Several weeks ago I hurt my lower back to the point where I had to cease my normal workout regimen and was forced to rest. It was a case of intense inflammation, so much so that it spread to my front body. Sitting/lounging on the couch and standing (without medication) became painful. Light walks, myofascial release and stretching relieved it temporary, but ibuprofen was my saviour.
In the beginning of its manifestation, I had just returned from my weeklong trip to California to celebrate my aunt’s wedding (congratulations Tita Marilyn!), and could not figure how I had strained it. I know exhaustion was definitely a factor, as I was jetlagged and was staying up late bonding with the family and practicing our surprise flashmob dance with my cousins for the wedding (which turned out amazing. Check it out here. I was also doing bodyweight workouts and longer hill sprints in Cali, but nothing out of my ordinary routine – I was properly warming up before workouts and stretching post-workouts. In addition, upon my arrival home, I structured my work schedule to not allow myself to experience the jet lag; I figured I would rather be out and about training clients and doing promo work instead of feeling the jet lag lethargy and the post-famjam blues.
My speculation is that I initially pulled it from repeat midnight dance rehearsals. Sounds silly and a knock to my ego – I can pull 205lb off the ground with a healthy low back, but I strain my lower back from whipping my hair too hard in rehearsal? Haha. Oops.
This leads me to the five lessons that I learned from this short-lived injury I had:
Lesson #1: Injury often happens when we are not self-aware or present
The times where I have injured myself happen when I am not lifting heavy or doing technically challenging movements (that require my full intention) in the gym, but in my daily life doing various tasks when I am in autopilot mode. Ironic isn’t it? This is because we tend to be aware of our form and are more cautious in a controlled environment (e.g. the gym), but sometimes in our daily activities we don’t think twice about carrying a heavy object or awkwardly picking up a young child with improper form.
The one time I strained my right biceps was not from biceps curls or anything gym-related, it was from sitting in my car and awkwardly reaching back to grab my (heavy) purse/gym bag and whipping it to the front seat. Interestingly enough, I was not aware at the time that it happened. I was Crossfitting regularly and noticed it, but intuitively knew that I didn’t incur this injury from a workout, because none of my movements hurt my biceps, but I did feel the pain when I stretched it. I couldn’t figure out how it happened. It wasn’t until I reenacted the purse/gym bag reach awhile later that I felt the pain and Eureka! I discovered how it happened.
Lesson #2: Your body needs rest
Respect your body; it is so good to you works so hard to keep you healthy and at homeostasis. Showing some self-compassion and giving it what it needs (rest, light mobility and stretching) is vital to an efficient and proper recovery.
This can be a tough one especially if you are an exercise enthusiast, athlete, etc., and exercise-induced endorphins are your happy drug (they are definitely mine). The whole point of exercising is to strengthen, improve and enjoy your body, but if you are injured and in pain you will be adding insult to injury, as exercise is a stressor. If I did not rest, I knew proper recovery was going to be compromised (i.e. possibly prolonging the injury) and my adrenals would not appreciate it.
Lesson #3: Acceptance and patience
For the week that my back was inflamed, I was not sure what was going on. I was fearful at first that it was my kidneys because it did not feel like normal low back muscle pain (the type that you get when you do deadlifts for the first time in a long time). Then I discovered it was “just” inflammation, but I was still concerned and very conscious on not further aggravating it and letting my body heal on its own. Surprisingly, I did not get frustrated or antsy that I could not crush my normal intense exercise regime; I just wanted to heal. Thus, acceptance came remarkably easy (I guess being worried trumps being frustrated on my spectrum of emotions), and patience wasn’t too hard to generate either since I was praying and very hopeful that it would heal properly and quickly (and thankfully, it did).
Lesson #4: Adjust your calories accordingly
Although an injured sedentary body is burning more calories (think of all of the nutrients that your body is sending and utilizing to that part of the body to induce healing) than a normal healthy sedentary body, I know my caloric maintenance was still lower compared to my normal fully functioning active lifestyle. Thus, I adjusted my calories accordingly so I would not undo any of the fat loss progress I have done these last couple of months; I followed to my hunger cues and used My Fitness Pal to track my food intake. As mentioned in a previous blog post about tracking my macros, what gets measured gets managed, and for myself, I find using My Fitness Pal makes it seamless.
Lesson #5: Gratitude
Last but certainly not least, gratitude. This flare up gave me a very quick glimpse and immense appreciation and empathy towards people who live with chronic pain. Wow, it is not easy. To have pain be on the forefront of your mind is quite distracting and having it inhibit your normal daily activities is humbling. Even while I was in the midst of my flare up, I had so much gratitude to all the other times that I get to move, run, lift, play, downward dog, flow pain-free. What we take for granted sometimes! Take home lesson: If you are currently living pain-free and sometimes lack the motivation to make it to the gym or cannot seem to get yourself outside to run, remember that movement is a gift, especially pain-free movement. There are people out there who would give anything to have your healthy body and exercise with it!
Have you ever experienced an injury? How did you cope? What did you learn?
Let me know in the comments.