Injuries are more or less inevitable rather than probable. Even if you keep yourself in tip top shape, you never know when a muscle fibre might tear or tweak. That's what happened to us and it's been some experience so far...
It all started about a decade ago at Uni' during my teaching course. The class were playing some sort of indoor benchball game when I twisted to catch the ball and pass it on, I felt my back twinge. I knew I had tweaked something but didn't know how serious it was. I felt stiff the next morning around my lower back but moving freely. It was when I tried to exit my friend's car when we arrived at Uni' that my back totally seized up and I couldn't move. Embarrassingly, we had to call security over with their little golf kart and helped lift me on the back and drive me to the sports centre.
Every bump we drove over sent a sharp stab straight down my back, eyes were watering and the pain was taking my breath. My lecturer at the time had come out of the lesson to check on me, seeing as I could barely hold myself up against the wall, she called an ambulance. Again, I felt a sense of embarrassment because in my mind, there were probably other people who were in a worse off position that needed an ambulance. Plus, the local hospital was a 5min bus journey away. In hindsight, there was no way I could of made it on the bus, I've never felt such excruciating pain before.
So there I was being escorted to the ambulance in front of all the other students walking like someone triple my age! The medics gave me oxygen in the ambulance which just made me light headed more than anything but I managed to lie down on the gurney. I was then rolled into a department (I didn't know where I was because I could only look up) and left in a cubicle with some very mild painkilliers. I wasn't really checked over, I thought I had done something quite serious but didn't get the same vibe from the staff there. Another embarrassing moment - I badly needed the loo and called a nurse/doctor over who came back with a bedpan! No way, I'm making the toilet, I just needed help with getting up. The toilet was about 20m away, it took me around 10mins to walk it and the most focus I have ever given to pee in the toilet itself because just one jarring movement and I was close to collapsing or worse, peeing all over myself!
My friends at the time who I travelled to Uni' somehow found me and took me home but as it was all banter between them, they mocked me so much that every giggle just set off a period of pain I tried so hard to mask. I was dropped off back home and just laid down in bed for the next few days. I was supposed to start my teaching course in a couple of weeks but there was no way that was going to happen. I wasn't referred to anyone when I was discharged from the hospital so I had to make my own mind up as to how to proceed with rehabilitation.
First up was a chiropractor. Confession - it was peak Groupon era when you saw a too good to be true deal. Well, I had about 4 sessions with a chiropractor who just popped the air out of my discs. Very weird sessions, a mixture of mild discomfort and shock and in all honesty, did nothing for my back. After the final session, the chiropractor hit me with the figure to continue the treatment. £3000.
So after realising the only way I could afford that would be to sell my body to medical research, I asked to be referred to a NHS physio which was a much more productive experience. I was given stretches to do at home but came away with a message that it would all be about pain relief from now on, something which stuck with me and thought that's it, I will always have back pain.
Fast forward roughly 10 years. My back seized up. I was laid out on our living room floor not able to move, couldn't even roll over. The worst my back has ever been since that fateful day at Uni'. I've had flare ups but with a bit of Ibroprufen, it faded away but I knew it was always there. Short story, the years of cycling more or less every day sometimes hours and hours had de-conditioned my back. My back basically forgot how to move in all the ways we allow it to be. It only knew to sit in a rigid position and that's what it was comfortable with.
Following a phone call with my doctor (this happened during lockdown so even if I could of walked, they wouldn't of seen me anyway), I was prescribed a few days of diazepam which basically knocked me out. I slept so much, most of it on the floor because that was where my back was most comfortable. I felt guilty I couldn't help with household chores or even play with lil NITP. Mentally, one of the most frustrating times I have ever been through. I'd like to think we are mentally strong, we try not to worry and see a solution and not a problem. But this major flare up shook me. I pictured myself years from now walking crooked to the shop with a walking stick or having to sit down after 5mins at the park with lil NITP because I didn't look after my back properly. What a sad image.
I referred myself back again to a NHS physio determined that this would not be the end of me. I was hoping for someone to look at my back physically, break it if need be because I was in so much discomfort but it's all video consultations at the moment. I have been consulting with Nicola who has been a massive guide and tool of encouragement. I couldn't sit down though, I kept on having to stand up, bend to the side, crouch as she explained what was happening with my back and what the plan was.
Short story as I mentioned before, my back has de-conditioned itself. It has forgotten to twist and bend so when I force it to do these types of movements, it seizes up possibly pinching nerves around the spine too. I did have a fear at one point it was a disc problem but I have had no limb movement issues which is usually a sign of a problem of a problematic disc. So the plan was to reintroduce my back to these forgotten movements slowly and progressively. I was already doing yoga - my wife had recommended YouTube yoga teacher Adrienne who seems to be as flexible as a cheesestring, Some of the positions and poses Adrienne makes you do are unreal. I have only begun to attempt some of the advanced stretches and it's been about 2 months!
Nicola had set me some homework with back focused exercises: back raises, stomach crunches, raise and squat and practice sitting positions. All to be done slowly and in 2 sets of 10 where applicable. Whilst doing these 'workouts', I was kicking myself that I wasn't doing things like this before, it could of prevented this all. But I blame myself for being lazy, I knew I should of stretched more after rides but Nicola did say that the research a decade ago would of advised physios of a pain management approach and that research has gone a lot further to suggest that with back pain, it is a matter of allowing the muscles to re-educate.
Slowly but surely, some range of movement began to return. I would go for daily walks with Mrs and lil NITP which helped immensely. If I sat or stayed still for too long (this could be for a minute), my back would start to stiffen and I would be back on the floor in weird positions. Every morning would begin with my yoga and back exercises. I noticed if I didn't do this, my day would be ruined because I would be in pain all day so I am religiously sticking to a commitment to a morning wake up for my back. I even completed a couple of jogs after a month, these were really really light. I even scared Chris Detsicas who couldn't believe what he was seeing on Strava! My heart will always be with the bike but at this stage, I couldn't sit on our sofa let alone a bike. But running was really refreshing. We are lucky that we are surrounded by a few parks and a nature reserve which makes for a quiet picturesque jog.
Coincidence or fate but Meglio, the physiotherapy equipment specialists, had got in touch to offer a review opportunity. Hell yeah! They were very generous in their offering and we were sent over a wide range of equipment: massage roller, massage balls, resistance bands, kinesiology tape (never used it before!) and a gym ball. There was no excuse really not to put all this to good use and our plan was to review this is as a separate piece but this back injury has been such a journey, we've had to turn it into a blog post. The massage roller is a complete step up from our ordinary smooth roller, the indents really press into the muscle fibres with the sole intention of getting rid of those knots and twisted muscle fibres. If you've never used a roller, it hurts, it's uncomfortable but the pros outweigh the cons, stick with it. We used the roller also for a tight calf which made us pause the light jogs, had to be careful of overdoing it.
We did come up with a throwback though. It ha been years since we had kicked a ball properly. The feel of a Size 5. We made the investment and brought ourselves a decent ball to keep us motivated into exploring a range of movements for our back. Rusty at first but the skills returned after a few mishaps. We even managed a couple of light kick arounds with our good pal Jamie Read who has also helped with some back advice after going through something similar when he was younger.
We spent a week back in Norn Iron to see some family and we always like to do something different when we're over there. The Mourne Mountains is an amazing place, 93 peaks to walk up (some just humps, some ridiculously high) so with the company of our father-in-law Ronnie, we climbed/walked up Pierce's Castle, 465m high. Back felt solid all the way up, I was even carrying a rucksack with supplies. There was one moment though when I slipped on a bit of mud which jolted my back. I really thought 'here we go again' but I managed to keep the pain down with constant stretches and some Ibroprufen for any inflammation.
I returned home feeling quite pleased with the progress so far. I didn't seize up on the plane and was managing any pain flare ups quite well. Time was on my hands because of the break from school but the spring in my step was about to be become a thick step into quick drying cement...