While I am lying on a beach in Costa Rica, I asked my gal pal, Jacqueline Houghton to take the reins and write a post for me about the recent lifestyle changes she has made to address chronic pain. Check out her wonderfully honest post below.
Seven weeks ago I resolved to make some drastic changes in my diet and fitness routines. I didn’t resolve to make these changes in order to lose weight or to get washboard abs. I resolved to make these changes in order to relieve the chronic pain I had been dealing with for the past several months as a result of a back injury.
I have always been an active person. My most recent obsession is aerial silks, and I’ve been practicing now for almost 7 years. Training and performing aerial silks is a beautiful art form and a kick-ass workout. It can also be very hard on the body if you are not practicing correct form. In May of 2015, I had been rehearsing a piece for some upcoming performances and I started to notice some pain in my hip/hip flexor when transitioning through certain movements. I would pop a couple of anti-inflammatory pills before going to class and for a while, all seemed well. After doing this for several weeks, the pain started to migrate down my left leg, along my outer thigh, crossing over to my adductor and down my shin into my big toe. Walking was excruciating. I often limped. It got to the point that a bowel movement would cause me to tear up in pain. I am stubborn though, so I kept training and performing in various pieces until, in October, I just couldn’t anymore.
My doctor scheduled an MRI and found several issues in my lower back. The findings used words like “dessicated” and “obliterated” when referring to the discs between my L5 and L3. One disc was bulging and they found severe compression of the nerves in my lower back, as well as bone spurring on some vertebrate. It was not a promising diagnosis. My family doctor suggested I give up aerial and she would prescribe painkillers to help me deal with my nerve pain.
I am a firm believer that pills are not the best way to deal with many medical issues. I know enough to know that making some lifestyle changes and seeking the help of well-trained professional therapists can help actually deal with the root cause of the pain, as opposed to just masking it with medication. Thankfully, I have an arsenal of friends that are well-trained professionals and they helped to steer me in the right direction.
The first bit of advice I received was from Jackie McCaffrey, of course! She suggested that I start taking a glucosamine supplement. Studies suggest that taking 1500mg of glucosamine a day can help alleviate pain caused by osteoarthritis and can aid in the maintenance of joints. I chose a powdered version. It can be dissolved in my morning tea easily because it doesn’t have any taste whatsoever. The catch: you have to take this supplement daily for at least 30 days before you can feel any results.
Shortly after this, I went to a workshop organized by Jamie Holmes and presented, once again, by Jackie. This was supposed to be a “Post-Holiday Cleanse for Aerialists” but I saw it as something more. I had been doing some research about foods that cause inflammation. Some of the main culprits include many foods that I ate regularly: sugar, dairy, gluten being my weaknesses. I wanted this cleanse to kickstart a new way of life for me, one that was going to be pain-free.
I began the cleanse on Monday, January 4, 2016. It was my first day back to work after the Christmas break. I found day one quite easy to get through. In addition to cutting out sugar and most sweeteners, I also cut out all dairy, gluten and caffeine. Day two did not go so well. I was suffering such terrible withdrawal symptoms that I threw up, felt irritable, had a headache and overall awful feeling. This didn’t last long though, and I started to feel really good. I felt so good in fact that I’ve extended my “cleanse” way post-holiday and still follow its guidelines now.
I also needed to work on my overall fitness in order to help strengthen the muscles required to support my spinal health. My aerial training is one way to stay fit, but it can’t be the only way. I began hitting the gym again. My early morning, pre-work workouts begin at 5 a.m. and usually last an hour: 25 minutes of cardio and 25 minutes of weight training, ending with 10 minutes of stretching. The stretching is very important! I focus on stretches to decompress the lower lumbar. I also ensure that I stretch my glutes, quads and hamstrings everyday. Pilates has also been an important part of my exercise programme. I would recommend taking a small class first, such as the Foundational programme offered by Beach Pilates, to ensure that you are performing the exercises correctly and not aggravating injuries. Pilates can be intense, but there is no more effective way to strengthen your core muscles and stabilize your spinal health.
My final line of defence is therapeutic massage, osteopathy and chiropractic treatment. My massage therapist focuses on deep tissue release of muscles that have become too accustomed to overcompensating for my weakened spine. Osteopathy focuses on the connections within the body and the person. Dysfunction in one system will ricochet causing misalignment and disturbance in all systems. My osteopath, Holly Treddenick, works to create space between my compressed vertebrate and also works on other parts of my body that are tight due to injury, including my ribs, neck and upper back. My chiropractor works mostly to create traction in my lower lumbar and relieve the compression as well. I rotate between seeing all three to get a well-balanced treatment.
This journey to wellness has not been easy, but I am seeing results. My pain, although not completely gone, is significantly diminished. I am able to enjoy most of the activities that I did before this injury. My overall health has improved as well. I am not dependent on sugar or caffeine any longer. In fact, I tend to feel sick now if I do indulge on a special occasion. My skin is clear and fresh-looking. I have lost a few pounds too. Although this was never the goal, it is an added bonus. Throughout the journey, Jackie has been a constant source of support and advice. It’s not an easy transition and having a professional and friendly face around to provide support is so important. If you experience back pain daily, don’t wait any longer. You can help yourself without medication.
Jackie is a teacher by day and aerialist by night. When she’s not teaching arts for the York Region District School Board, she’s spending time working on her other passions – aerial work and writing. Follow Jackie’s ongoing journey towards mental and physical wellbeing on her blog A Tea Party on the Ceiling