Light weights

A reporter throws out her back for the first time during a weightlifting session, takes a painkiller and loses a weekend to agony.

It finally happened.

I’ve gone and joined the club nobody wants to join: the I’ve Thrown My Back Out Club. Price of admission? Extreme pain. Lifelong membership? Not if I can help it.

Throughout the years, whenever I’ve heard people say they threw out their back, I’ve been perplexed. Whatever can this mean? And can you get your back, uh, back?

I turned to Google, where I always turn with random questions, i.e. “How much is too much for your new love interest to talk about his ex-girlfriend?” And “What cults exist in the U.S. today?” (All is well. I’m not joining a cult.)

Here’s the first result to my question: What does it mean to throw out your back?

From “Throwing out your back usually means you’ve strained the muscles in your back. Lifting heavy objects or bending forward in an awkward position are common muscle strain causes. The pain that muscle strain produces is usually right around your lower back and no further.”

That seems about right.

And further down: “Having strong back and core muscles can help reduce the likelihood you’ll throw out your back. Activities that can help you maintain a strong back while also promoting flexibility include Pilates, yoga and tai chi.”

Hmm. I like to think those muscles are pretty strong. I do yoga regularly, though I must admit, without a classroom setting over the past year, I’ve gotten pretty good at talking myself out of core work.

So how did I earn my unwanted club membership? Well, in film speak, the foreshadowing began a few weeks ago.

Scene of the crime, Part 1: our last snowstorm with all that thick, wet snow.

(Ext. shot) Our beguiling heroine is shoveling her back deck and sidewalk so her 11-pound dog won’t disappear in a drift. Everything seems fine until the next morning, when she awakens with a strange soreness cramping up and down the right-hand side of her torso and hip. Odd, she thinks, but surely nothing. It’ll go away. A few days later, tis but a memory.

Scene of the crime, Part 2: 24 Hour Fitness.

(Int. shot) Same enigmatic heroine, finishing a weightlifting session with single-leg deadlifts. This exercise has produced a few minor weird tweaks over the past year, making our girl think she should perhaps eliminate it, but thus far, she has chosen to ignore a potentially vital piece of information coming from her body. And now it’s Friday afternoon. She does eight reps on the right side and five on the left when scary, shooting pains, like nothing she’s ever felt, run every which way through her right low back, hip and upper thigh. She sets the weights down, limps out in terrific pain and goes home to panic.

This was the beginning of my weekend in Hades. Friday night I spiraled into a dark pit of despair: What did I just do to myself? Will it heal? Will I forever be unable to sit, walk or lie down without agonizing pain?

And sleep? Forget about it. I now know your low back and hip are connected in surprising ways to other parts of your body, which means there are no good ways to arrange your bones that don’t bring about pain. Cue the 3 a.m. face full of tears, followed by two hours of intermittent sleep on a recliner.

Something shifted the next morning, though. I could walk a bit better. The pain wasn’t quite as debilitating. I went for a slow dog walk to keep everything from getting stiff and then went to visit my brother, who’s been dealing with chronic pain since he was a teenager due to various injuries and accidents.

My sister-in-law tried to make me feel better by telling me she threw her low back out two years ago by yanking on a garden hose. Bless her. It worked. I felt a little less decrepit, being as she’s 5 years younger.

Live Well: Achieving wisdom spots on life’s rambling road

And being a good brother trying to take care of his sissy, he gave me advice (ice, heat, rest, Epsom salts bath) and two painkillers. I thought back to the Vicodin I once took after having my wisdom teeth pulled in my 20s. My body hated that med with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I vowed to never take a pain pill again. But maybe it would be different this time.

I took a painkiller Sunday morning. And guess what? My body rebelled. I’ll spare you the details, but never again will I take a pain med, even if I break every single bone in my body. Because here I am, still recovering on Monday afternoon as I sit at my kitchen table fighting off the nausea, with my hot water bottle crammed between my low back and the chair, about to make a phone call: Hello, AARP? Can you approve me for early admission?

Naturally, all of this happened one week from my birthday. Not a big birthday, per se. There aren’t any zeros in it. But still. Nothing like throwing out your back for the first time, followed by a birthday to make you reconsider, well, everything. But this also is to say I’m still grateful to have this birthday.

Because all of these occurrences have reminded me, yet again, that aging truly is a privilege, to listen to the whispers and banshee cries of my body and to get off my duff and do a plank or two.

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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