Sam Bauman: Living with my aching back
Back pain is something many seniors live with – not comfortably but just getting along. I’ve suffered with it for some 15 years, stemming back to ski crash at Homewood when I carelessly went off a trail into deep powder and trees. I slammed against one tree trunk with the flat of my skis and popped out of the bindings.
No pain, only my ego was hurt, I thought. But a week later I was in the doctor’s office with a back ache. He asked me if I’d had any incidents lately and I described the ski crash.
“Trauma-induced arthritis,” he said and advised me to just live with it. I did for a couple of years until hiking was no longer fun. So I started investigating treatments. First, my physical therapist, whom I had met after replacement of a knee required his help, tried strapping me to a bench and hooking up a wide belt around my waist and tugging at it from my feet area.
Helped a little but not enough, so I tried massage. That helped for about a half-hour afterward but then the pain was back. Next I tried acupuncture here in Carson, but three sessions of needles did nothing for my back, although it didn’t hurt.
Then I saw a TV ad from Reno chiropractor who claimed easing back pain. There he strapped me to a table, put a belt around my waist and hooked me up to a machine that tugged at my lower body. Three sessions and I was out of that after turning down a long-term commitment of a couple of thousand dollars.
Then I tried epidural shots to the spine. Idea was injecting cortisone to the area where that the slipped disc was rubbing against a nerve. Again, no help.
Finally I went back to my PT for help. He listened and added several additions to my regular hour-long mornings of exercise, all designed to stretch my spine and ease the pain. I added them to my regular routine and while they didn’t cure the backpain they would ease the discomfort for several hours. I now do them faithfully and the early morning acute pain is gone. Some remains but nothing I can’t tolerate.
I’ll describe the parts that seem to help. Do not do these routines without approval of your doctor or PT adviser.
First, while seated I lift my back up and extend my legs, balanced on my butt. Count of 100. Then I sit on the side of my bed and bend down and put the palms of my hands flat on the floor, hold for either a count of 100 or 50 deep breaths.
Next I lay down on my big Swiss exercise ball with my toes touching the floor and hold it, count of 100 or 50 breaths. Then the “Downward Looking Dog” yoga exercise – hand flat on floor, legs extended, back arched. Again count of 100, or 50 breaths.
Next I have a horizontal bar fixed in a doorway. I hang from that for count of 100 or 50 deep ones.
Finally I sit on a straight-backed chair, my arms on chair’s arms and push my lower body forward while keeping my back flat against the chair’s back. I hold this as long as I am comfortable with it, then extend my arms straight down and hold my body off the chair with the hips thrust forward.
After integrating all of the above into my routine I add a half-mile on the treadmill with 2-pound weights on my ankles at a fast walk clip. Despite the fact that ordinary walking can cause discomfort, my back never hurts on the treadmill.
Yes, it requires time and discipline and memory of what you are supposed to do. But I do it at home and the only cost is the Swiss ball, $18; the horizontal bar, $21 plus screwing it in place. I do light 8- and 10-pound weighs ($19) but I don’t think they help my back.
My whole program is designed to ease back pain (yes, it comes back during the day but I often wear a lumbar support belt and when ever I pass the bar, I hang for a 100 count). It’s also aimed at keeping my physical condition at its current level, not trying to achieve flat abs. I want to be able to continue to enjoy skiing even if I’m not as skilled as when I was teaching skiing. I go to the Boulder Base at Heavenly, easy parking, easy walk to the lodge to put on boots, downhill run to the Boulder lift and on up to the North Bowl chair. After that, Nevada is all there for me.
• Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.