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The Search for Answers

If one point sticks with you at the end of this post, I hope it’s the fact that each of us has to be our own advocate when it comes to seeking out solutions to problems that affect our overall health and well-being.

I recently wrote about my continuing battle with lower back pain. Since then, I’ve started a new search for treatment options. Unfortunately, I felt zero percent better after a half-dozen visits with a physical therapist. The pain in the lower left side of my back and hip remain, along with the numbness and tingling down the front of my left thigh, calf and foot. I did learn some new exercises to incorporate into my core routine, but I  felt it was time to purse an alternative that would bring some relief.

That meant scheduling time to speak with my sports medicine specialist, describing how I’d reacted (or in this case didn’t react) to the treatment (which also included taking a low-dose anti-inflammatory) and posing questions about what my next plan of attack. This is a dialogue I started and it’s one I’ll continue it with as many doctors as I have to until I figure out how to “fix” the problem.

If you suffer from pain or another issue that affects everyday activities like working out, sleeping or even playing with your kids, don’t ignore it. No one know what you are feeling better than you, so take the reins and get a course of action in motion.

For me, that course brought me to a neurologist for a nerve conduction study and electromyography, better known as an EMG, which tests electrical activity of the muscles. An EMG is one of those medical terms that gets a reaction similar to the words “root canal.” I won’t lie. I was terrified to have the tests. Today, I’m happy to tell you the EMG doesn’t deserve such a bad rap! The neurologist walked me through every step of the tests, describing exactly what he’d do and when. There was no pain, just “strange” sensations that I compare to how your knee reacts when a doctor taps it to test your reflexes during a routine physical. The main difference is a EMG uses needles (microscopic ones that I barely felt) on the  feet, legs and lower back.

My results showed there’s nothing wrong with me neurologically. The second piece of good news: while last month’s MRI showed I have a bulging disc on the right side of my lumbar spine, the neurologist’s assessment showed that was nothing more than an incidental finding. The disc isn’t causing any inflammation that could be causing a problem with movement.

While this was all welcome news, the frustrating part is I have yet to pinpoint what’s been causing my pain and discomfort for the last nine months. All my tests point to a muscoskelatal issue, and quite possibly sacroiliitis. So while it may be back to the drawing board to determine what lies ahead  – stronger anti-inflammatories? injections? additional physical therapy? more chiropractic visits? -I’m ready to draw! I’ll work with my doctors and ask plenty of questions until I get answers and start on a path to recovery.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime, I encourage you as always to do the things that are good for you – exercise, eat healthy and don’t skimp on the sleep. If something like pain prevents you from doing any of these things – don’t ignore  it.  Talk to your primary care physician. If he or she doesn’t have an answer, ask who might. Life’s too short to suffer on any level. So, don’t back down when it comes to seeking out answers that may help you enjoy our time on this Earth to the max!

In the end, you have the ultimate power to seek out the information  you need to stay on the road to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Pushing Through the Pain

On this Workout Wednesday, I thought I’d address what many consider a “touchy” topic: pain.

I’m currently starting my second week of physical therapy for a lower back and hip issue. I’d like to say the problem just popped up and I got on it immediately, but I’d be lying.

This problem began back in September of 2011. What started as a dull pain in the left side of my lower back and hip area turned into tingling and numbness down the front of my left thigh, calf and all the way down to my toes. Lifting weight over my head, kettlebell swings and push-ups made the pain worse. So what did I do? I pushed through it.

After a couple of months, getting out of bed in the morning became painful and sitting at my desk at work gradually for longer than 20 minutes became practically unbearable. I finally went to my sports medicine specialist last month to get checked out. An MRI showed I have a bulging disc in my lumbar spine. (Specifically between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebral bodies, commonly referred to as L4/L5.)

The “mystery,” however, is that the MRI showed the disc issue is on the right side of my lower back back while the symptoms I’ve suffered have affected the left side of my body. Is my left side compensating for the dysfunction on my right or is the disc something I’ve had for years and not even part of the problem? This is what my doctor and now my physical therapist are trying to figure out. Meanwhile, I just want the pain to go away!

The bottom line is I’m pretty angry with myself for ignoring the pain for so long. Basically, I didn’t follow one of the cardinal rules I share with my own personal training clients and anyone who asks for advice on following a safe and effective fitness program: Listen to your body! 

So, I thought this was the perfect time to remind everyone when you should NOT wait out the aches and pains:

  • If you’re in an accident or experience sudden trauma. If there’s no help where you are, get to an emergency room or urgent care center. It’s also a good idea to get checked out if your muscle or joint soreness lasts more than 2 – 3 days following a vigorous workout or if you tried a new sport, group exercise class or other activity (e.g. gardening) around the house.
  • If your pain affects every day functions. Does it hurt to raise your arms overhead in the shower or bend down to pick up your child? If your knee is bothering you when you walk up the stairs, guess what? You could end up with pain in your hip and back, too, as your body makes compensations to keep moving. Now you have pain in more than just one area of your body.
  • If you have chronic but mild pain in any area of the body that doesn’t change no matter what you. This is what happened to me. What you may feel as muscle pain in your back that you have had for months could be coming from several other areas not even related to your spine.

Click here for a link to great list from WebMD about pains you should NEVER ignore.

While we all have different tolerance levels when it comes to pain, I hope sharing my experience is an example of why it’s not smart to take chances. I haven’t been completely sidelined, but I have had to slow down. As a bona fide fitness fanatic, that’s not easy! At the end of the day, listening to your body is probably one of the smartest things you can do to make sure you continue safely on your journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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