Oh, My Aching Back

I’ve had a miserable week. Every muscle in my back went into spasm and refused to let go. There was no comfortable position, not standing, not sitting and not lying down. Sleep? Forget it. Fifteen minutes maximum before I had to change positions. Even muscle relaxants had no effect. 

Now, there isn’t a writer alive who hasn’t experienced back pain at one time or another. Many, like Jane Friedman have written about it. The web is full of recommendations for exercises, ergonomics, stretches, treadmill desks, physiotherapy, massage and snake oil. I’ve had that kind of back pain. The kind where some stretches, or a gentle walk will ease it. Movement is definitely a go-to response for muscle tension.

This time, though, the pain was different. There was no stretch that touched it. It didn’t come from my hamstrings or my quads or my sacroiliac. And it didn’t start while I was at the computer. It came on gradually as I spent a few days in the kitchen. I processed a ton of zucchini and buckets of blackberries. We have enough soup to last the whole winter, not to mention baking and quiche. My shelves of preserves are sagging with summer’s goodness.

And my aching back is killing me!

 

I hope you’re feeling sorry for me now. 🙂 However, the point of this blog is not to generate sympathy, although that is nice. No, I thought I’d share some of my coping mechanisms for anyone else who has gone into total back spasm.

  • The first thing to know is that movement is your friend. Any movement. Walk up the stairs, walk out to the garden, deadhead a few flowers, go to the mailbox. Nothing too strenuous but anything that puts the body in motion.
  • intervals. No more than fifteen minutes in any one position. So, fifteen minutes at the computer, fifteen minutes at the stove, fifteen minutes lying on the floor with your legs elevated. Even if the position feels good to begin with, you can’t stay there. Those back muscles are really good at knotting up again.
  • Heat. A heating pad may help, but it can also aggravate. If you lie on a hot lump, your back muscles are apt to protest even more strenuously. Try to get a very thin heating pad if you want to use one.
  • Massage. I have a massaging chair. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it, but even there, too much does more harm than good. I only used the gentle, rolling cycle. No thumping or tapping. And not for very long.
  • Complain, loudly. Everyone will avoid you and you can wallow in your misery.

  But, you say, I’m on deadline.  First off, be thankful there is an editor/reader/publisher/ agent who cares enough about your work to give you a deadline. Then figure out how to put the words on the page in short bursts.

Notice I said words on the page.

  • A lot of writing consists of thinking. You can do that in any position.
  • You can read or listen to audio books. Other people’s words can jolt loose your own.
  • You can jot notes to yourself while standing at the counter.
  • You can compose scenes in your head, so when you have that fifteen minute splurge at the computer the words will fly off the ends of your fingers.
  • Remember the “starving artist” meme, and revel in your aching back. Maybe all that discomfort will bring a new level of truth to your words.
  • Describe in every agonizing detail what your pain feels like. Who knows, you might use that description in your thriller where the hero is tied up for long hours. 

I’m starting to feel better — thank you for asking. I’m grateful for the bounty of my garden and the preserves in my pantry. I’m grateful for my steamer and my canner and those stupid lids that won’t seal. A positive mind-set can reduce pain and stress.

Now, I’m off to practice gratitude by walking to the mailbox and back. 

Wishing you all a healthy back and the fruits of the garden.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Laura Langston

    Oh my, you have my sympathy and total understanding. Back pain can be truly debilitating. One other coping mechanism that you didn’t mention is ice. I don’t like it (I resisted it for some time) but in the early stages of inflammation, five minutes alternating ice and heat can make a difference. And here’s another tip: fill a water bottle half way with water. Lay it flat in the freezer (flat is important because you don’t want bumps) until it’s solid. Wrap it in a towel when you use it. It can go in and out of the freezer for as long as you need it. I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better. Gentle movement is good if it feels good, but don’t push yourself too hard or too soon. I know from experience the dire consequences of that!

    • Alice Valdal

      Thanks for the tip on a water bottle doubling as an ice pack. Like you, I often avoid the ice part of ice/heat therapy. It lacks the “comfort” component. Today I went on a 30 minute bike ride but avoided any uphill stretches. While waiting for my dh I made some notes on a plot dilemma that has stumped me for weeks. Hope your back is continuing to improve.

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