Jessie Raymond: Getting ‘back’ to normal takes time

I threw out my back while shoveling snow the weekend before last, leaving my husband, Mark, to finish my share of the labor. He called it “convenient timing.”
True, shoveling is my least favorite winter chore. But the injury was real and the timing, in my opinion, was entirely appropriate. Who tweaks their back while resting quietly?
I had never thrown out a body part before, so it caught me by surprise. I had just bent over, readying my shovel for another load, when suddenly from my lower back area I heard a sound like that of a cabbage being torn in half. And then I was in pain.
It made no sense. The snow in question was light, blow-away stuff. I hadn’t even lifted the shovel yet. Most important, I’m just not the type to get injured.
I’ve never had a broken bone, or even a sprain. Growing up, I envied the popular kids who got to come to school on crutches or in a cast that everyone signed. Hell, I would have settled for a splint, but I was never that lucky. (Then again, the most reckless physical activity I undertook in my youth was weaving potholders out of polyester fabric loops; I lack the daredevil gene.)
Over the years I’ve gotten more active, though I still avoid all pursuits prefaced by the word “extreme.” But I figured if anything, taking care of my body would do more to protect me from injuries than leave me open to them. Specifically, I’ve focused on core-strengthening exercises for years, believing they would keep my back healthy.
Call me disillusioned.
In the days that followed the torn-cabbage noise, I learned that a sore lower back turns many normally pain-free activities into teeth-gritting ordeals. These include, but are not limited to, sitting down and standing up. Also, sneezing, walking up and down stairs, yanking open stuck drawers, rolling over in bed and reaching for the remote.
But worse than the discomfort was the humbling aspect of near immobility. Something as simple as changing my clothes became a daily challenge. Never before had I noticed, when pulling on my socks, just how far away from my hands my feet were, or how much my back was involved in getting them within reach.
Is it normal to have to lie on the floor to get dressed? It’s a question I had never thought to ask.
I had other questions, too. Like, is this what happens when you get older? One day you’re banging out alternating side-plank/pushups on your living room floor, then beating your chest and screaming, “I am woman!” and the next day you’re shuffling around the house knowing if you drop your phone it will have to stay on the floor until a family member comes home? Was it time to switch out my Spandex and sneakers for a housecoat and fuzzy slippers?
I wasn’t ready for that.
So I applied heat, I applied ice, I took ibuprofen. I soon found, however, that relief came only when I was walking. As long as I kept moving — gingerly, like a cat burglar — my back felt great.
But walking in this weather posed problems. We’ve had a lot of snow (what the National Weather Service defines as “a crap-ton”), with cold occasionally approaching cryogenic preservation levels. I feared that if I walked outside and slipped, I’d injure my back further — and likely not be discovered until the snow receded in mid-May.
So with no better way to speed up my recovery, I did the only thing I could do: I waited.
It helped.
Two weeks later, I’m almost back to normal. For example, I can once again pull a full gallon of milk out of the fridge without screaming; I just have to plan my approach and hold the jug with two hands, not grab it willy-nilly like I used to in my wild younger days, last month.
Mark is having to do less for me with each passing day, and I’ve assured him that I’ll be ready to get back to shoveling soon, maybe a few days after the average date of the last measurable snowfall in Vermont.
As I keep telling him, you can never be too careful with back injuries.

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