Category Archives: Back pain

Loosening the ties….

Capture!

(Photo credit: TeaWithBuzz)

Chronic Pain can feel like a strait jacket, especially if your body is held to ransom with muscle spasms, muscle tightness and a fragility which means a wrong move or knock can have a massive effect. Not only is your body held to ransom but you are mentally held by the same ties. Care free is a long way off. Life is black and white with occasional flashes of colour.

In the past when I have tried to do exercises, even gentle physio led ones I have come to grief. The last time resulted in a herniated disc (is this because I was shearing the disc through twisting due to it being under such pressure bought on by muscle tension/spasm?). However now I feel I have reduced the muscle spasms and tightness through my vertebral column. So simple but so effective. I can bend and move in ways I could only dream of before with confidence that nothing sinister will happen. The ties are loosening…

I wrote previously I would update the blog on how I personally was doing. I am starting to go through Sarah Key’s extensive body of work on joints in the body. The book title is ‘Keep your Joints Young’ in the UK and I think ‘The Body in Action’ on the other side of the world. In previous posts I have written about doing spinal rolling, reverse curl ups, knees rocking and the back block routine. I am now adding in some other exercises such as child pose, legs passing, segmental pelvic bridging, squatting, floor twists (gingerly!) and really getting in with the tennis ball to get those rusty facet joints moving. I’ve also had fun going through the other joint exercises to see which joints are stiff and which are fine. Toes are looking good…! I gained a lot of information in one morning. Less than a year ago I couldn’t have dreamed of doing any of this.

മലയാളം: വെള്ളിലത്തോഴി എന്ന ശലഭം

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am thankful to have found the things that make a real and lasting difference. Maybe one day I can be free of that jacket and emerge as myself, changed yes but hopefully more butterfly than caterpillar.

Advertisements

Learning the Alexander Technique and having lessons

I have been contacted by a number of people interested in the Alexander Technique. If it’s your New Year resolution to look into or perhaps start lessons then it may be of use to describe the sort of things I experienced when taking my lessons. Having said that, each person’s experience will be different due to the way in which we all use our bodies differently and any inherent weaknesses we may have, so you are in no means necessarily going to experience similar things, but you may! This is a link to the STAT website (The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) which gives further information and a directory of your local area teachers. Also to the right of the page are links on the ‘blogroll’ to NHS trials to do with back or neck pain. There are sometimes trials to do with the Alexander Technique so its worth checking out to see if there are any in your area.

Alexander technique

Alexander technique (Photo credit: alanpfitch)

I was recommended the Alexander Technique by my mother-in-law. Having found a teacher in my local area I spoke with her and was told that she could help me with the horrendous muscle spasms I was having and my back pain in general. At that stage I could only hope as I had tried many other things and was naturally sceptical of any claims for solutions to these problems.

My scepticism carried on for some time despite my wonderful teacher. Could something so gentle and relaxing actually do anything? I did however have the advantage of believing in a mind/body link, i.e. your mind can affect what your body experiences. To me this is fairly obvious. If we feel stressed we may get a headache or stiff shoulders or neck or our tummy may feel upset. We haven’t done anything physical to affect our body, its just how we feel has made an effect on our physical state. The Alexander Technique takes this much further as you would go on to experience should you take lessons.

However, you don’t need to believe it can work for it to work! That’s the beauty of it! I put into practice what I was being taught by my Alexander Technique teacher which meant I could then start to see the benefits and that in turn helped me to take further steps and be reconciled to the effectiveness of the technique.

Within the lessons as my posture changed the weight distribution altered on my feet. At the time I didn’t really understand this. I just felt pain in my feet and was fairly miserable about it…I always seemed to be chasing pain. However with encouragement from my teacher I understood it was temporary and took steps to ease the pain which included using a squash ball to roll under my instep and massage.

Another symptom was pain in my hands. Again, with the focus shifting from holding tension in my back, shoulders, arms etc. the tension found its way to my hands on the final way out of my body. With massage I could manage this pain and it was soon gone. It would be easy to be very worried about some of the areas which experience pain maybe for the first time but if you can view it in a way that your body is realigning itself to a more optimum state it is natural for this to happen. The areas/muscles which have been under used are utilised more and a period of readjustment of these muscles etc. will need to be gotten over. The best advice is not to panic! These physical symptoms actually helped me to believe something was happening and changing within my body!

I write about these things in particular as I haven’t seen much mention of this type of experience anywhere else and I know for me it was an important step to get over. These were the only ‘negative’ experiences of learning the technique and they were temporary and paled in comparison with the benefits I soon gained. My muscle spasms stopped (they had gotten to the stage of hospital admission and paralysis) completely and I learnt how to use my body in a more optimum way to reduce stress and strain on damaged areas. A truly life changing experience which continues on and will stay with me forever.

So in summary, learning the Alexander Technique was relaxing, empowering, interesting and most of all life changing. I can unhesitatingly recommend it and give it a full five stars!

Subtle awareness, is this one of the answers?

Alexander Technique

Alexander Technique (Photo credit: gordonplant)

How have I managed to move forward my recovery from chronic pain in such a dramatic way after two and a half long decades of pain and frustration. I now have the luxury of analysing the last 3 years and also the more recent past of 6 months using a mind which is clearer due to much less pain. Pain exhausts the mind as well as the body. Its only when you have less pain you can realise  how much your brain was otherwise engaged  However it’s rather difficult to explain. This subtlety is  definitely one for experiencing rather than just being made aware of it. Please bear with me whilst I attempt to explain!

I have explained in previous articles and posts how I used therapeutic massage for many years to cope with significant pain and to try to reduce its severity. I then layered on learning the Alexander Technique which stopped the life draining muscle and whole body spasms. I then was able to start moving my body with well targeted Sarah Key exercises without fear of injury. What thread ties these three techniques together? Was the order of the use of these techniques important?

We constantly use our bodies even when we sleep (how many of us wake up with a stiff neck from sleeping in an awkward position?). I have found its only when you become intricately aware of how your body is at any one time that you can then go on to modify and adapt your bodies state. This is done by addressing any problems you may be experiencing or preferably stop any problems in the first place. In other words, if you know what the problem is you can do something about it before it gets too bad! The trick is how do you get this knowledge, how do you know what the problem is or what contributes to the problem?

In all three techniques we have the opportunity to understand the subtleties of our body and how it reacts when used and at rest. The Alexander Technique however stands out more than the others due to its focus on the intricacies of movement. The person being taught the technique learns how to become aware of things which are so subtle that in ordinary day to day life they wouldn’t normally register in their conscious mind. When learning the techniques developed by Frederick Alexander the client’s mind is busy with all it must consider. When the technique becomes more learnt and ingrained then consideration of this subtle awareness takes no more than a blink of an eye or a random thought.

For example when out walking I may think about keeping my arms through to my finger tips relaxed and heavy by my sides, look at how I am holding my head, assess the tension in my legs and lower back, analyse how I am walking and determine how ‘lightly’ I am moving. Three years after learning the Alexander Technique I can do this with a flutter of my eyelids, no longer and no more effort than that.

I also believe that having become more aware of the subtleties of my own condition it enabled me to have the best outcome possible with a technique such as Physiotherapy (Sarah Key’s) due to my awareness of what my body was doing. It enabled me not to overdo specific exercises and to fully feel the effect of each one. This helped me tailor my own regime of exercise, rest and stretches.

You may call it becoming more body aware, self aware etc. There are no doubt other ways of doing this to a lesser or greater degree. I have found the Alexander Technique worked for me, there may be other ways but however it’s done it can bring rewards which stay with you forever.

How do I care for my back daily?

Afternoon sun shower

(Photo credit: David T Jones)

So let’s get specific. Hopefully the techniques I have described in the rest of the blog are applicable to most people, with each person adapting them as required for themselves. However I wanted to give you an idea of the sort of things I do day-to-day to give some more specific ideas of some sort of routine which you can adapt for yourself.

In the morning, before getting out of bed I stretch/elongate in a balanced way. After a warm shower I will do some spinal rolling (Sarah Key exercise), a small amount of back ironing and if sciatica is a problem, have a check with the tennis ball for any sensitive areas in my back which I know aggravate my sciatica. I then massage on those areas (usually the same side of my spine as the sciatic pain) with the tennis ball. All this takes at the most 5 mins.

In the day, usually by some time in the afternoon I need to spend 10 – 20 mins lying down to take the pressure off the discs in the lower back. I use semi-supine for this (an Alexander Technique position). I also add a bit of back ironing if my lower back is a bit tight. Obviously this depends if I have access to an area to lie down! If I can’t lie down then Sarah Key has a good squatting technique. I will use the Alexander Technique throughout the day as a background to my activities (this means I will try to use my body as effectively as I can to reduce any tension and stress on all areas of it)

Before bed, its more back ironing, tennis ball checking and massage, exercises from Sarah Key (spinal rolling, reverse curl-ups) and if my back is relaxed I will try Sarah’s Back Block routine to try to help feed my discs. If things have flared up then I use semi-supine for 10- 20 mins. Anywhere between a total of 10 and 30 mins of treatment depending on time available and how my back is feeling. Each day will therefore be a little different depending on what activities I have been doing and how my overall well-being is.

In time I hope to be able to add more of Sarah Key’s exercises to help my lower back further and also try some of her exercises for other joints in the body. Sarah Key also gives details in her books of a 30 min daily exercise plan.

Layer onto this some walking, swimming and hopefully in time further sport/exercise and it combines to make life much more comfortable! Try seeing what works for you!

Looking back to move forward

I tell people I am in a different place now – totally different! I can see their confusion but they politely say ‘that’s great’. I know they have no concept of my own situation and actually that’s fine. I’m glad I have kept the darkest times to myself or at least to the closest family.

Remember Reality

(Photo credit: Pensiero)

There are still times that I could class a day as ‘bad’ (now very rarely – thankfully!). How bad are they really? I have to remember my life before to put these days in context and then to move on with a spring in my step.

I have to remember missing weeks of university in my first year due to the original injury to my back. I have to remember flying from Japan to the UK in such pain I begged the crew to let me lie down on the floor but was not allowed so spent the 12 hrs in torment. I have to remember walking through deep snow and not being able to move from a bent position. I have to remember the subsequent  journey by car down the hill which was excruciating. I have to remember coping with a first job with acute sciatica and prolapsed discs. I have to remember not knowing if I could walk down the aisle to be married. I have to remember not being able to pick up my baby. I have to remember trying to function with three prolapsed discs in my neck. I have to remember the glint in the surgeon’s eye. I have to remember every holiday being in pain through travel or different beds. I have to remember all the cancelled events or holidays due to paralysis through spasms. I have to remember not being able to do my favourite sports. I have to remember each car journey being a trial. I have to remember not wanting to sit down and stop due to the pain. I have to remember the pain through the night. I have to remember the hospital procedures, scans and treatments. I have to remember the fog of medications. I have to remember not being able to continue this way. I have to remember the raw, unimaginable pain. I have to remember not knowing where to turn or who to trust. I have to remember being told that I have to live with it. I have to remember the smile I tried to wear.

Reading other people’s blogs, website and stories and listening to people has reminded me of these times. I am thankful I do not live them anymore. I understand that it’s useful to look back occasionally, not to dwell or to self pity but to understand how far forward I have really come. I conquered the maze by luck – sadly there are many ‘dead-ends’ out there with people suffering in them. My pain now is that other’s suffer this way when there is an alternative.