In 2012, I was living and working as a ski instructor in Australia when I took a wrong turn on the mountain and experienced the sharpest, worst pain in my life. On a scale of 1-10, this was an instant 15, and I honestly had no idea what to do. Fortunately, however, this was an on-the-job injury in a country with much stronger worker compensation protocols, so while I lost almost two weeks of pay, I didn’t have to pay for the medical evaluations, physical therapy, or prescriptions that would have cost me more money than I earned over those three months.
It did, however, mark the beginning of a long, hard slog of chronic back, neck and shoulder pain that I’ve been dealing with ever since, not to mention the headaches. The initial recovery period however – the time it took to go from essentially unable to move a muscle to basically (if painfully) mobile and able to go back to work – was just shy of two weeks.
In the three and a half years since, I’ve found physical therapists and chiropractors on three continents, tried everything from deep tissue massage to acupuncture, and finally settled into something of a pain control regimen. Between daily strengthening exercises to prevent back and neck pain and pharmaceutical solutions to the chronic headaches, I have managed to turn my constant and sometimes debilitating pain into a regular but manageable nuisance. I’ve learned the nuances of my back and neck pain and can tell when a stiffness is best treated with heat or ice. I’ve worked with enough experts to know when lower back pain is a lower back issue and when it is a result of muscle tension or spine misalignment somewhere higher up. I’ve mastered the art of keeping my spine aligned by bettering my posture, but also by learning the exact order to tighten certain muscles in certain positions to bring things back to normal. I’ve resumed skiing and dancing, rejoined sports teams and even signed up for an aerial silks course. (Yes, Mother. I joined the circus.)
And then it struck again. As class was ending on Friday, I felt a familiar jolt of pain in my lower back that meant I wasn’t moving for a while. I slowly bent myself into child’s pose and tried to stretch the back muscles out even as they were spasming. I carefully stood up and painfully got dressed and took an hour longer to get home than normal.
I cancelled my plans and found my heating packs. Spent the evening lying on my back, with a lacrosse ball rolling slowly along either side of my spine, putting painful (the good kind of pain!) pressure on my muscles to work out the tension. I slept with my knees bent over a pile of a half dozen pillows, and repeated the heat/massage/heat/stretch routine again this morning.
Unlike last time, when I was on opioids for a week, I didn’t take any pain killers today, and although I took a lot of ibuprofen last night, it was as much for the anti-inflammatory effects as the pain-killing ones.
Unlike last time, when the pain was so bad that I couldn’t focus on anything for days, I wrote two essays today.
Unlike last time, when I didn’t get off the floor unless absolutely necessary, I met friends in a coffee shop today, and then went out for drinks tonight.
Unlike last time, when I had no idea what was going on or how to fix it, I have the tools to relieve the pain and to mostly address the underlying issue.
I’ve just finished a half hour of rolling more tension out of my back, and I’m currently lying on my heating pad. When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be doing it all again. But then tomorrow at noon I’ll be performing in a tap show, and though I know it will be painful, nothing bad will come of it.