In July of 2016, I started having back pain after work. After going to the clinic, I was diagnosed with a pulled muscle and sent to physiotherapy for 6 weeks. Although physiotherapy took away some of my symptoms, it was more of a surface cure, as I didn’t realize the extent of my injury.
Three months after having a “pulled muscle,” the pain increased. I stopped working out, stopped stretching, and lost a lot of my stamina. I knew something was wrong but didn’t know what. I was active all of high school with dance, and never really got seriously injured.
4 months after my initial injury I got sent for an x-ray. They found that when I got injured something happened with my discs in my spine. Long story short, after a CT scan it was determined that I have a herniated disc and 4 bulging discs in my lower back. Essentially this means that the gel in between my vertebrae is constantly under pressure. When the gel leaks or bursts the disc becomes herniated, and it can cause nerve damage.
The only thing that can be done to reinflate my discs was surgery or spinal decompression. Surgery was out of the question due to my age and the complications that can result. So, I tried spinal decompression 3 times a week where my back was stretched out on a table by a machine. Unfortunately, I had little results. For 6 months I went through constant physio and chiro to try to make me more comfortable; again I had little success.
In May of 2017, 10 months after I was injured, I finally started laser therapy. I had never been recommended it but decided it couldn’t hurt. It’s administered by a chiropractor and is painless. Miraculously, it worked and reduced my pain significantly. Although my discs are still bulging, I am so much more comfortable.
That being said, when I was diagnosed I was told I’d never be able to hike, carry anything heavy, or basically do anything where I would be straining my back. At only 18 it was devastating to know I would be restricted for the rest of my life. Despite this news, after my laser therapy, I really wanted to go back to the gym. I think in this day and age it was especially hard because social media is filled with fit girls and fitness accounts. It was really hard to compare myself to my friends and know that I would never be able to work out the way they do and see the same results.
Yet, at 18 there was no way I would just let my young body go to waste, so I started researching. I found there was little out there regarding ways to modify workouts for an injury. However, after some of my own trial and error and lengthy research, I found somethings that work for me that I’d like to share. These are simple ways that I got my body active again, and ways I try to incorporate a normal fitness routine. I think its important to talk about people with injuries because I feel like we are a population who are always forgotten in the fitness world.
1. Stretch: Stretching just loosens everything up, and allows for more mobility. When your muscles are loose, you strain yourself less. I always start any workout with a full body stretch, and then specifically target my back with a cool down stretch at the end. I also try to workout at home even if I’m not working out, just to strength my back and get my muscles moving a bit.
2. Walk: Before I could start heading to the gym, I walked. It was a good way to get me up and moving to get some stamina back. Although walking can be high-impact, taking it slowly reduces the risks. I did not walk far but made sure I got out a few times a day to keep the blood flowing.
3. Voltaren: Voltaren I think is what has really allowed me to be active again. It is an anti-inflammatory gel that really helps to relax muscles and eliminate any soreness or tightness. I’ve forgotten to put it on a few times before any physical activity, and I really noticed the difference. It lets me stretch more, and I feel less strain after the gym. It is also super great for at home when I am in more pain than normal. It soothes pain almost instantly.
4. Low–Impact Cardio: Pre-injury my main exercises at the gym were all cardio, as it was what my body was the most accustomed to, and showed the most results. However, running and stairs can put a lot of pressure on your body from the weight of your body. Instead, I try to focus on biking and the elliptical. Yes, biking is boring, but for back injuries, it is great because it targets the right areas while allowing your upper body and back to relax. The elliptical is a little more advanced as your whole body is engaged, but as your feet stay planted it doesn’t put as much strain on your body.
5. Resistance Bands: The worst part about my injury has been seeing fitness girls on Instagram showing off all their weight exercises. Good for them, heartbreaking for me. Instead, to modify workouts I have fell in love with resistance bands. They can be ordered in packs with multiple levels of resistance, so you can customize it your particular needs. It makes my workouts more challenging but again is less traumatic than weights on my body.
I think the biggest thing to remember with an injury is just to listen to your body. It is so easy to compare yourself to others, but self-growth is the most important.
If anyone has any further suggestions I’d love to hear them.