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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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