Insight Gained From Pain and Deferred Maintenance

I think it started a year and a half ago when I adopted a husky mix puppy with an incredible gift for pulling, intent on making him my running buddy. Or perhaps it was the time I was playing soccer with friends and one guy took it too seriously, knocking me to the ground. It also could have been that recent fall on my seat — and that’s all I’ll say about that incident.

The Injury

Whatever the actual cause, it’s been a rough year for my lower back — and while I’ve been able to continue long distance running through most of it — that ended with the aforementioned incident nearly seven weeks ago. It caused a pinched nerve in my lumbar spine, leaving me with intense sciatic pain and a completely numb foot.

As I sit here today, I’m not yet out of the woods but the pain is nearly gone, feeling has almost completely returned to my foot, and I was finally able to run two extremely slow miles the other day. I still have a ways to go but it feels like a victory.

The Recovery

Thinking back on this recovery process, here are the things I’ve done that have aided my rehabilitation:

  • Rest and sleep
  • Walking
  • Ice
  • Heat
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Foam roller (actually I don’t think this one helped)
  • Multiple doctor visits with X-rays and MRI
  • Chiropractor
  • Low Level Light Therapy
  • Sleeping with a body pillow
  • Increasing mattress firmness
  • Acupuncture

But there’s more to this story.

The Real Cause: Deferred Maintenance

I’ve been running 3-4 days per week for more than 10 years. Early on I was a faithful subscriber to Runners World Magazine and thus closely followed their recommendation to also do some form of strength training and stretching in addition to running. As life got busy, those “extra” activities peeled off and I was left with running.

For the past few years I’ve said more than once, “I need to work on my core.” That typically coincides with those times where my back doesn’t feel good but then simmers down when things return to normal.

And while I could say that I’m too busy to work out, the truth is that I simply haven’t prioritized it. Perhaps it’s the inconvenience of added discipline, or the discomfort of learning something new, or simply doing a somewhat painful activity that I don’t particularly enjoy.

As I’ve reflected on this experience and the conviction that my current predicament is at least partially my own fault, I had a realization.

How easily we forget that getting stronger requires some level of pain.

I’ve also realized that I’m fortunate in this situation to have some choice in the matter when many people deal with chronic pain every day. I have a choice to maintain the status quo where weak muscles will occasionally and unpredictably spasm in my lower back, taking me out of commission for days and even weeks. Making this choice could potentially make the pain worse over time. Or I can choose to consistently stretch and strengthen and hopefully prevent injury and get stronger in the process.

What are you deferring?

Perhaps it is time to take inventory of the maintenance we’re deferring in our careers, relationships, products, customer experiences, etc. Carefully weigh the pain of addressing the issue now rather than deferring it until later. Is it worth it?

It’s with this in mind that I head to my first yoga class, hoping that this bit of “maintenance” will bring about future health and prevent future injury. Wish me luck!

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