This image sums up my life 20 years and still learning from my two back surgeries. I feel the connection because most sharks literally can’t stop moving or they’ll drown; similarly I believe I can’t stop moving or I’ll be in constant pain for the rest of my life.
It took me years to understand this simple fact about my body – honestly I used to pity myself because I thought chronic pain had robbed me of my ability to relax. But I slowly realized that maintaining my lower back injuries required constant movement – a revelation that first hit me when I borrowed my stepdad’s bike one day while recovering from my second surgery.
My sister gave me my first health club membership, at Bally’s in suburban Denver in the early 1990’s. Since then I have always joined the closest health club to my workplace, and supplemented all kinds of gym workouts (aerobic, weights, core, exercises classes) with mountain biking and walking/hiking (I currently belong to two gyms – one a 7 minute walk from work, the other within a quick bike ride from my house.)
Don’t get me wrong – there were days and weeks and months over that time that I didn’t work out enough, or at all. Through the peaks and valleys of my ongoing recovery, my weight fluctuated between 185-230, and often I justified my lack of activity because I was afraid that I might hurt my back working out.
I credit an orthopedic doctor in Bend, Ore. for telling it to me straight. She said my back was unstable because the muscles around it were weak. She told me to get on my bike, even if it hurt at first.
I have had other revelations about strategies for managing my back – deep tissue massage, core exercises, light weight training with high reps, ice, handling stress more effectively- but deep down I know that exercise and movement has always been the one thing that saved me from a life in chronic pain.