Maintaining a Fitness Routine Despite Chronic Back Pain

My twisted spine

My twisted spine

Before I get too far, I just want to acknowledge this picture of my scoliotic spine. I know its shocking to look at and think that it has been like that for over 20 years already. While it can be challenging to live with this twisted spine, I have tried to never let it be an excuse to not stay as active as possible. I say “tried” because I sometimes let my back issues creep into an excuse not to be exercising and then fall into a rut that takes a huge effort to crawl out of. I’m fully aware of this pattern as one of my passions is also helping others not to fall for their own excuses that feed inactivity.

I used to teach group fitness classes, boot camps, one on one training, and yoga. I did that for about 15 years with much success despite my spine. I was being paid to exercise, working out regularly, maintaining an excellent level of fitness, and helping others to do the same. It was a physically and mentally positive place to be in. Even during the times where I would experience a spell of chronic pain it always seemed to pass and I was able to work my way back to the impressively fit woman that I was. But then, the pain came and it never went away. Days, weeks, months, and now even a few years have gone by where I am experiencing weakness, pain, and other lame health issues. It gets me down, often, and even acknowledging that makes me shed a few tears right now.

But, I’m not the kind of girl who accepts the idea that there is nothing I can do about it. I know that it is absolutely essential that I maintain the highest level of fitness possible as I age. So, here are some things that I do about it:

I do at least one physical activity every day. No two days are the same for me right now. There are days where I feel like I could go hiking and there are days when I need to stick to super gentle and restorative exercises. The key for me has always been consistency. If I am consistently moving everyday for at least 30 minutes I feel so much happier and almost always relieved of pain for hours. When I miss getting that activity, for whatever reason, I feel it.

I look for ways to increase the amount that I am walking daily. Walking is one activity that I never take for granted. There have been more than a few times in my life where walking was difficult and painful. Each of those experiences puts into perspective that I never want to lose the ability to walk. Therefore, I walk as much as possible. I park farther out from the doors when I shop, I walk the dogs, I use a treadmill, and I’ll meet up often with friends just to walk. Walking helps to balance the body and I experience this first hand. Some mornings I wake up with a limp and will be moving awkwardly. A little walk takes care of that and balances my movements usually within 15-30 minutes. It’s actually quite amazing. Some days I need to take smaller walks dispersed in several 5-10 minute increments. Whenever walking feels hard, I know I probably need to be doing it more often. Such a simple concept but it does take a great deal of effort to keep it a priority in my schedule.

I have an action plan for the days when moving is too much. The jacked up reality is that I have days when moving feels like shit. My back hurts, my energy is super low, and exercise in any traditional sense is not happening. On those days I remember that breathing is moving too. So I make time to breathe, to meditate, and relax. I try to do that most days, actually, but on the days when moving is tough I especially appreciate knowing that I am not totally powerless to manage my pain. I have the power of my mind, my breath, and high quality cannabis medicine. If there are too many of these days in a row I seek out other support.

I ask for support. Support comes in a lot of different forms. The obvious ones are the healers I have found who specialize in my kind of pain. The less obvious support is what I get from my friends and family. They provide a shoulder for me to cry on, they just listen, they don’t let me keep to myself for too long, and they keep me lifted. The trick with support is that you often have to ask for it and that can sometimes be really tough.

The bottom line for me is to just keep moving. I know the power that exercise has on even the weakest because I have seen it on myself and others over and over again. Giving up and getting sucked into the vortex of chronic pain is not an option here.

Until next time…Keep moving and Stay Lifted.

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