I always loved fitness, but the one thing that motivated me to become a professional more than anything else was pain. I remember my physical therapist telling me that I was too young to have back pain and if I wasn’t careful, my spine would just keep getting damaged. He didn’t tell me what being careful entailed. Does being careful mean staying in bed and never running again or lifting my baby boy again? I loved to run and I honestly wondered if I would ever be able to do it ever again.
I had no idea what was causing the pain, but having a background in mindfulness made me look back at all the times in my life when my back was healthy. Coincidentally, these were the times that I was consistently fit. The times when my back was in the worst shape were the times when I was the least fit or had a sit down job. Since all other health options weren’t working, I decided to get fit again. This was not easy. I had a bad back. I started by just doing my physical therapy and some low impact cardio like walking or light aerobics. After a while, the pain subsided but it still came and went. It turned out I had two degenerated discs in my lower back. The best advice anyone could give me was a physical therapist who was also a pilates instructor. She told me to keep moving and stay fit. She said if I wasn’t opting for surgery, my best bet was to strengthen the muscles that protect my spine.
What made the back pain permanently vanish? Well, that’s quite a journey. I became a fitness expert. I learned how muscles and bones worked. I learned that there were specific muscles in my core, hips and even shoulders that weren’t working right. For example, my tight shoulders caused me to have to overly arch my back in order to stand up straight. I can now spot this in my clients or students instinctively. Sure, I was told I had degenerated discs in my lumbar spine but re-establishing mobility in my tight shoulders took a huge burden off my back.
Some muscles of my hips were much more flexible or stronger than others. In fact, it turned out I had a very strong core but was overcompensating, using my back to do all the work because I had weaknesses in my legs and butt. My core wasn’t weak. It was overburdened by taking all the weight my hips couldn’t bare. I also had very tight hip flexors which pulled on my back.
I want to share this with you because I’ve seen a trend in our health care system. Insurance companies only pay therapists to work on the “one” body part that needs it. So, if your back is in pain because you have tight shoulders, you’ll get a lot of therapy for your lower back when you should be opening your shoulders. This is only an example. My knowledge in corrective exercise has taught me that it could be your feet or gluts causing pain in your knees, hips or even back, yet our health system is structured to focus on one muscle group at a time.
Unfortunately, like obesity, the greatest cure can’t be taken overnight. If you have surgery, it might cure a skeletal issue but if you don’t keep your muscles strong, that part of your body will just get re-injured. If you use liposuction to suck out your fat, but continue to eat more than you are burning, that fat will creep back on. The only pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to lose weight only work along with “diet and exercise”. We can cleanse the damage we do to our heart, blood and organs by detoxing on a high vegetable diet, but if we go back to our old way of eating, those problems come right back. We need to start getting real about how we maintain our health.
These days I’m back to doing all the things I love. I run, practice martial arts, jump and hike. But I also keep up a steady practice of muscle strengthening and stretching. The frailty of old age happens when we lose muscle and bone but all of this can be prevented if we take proper care of ourselves. My job requires me to be in top athletic condition and I sometimes get little tweeks in my knees, or other joints, but the good news is that I know what to do if these obstacles arise and they are usually ironed out in a few days. I’m currently in the best shape of my life because I’ve taken the time to address my weaknesses and work out smart.