I Pulled My Back on NYE!

So first up, happy New Year ... and what an embarrassing start to it for an Alexander Technique teacher it has been ...  I put my lower back out larking about with a friend's son on New Years Eve! He was much heavier than I realised and as I lifted him high over my head I went too far and started going backwards with the momentum and over extended my back. Just one of those silly things. I know I teach embodied mindfulness, but I have to be realistic and accept we all lose ourselves in the moment from time to time. That's life! And the human condition to a greater or lesser degree. Hopefully I'm learning to reduce that through the Alexander Technique, in fact, I'm confident that I am, but still ...


It was agony! And debilitating, had to walk very slowly and carefully. We were at a children's theatre at the time and I managed to sit through the performance without exacerbating things thanks to the simple idea of thinking of sitting as standing on my bottom. Saved me from curving my spine and putting extra pressure on it. I also found I was able to lower myself to the chair in the first place without trouble, but with great care, as that's all in the ankles, knees and hip joints.  But I'd still frozen up by the end of the performance, took a couple of minutes of moving about gently to feel confident of walking any distance. This was good food for thought, it really made me consider the manner of my use rather than just the conditions (quality) of use (I'll leave you to ponder that). I might be a more relaxed proponent of the Alexander Technique than some and so tend towards the latter. But not on this day!


We had a table booked at a restaurant after the theatre, thankfully only round the corner, but I still decided to find a chemist and get some Ibruprofen and a heat pack. I wanted all the help I could to get me through the day. It took all my skill to walk a few minutes to the chemist and back with poise, but other than a couple of spasms that caused me to stop for a moment to regain my composure, I made it back to the restaurant without major mishap.  Where I immediately ordered  a beer. Well it was New Years Eve! And after a second beer and a bit of walking around the restaurant with my two-year old I was beginning to feel a bit more confident. Now, I'm not recommending alcohol in these situations, but this was my observation at the time: you probably know that alcohol is a muscle relaxant, and obviously a mental one too, so what I found was that I was less reactive to the fear and worry that I might cause myself further pain by moving.  Dutch courage!


I see this all the time in my teaching, the unproven expectation of pain is enough to set off all the protective mechanisms that are displayed by tensing (especially the neck muscles that then pull the head off balance upsetting the whole postural reflex), and this is the very thing that then sets off the pain!  Ultimately, we heal, and we heal faster if we don't interfere with ourselves, the desire to overly protect an injury can become a habit that actually interferes with the healing process and can even cause secondary issues by creating new habits of tension.


The expectation of pain is a strong stimulus to react, I found I could just about keep my composure getting to the restaurant, but those two beers made it much easier. Having said that, had I drunk anymore and started to lose any coordination it would have been a very slippery slope. I also surprised myself by being able to go into a full squat, which really helped to open up and release my lower back. Again, squatting, like sitting is a matter of ankles, knees and hip joints and need not put pressure on the lower back, quite the opposite in fact.


The journey home included a half mile walk and despite walking around like the proverbial old man a few hours earlier the walk loosened me up nicely. So lesson one, keep moving. Also, as I would professionally expect, any attempt to protect my back with "good posture" only exacerbated it due to the muscular tension from "trying". But keeping it free by not reacting to it and keeping my head freely balanced had me walking at my usual pace. It took skill though, a slight deviation in "alignment" could be quite painful. But the skill of poise beats "correct posture" every time. 


Once home though it was great to finally be able to lie down in Constructive Rest/semi-supine on the floor for half an hour or so. It's a great way to take the pressure off and let the back and neck muscles fully relax. We were spending New Years Eve at home, so it was easy to take the rest of the afternoon and evening easy and just rest up. Although I was worried I would freeze up over night in bed and I wouldn't be able to get up in the morning.


Which I did! But nowhere nearly as bad as I was expecting, and after a lovely hot soak in the bath I was able to move about freely again. Still needed to be careful though, but at least I had the skills to do so. Took it easy in the morning then went to the cinema (Rogue One, if you're curious) which included a ten minute walk. Although very sore with the potential to be painful if I wasn't careful I got through the day without mishap and rejuvenated myself in the evening with some more Constructive Rest and squatting for short periods. 


Come Monday morning I was feeling much improved and knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. We took our kids (two and five years old) to the playground but didn't feel confident to push them on the swings or roundabout, or help lift them down when they got stuck up climbing frames. It was a lot of standing about though and by the end of the day I felt I'd over done it a little bit.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing, I'm a great believer that we heal to function and not to form. This is why doctors now encourage people to move as soon as possible after an injury,  lying around only encourages healing enough to lie around! Use it or lose it, as they say. So by giving my healing mechanism a good signal that I need more from it to help me function fully it knew to crack on with the job.


The ability to travel from standing to squatting and stop at any point in between has  been a real bonus for whenever I need to bend down/over for any reason. We call these positions of mechanical advantage (manner!) in the Alexander Technique, or more colloquially, a Monkey (F.M.Alexander, the originator of the Technique, wasn't fond of this term, but it stuck as it's snappier than the alternative). Whether to wash my hands, I'm tallish and sinks are always low to me, pick something up, or even going from standing to sitting and vice a versa, remembering the movement is in the legs rather than the torso kept me functioning.


By Tuesday and Wednesday I was able to look after the kids all day without trouble, still a bit tender, but could carry my youngest without fear. I shied away from horse play with my eldest and a couple of her friends, I wasn't out of the woods just yet.


Come Thursday I was back to teaching, and thanks to my work encouraging me to be really on top of my game in the way I use myself I totally forgot about the injury. After work I went and collected my eldest from her after-school play date. Normally I give her a shoulder ride on the way home but decided to take her scooter and tow her back. This wasn't just common sense, I didn't quite have the confidence for it either.


Friday morning, six days after the accident, still a little sore but functionally sound. I imagine I'll be more considerate of the manner of my use at all times for a while longer. 


Saturday, one week after the accident, I managed to vacuum the house from top to bottom, including the stairs, with no trouble. There's a slight hint of discomfort, I can tell there's history there, but I don't feel any need to be careful about it beyond generally being mindful of my use as a matter of self-responsibility. All in all I'm really happy with my recovery. I know from experience that this is the sort of thing that's caused clients to struggle for months, and even years, before coming to me for help.

"Pain makes people change, but also makes them stronger" - unknown

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