Vital Signs

Back in July 2012 I injured my lower back while finishing up a ten mile bike ride. At first I thought it was “just another” back pain since I had recurring back pain since I first slipped a disc over 5 years ago. I figured I would just need a few days of rest. Of course I didn’t listen to myself and rest. Instead I decided I would be ok to play a double-header of softball. I couldn’t say no because my team needed me to play. Plus, my “man ego” was challenged as my teammates kept telling me I was weak if I didn’t play. Their taunting and my need to burn energy caused me a major nightmare. After the second game was completed, I laid on my back for about thirty minutes motionless as my back was screaming in pain.

Even at this point, I thought it was “just another” back pain that will go away in a few days. Well a few days later, the pain ran down my left leg and I had a pain similar to a pulled hamstring (yes, I have suffered this pain too). I was unable to put any weight on the leg and my leg motion was very limited. Finally, I stubbornly went to go see the doctor after all my friends and family nudge me to go. My primary doctor gave me some prescription pain killers, muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatory medication with a referral to see a pain specialist. The pain killers were heaven sent!

The next day I was able to see the specialists and the doctor said I had an herniated disc and I would need to do a MRI to confirm his belief. The results came in the next day and confirmed the herniated disc. I really didn’t know what the injury was but the pain told me it was serious. It’s a pain that cripples you, disabling every motion in your body. The nerves are all connected and every little twitch causes pain. It is a terrible injury.

Long story short, the specialist told me that I am too young for surgery and I should be able to tolerate the pain. I agreed and opted to take the epidural shots of cortisone that reduced the pain. I had three shots and quite frankly, it didn’t work because I was still in pain afterwards. I guessed it didn’t work for me. I remember the nurse telling me that I would be able to get back to normal activities once the third shot was completed. I asked her if that meant I could run and play sports. She confidently said yes. I was in disbelief at the time. There was no way I would be able to get back to normal. The pain was too overwhelming. I couldn’t even sit on my butt or lay on my back. This caused many sleepless nights. It was a nightmare in many ways.

Now fast forward to the present. Today, I feel a ton better. It has seven months of enduring pain. I can finally say that the last month has been healing. I started working out at a gym about five or six days a week. I started with simple stretches to condition my muscles and nerves. It was very painful at first since I was stretching the spot of the injury. My flexibility was very limited. I couldn’t tie my own shoe lace or even put on my own shoes. With all the stretching over the last few weeks, I can finally tie my own shoes. I am surprised how I was able to achieve this with just a dedicated attack of stretching and exercise.

Along with stretches, I started doing cardio. At the early stages, I was just walking to get my body conditioned to the motions. Then I would increase the speed to a light jog. I would walk/jog for thirty minutes and achieve two miles. Slowly I increased my speed. What I discovered was that my leg responded well to the exercising and jogging. One would think it would hurt to add stress to the leg with the jogging. To my benefit, I was wrong. The jogging actually helps stretch the leg muscles and nerves allowing it to reduce the tightness of the disc bulge. The only drawback is the muscle recovery stage. As the muscles and nerves healed from the stretching and jogging, it would get tight. This is where the pain would revisit me and make everything uncomfortable. To alleviate the pain, I started to take hot baths and soak my body for about thirty minutes or so. I found this to be a great way to ease the pain and calm the muscles. It was very relaxing and really helped me get past the pain.

It has been about a month since I started working out consistently. I have moved beyond light jogging and find myself pushing faster and faster each week. I increased my diversity of cardio workout to the elliptical machine, rowing machine, treadmill, stairmaster and swimming pool. My routine is a six day regiment. I do elliptical every other day for a total of three events each week.  On the other days, I would do a day of stairmaster, rowing machine and the treadmill. I try to swim as many days as I could. I find that swimming really helps with the pain. I typically not feel as painful at night after a swimming session and I sleep a ton better too. My cario regiment has really been something I am proud of especially when I track the results and compare it back to the days when I was healthy last year and the year prior. I have improved on my metrics each week. My only fear is that I don’t over do it and end up hurting myself again. This is how I arrived at this injury in the first place.

Along with cardio, I continued to maintain my conditioning routine. After the initial stage of conditioning, which was about three weeks, I started doing strength exercises. I discovered how weak my legs were and knew it would take some time to get the strength up. Now I am in strength mode training, working all parts of my body.

Here is a run down of my vital signs as it applies to each exercise event. I will continue to track this periodically and blog my on-going status. I am hoping to feel closer to 100% by July which will be one year anniversary of the injury. When I say 100%, I mean not feeling any more nerve pain in my left leg. I am not sure if that is possible but I will try my best.

Vital Signs –

As of 2/27/13

Treadmill – 30 mins – 2.75 miles

Elliptical – 60 mins – 7.30 miles – 8:11 min per mile pace

Elliptical Sprint – 30 mins – 4.12 miles – 7:24 min per mile pace

StairMaster – 15 mins – 112 floors

Rowing Machine – 15 mins – 3,012 meters

Lap Swim – 10 mins – 8 laps

I have to say that the StairMaster is not as easy as it looks. This machine kills me probably because my legs are weak. I will increase my mins on the StairMaster and Rowing Machine next week. I am really happy with my Elliptical times. I did a 30 minute sprint today and was happy to hit the four mile mark. I think I can sprint close to a six minute mile if I tried. I’ll give it a shot. I don’t want to work too hard on the treadmill because I am afraid the shock might re-aggravate my injury. I am not sure when I should push hard, maybe two more months or so. At this time, I am not too worried about my time on the treadmill. Last summer I ran a pace of eight miles in one hour. I don’t think I will be getting there any time soon for safety measures. My swimming has been slowly improving. I am sure my times would be better if I didn’t close my workouts in the pool. Swimming is the second cardio event I do each workout. I will try to make it an exclusive event to see if there is an impact on my times without a previous cardio session during the workout.

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