Nicole Tsong has found that her old method — rest, ice, wait until it feels better — isn’t really cutting it anymore.
THE PAIN STARTED in the middle of the night. The spasms in my mid-back were so excruciating, the pain woke me up.
The next day, I thought walking around would help. It did not. The pain was so intense — moving to shoot up and under my ribs — it made me nauseated. I went home as soon as I could, and lay on the couch.
It didn’t feel better.
I had felt twinges earlier in the week during backsquats at weightlifting. But after using a roller, the spasms disappeared, so I assumed my body had taken care of things. I lifted again a few days later, and woke up the next day with my worst injury in years.
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Since my last injury four years ago, my approach to healing has changed. Previously, I rested, iced and waited until it felt better.
Now, I know better. I call on professionals, ASAP.
I went first to Sam Hammer, an orthopedic massage therapist, who luckily had an opening that day. I hobbled into his office, my back hurting so much I could barely walk. He noted I had twisted a couple of vertebrae in my mid-back. The body doesn’t like when your spine is out of alignment, he said.
Hammer worked on the immediate muscle spasms in my obliques and ribs. I asked what would happen if I didn’t deal with it now. He said this is the sort of injury that can lead to herniated discs. Yikes. I set up another appointment.
That night, my back still seized. My lifting coach recommended heat and tennis balls to roll on. I soon was clutching my heating pad like a toddler with a blankie, unwilling to go anywhere without the soothing heat. I rolled my back in the middle of the night to ease the pain. I took mild painkillers, but those provided only temporary relief.
As the days dragged on, I wondered whether I would feel strong again. I had renewed compassion for people suffering from debilitating injuries. I had to remind myself I wouldn’t feel this way forever.
I floated in saltwater to relieve the tension in my back, and I kept making more appointments. I went to an acupuncturist and basked in his heat lamp after he popped needles in my back and legs. In my second session with Hammer, he observed that an old head injury from college likely had impacted my vision, moved into my neck, torqued my rib cage, and created stiffness and weakness in my mid-back. Layer in a couple rounds of less-than-optimal squatting technique, and there was my injury.
Hammer also recommended I see a chiropractor to get adjusted.
I wondered many times whether the time and money I spent — and I was grateful to have the finances and good health care to take care of myself — would make any difference. I could barely cook dinner, let alone work.
But seven days in, a miracle happened: I slept through the night. In the morning, the pain had lessened. A day later, it was almost gone. I wanted to jump for joy, except that wouldn’t have been smart.
I cautiously went back to yoga, then light lifting. I went to the chiropractor, and she adjusted my back, ribs and neck, and worked on my squat technique. Afterward, I felt like I could breathe better.
We all have funky movement patterns accumulated over the years. When you use your body intensely, weaknesses show up, Hammer said. I feel sure this injury helped me move on from previous unhealthy movement patterns.
I can’t say I was happy to be injured, but I am grateful for what I learned about healing and my body — and I am ecstatic to sleep through the night.