Back pain chronicles: Reunited (with running), and it feels so good (so far)

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The weather in Oklahoma has been seasonably unpredictable. We’ve had two pre-winter snow storms and then it was almost 70 degrees on Dec. 22. Until a couple of weeks ago, the state of my back had been quite predictable: the back-and-forth of the weather would have an effect on my lower back pain.

Also triggering my lower back pain: standing, sitting, lying in bed, breathing, taking a shower, existing.

If you’ve read any of my ‘Back pain chronicles’ entries, you know that I’ve struggled with moderate-to-severe back pain since October 2019 thanks to a herniated disc in my L5-S1.

It was severe from Dec. 2019 until April 2020, when I finally swallowed my pride and returned to the chiropractor I had stopped seeing a year and a half before. This came after two steroid treatments, which were fantastic in the short-term but ineffective in the long. Speaking of long: Long story, but my wife and I had been in a car wreck in October 2018, and that’s how my chiropractic routine started.

I felt OK by Spring 2019, so I stopped going.

And that was a mistake.

For the first three months after I resumed chiropractic visits this April, I was seeing my chiropractor three times per week. We did a lot of work on my back, and she gave me exercises to do at home. We talked a lot. There was some improvement, and my pain went from severe to mostly moderate but inconvenient.

Let’s fast-forward all of this. You don’t need ‘The History Of My Back, Vol. 1.’

This past Saturday, I was thinking to myself, “Hey, you ought to walk on the treadmill for an hour.” I hadn’t been getting all my steps in recently, and motion is lotion for lower back problems. Moderate-to-fast walking is great for the lower back, even one in pain.

The only problem was: I was no longer in pain. None, zilch, nada.

And that was the moment I thought to myself, “Why are you walking?” You had all this pain and did all this work to return to the thing you love doing: running. You literally have no pain, and while you turned 50 this year (me talking to myself), you’re not ready for the old folks home yet.

Not nearly.

So I went outside and ran a 5K in 49:30. The temperature in Oklahoma City was about 46 degrees, which is terrific for running as long as there’s no wind. It’s Oklahoma, so there was wind. Of course, I was not pleased with the time. My best 5K time is around 32-33:00, and my average historically is about 36-38:00. Lower-back pain over a long period of time will cause a person to get sedentary and gain some weight — so I had that going for me. But also, I was out of practice.

But I did it, and then I did it again Tuesday. I’ll explain why.

One of the mistakes runners make upon recovering from an injury is starting back too quickly or with too much frequency. I want to avoid that for sure, but I had also made it a point recently to stop taking all anti-inflammatory supplements, including my Inflavonoid Intensive Care (curcumin) and any NSAID. I wanted to feel the impact of my Saturday run to see where I was at physically with the lower-back.

Thankfully, the only negative symptom from the run was my legs feeling like lead, especially on Day 2 after running. I had my bi-weekly visit with the chiropractor Tuesday, and I told her about the legs feeling like lead. She said that after a run, it’s fine for the legs to feel like lead for a couple of days, but after that, absent any lower-back issues, you have to flush out the lactic acid lest there be any build up, which can lead to scar tissue.

Given that it was 68 degrees in Oklahoma City, I didn’t have to be coaxed.

And this time, I was 1:10 faster!

I don’t claim to know anything about the mechanics of running, but my early reading indicates that any lactic acid buildup is probably my fault, the result of poor breathing technique or being largely out of running shape. However, the good news is that the day after this second run, there is no back pain. And by “no back pain,” I don’t mean just my back. I mean there is no pain that radiates from the L5-S1 down the right side of my leg to my foot. At this point, I kind of know what to look for.

But there’s no need for overconfidence. I know I’m guaranteed nothing.

But this feels like the start of a comeback.

“Please don’t call it that.” — LL Cool J

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