I am a runner. I’ve been running for more than 10 years. Even went through training and running a whole marathon.
Nowadays I still enjoy running although I can’t run as far as I’d like since my son can’t handle being strapped in the stroller for more than 40 minutes. I still run a few times a week. But it wasn’t always that way.
4 years ago I got injured. Plantar fasciitis. I was running, hiking, climbing too much. I got prescribed fancy schmancy orthotics. Cost: 400$. 6 months later, after a great day relaxing at a spa with my sister, I can’t get up from the restaurant’s chair. My back is fused. It no longer wants to move in any direction. What is going on?
To this day, I still don’t know how it happened or why. But let me tell you what happened next and how I finally found a cure for my lower back pain.
I spent the next 2 years looking for a reason, an explantation as to why this was happening to me. I stopped doing all the activities I liked. I saw all kinds of therapists, from shrinks to massages therapists to physical therapists. I consulted with the best doctors from Stanford and got steroids shots in my lower back. All to no avail.
After 2 years of pain where I couldn’t run a mile or even vacuum clean my apartment without facing excruciating pain for days, I felt helpless. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being giving birth naturally without any medication), my pain was a solid 8. I went back to more PT, because I figured something was wrong my my body. I dealt with 3 different therapists who all couldn’t figure out what was going on. Relieving pressure directly from my spine didn’t work. Strengthening exercices only partially worked. Months later my pain was now down to a 4 or 5. I was still in pain but I could manage it. It seemed like I was doomed to feeling that pain until the day I died. I was only 28. I was athletic and was not overweight. Doctors couldn’t find a logical explanation.
The head of the department I consulted at Stanford (at the time) told me it would probably go away in a few years, since he couldn’t find any explanation. My L4-L5 and L5-S1 discs were slimmer than normal, but still there and completely healthy. It might have been a genetic “defect” but everything was somewhat normal.
Another Stanford surgeon recommended a double fusion around L4-L5 and L5-S1. So my options were down to either wait and pray, or get the surgery.
I scheduled the double fusion.
But something didn’t feel right. How could an active and healthy 28 years old get back pain that was this bad?
I was young and healthy, I hadn’t been in a car accident or anything, did not remember of any fall I might have taken. How was this even possible?
I looked into reviews on the double fusion, and after days of browsing through the web decided I should wait before jumping into something that big. It’s my spine they were talking about and if something went wrong I would have to deal with these consequences for the rest of my life. Surely there must be a solution to that pain?
Well, I didn’t find the solution right away. I figured that since I was already in pain I might as well do what I liked. With a pain still ranking 4 out of 10 I decided to start running again. It didn’t help nor worsen my lower back condition but it made me feel happy. I was becoming myself again. Of course I couldn’t run as much as before. I ran every other day because I needed to take the following day off just to ease the pain. I couldn’t run more than a 5k. But still,I was running again, I was happy. I got used to the pain. I ran 3 times a week and hiked during weekends.
And then something magical happened.
No, the back pain didn’t go away with more running. That’s not what happened.
What happened is I got pregnant.
Becoming pregnant didn’t solve my back pain. Well, in a way it kinda did. I decided I would be a hot running mama. I wouldn’t be the kind of women who stops doing what she liked because she was pregnant. I kept running, hiking and even climbing (top-rope in a gym on much easier routes than what I was used to, before anyone starts bashing about my irresponsibility). I continued going like this until I was 13 weeks along.
Because of pregnancy complications, I had to stop running and limit my hikes to shorter ones. This news was mentally devastating because it felt like I was giving up a part of me. But I wanted to stay in shape so recovering after the baby was born would be easier. I was also scared to gain too much pregnancy weight and not be able to get my body back. My lower back pain was still lurking around the corner and I was afraid my pregnancy would bring it back full force.
So I started attending prenatal yoga classes two times a week.
And THEN the magic happened. After the first 2 weeks of prenatal yoga, I still had back pain, but I could feel the tension in my lower back loosen.
Over the next few months of regular yoga practice, the back pain went away. COMPLETELY.
Was it the stretching and strength training that yoga provided that did it or was it simply that because of the pregnancy my joints were loosening up? I don’t know, but what I can tell you is that I kept attending yoga classes up until the week my son was born, and I was back in the studio less than 5 weeks later. I had found the cure to my lower back pain all the while keeping a minimal fitness base during pregnancy. Ding ding ding! I had hit the jackpot. I had unwittingly found the cure to my 3-year-old lower back problem.
Now that my son is over a year old, I don’t go to yoga anymore. The mom-baby classes don’t fit my son’s nap schedule and to attend regular yoga I would need a baby sitter (which I don’t have). But I often find myself getting into “downward-facing dog” or “cat-cow” whenever I feel my lower back muscles tightening.
So, it turns out one PT was right. Although it wasn’t because my glutes were weak, it was because they were too tight. And these super bright doctors couldn’t figure it out because they often overlook muscle tightness.
Yoga helped loosen the muscles contributing to a healthy lower back (hip flexors, glutes, abs, hamstrings and back muscles) and THAT is how I cured my lower back problem.
With perspective, I now understand that in yoga not only the pose is important, but also the time allotted to each pose along with the breathing technique you use. Most of the yoga poses I did in prenatal yoga I already knew and practiced in PT, but only yoga gave me the CONSCIOUSNESS about what the muscle was actually doing, and let me take the TIME to really FEEL the stretch. And I think that was the key to solving my lower back problem.
So if you’ve been feeling back pain and saw many doctors and still can’t find any explanation on the pain, I encourage you to give yoga a try before admitting defeat and lying down on the surgery table. It IS worth a try.
Now that my pain is cured, I can only wonder in horror how it would have turned out if I had gotten that double fusion my surgeon was so eager to give me…