processing the information when it suddenly becomes important to have to do so. Maybe that’s mostly a male thing. Anyway, learning to pay close attention certainly helps; what hurts, what doesn’t, what it feels like to stretch a particular muscle or ligament, how much force and at what angle stretches the right parts of the skeleton, how many clicks and where do you tend to get out of the spine when fully relaxed in a stretching position, etc. It’s particularly useful after having read the anatomy section & the related advice of the book I have, since it helps to know what’s good and what’s not, and why.
- The Hitchhikers Guide was right - a towel is indeed your most versatile friend. Plenty of places sell all kinds of weird & wonderful devices designed to help you stretch your back for exorbitant prices, but in fact a large bath towel, folded or rolled in various configurations, is flexible enough to do everything you need. It’s no accident that physios have loads of them around. Ford was right; “If you want to survive out here, you’ve got to know where your towel is.”.
So there we go - the learning process continues, and hopefully so will the recovery.