A few months ago I posted an article on my facebook page about people who suffer with back pain. At that time I was merely sympathizing with them. Unfortunatley about 6 weeks ago I joined the ranks when I woke up with excrutiating right shoulder and mid back pain. I assumed I'd injured myself during one of my ridiculous HIIT workouts. My head was "on a sword" and all the moving parts of my upper back felt fused. The pain worsened and I began to notice muscle spasms in my chest, latissimus, biceps, triceps and even forearm muscles. The spasms weren't so painful but very concerning since I had never felt anything like that before. OTC painkillers were not helpful at all. Weird. Went to the doctor after a few days and was prescribed a course of steroids and muscle relaxers. No relief. I held on for a week.
My chiropractor tried his best to ease my discomfort and was pretty sure it was a compressed nerve. Massage provided very temporary relief. So I requested a referral for an X Ray and MRI. I was shocked by the results. Me, a "healthy," active instructor and trainer for over twenty years, a diagnosis of advanced cervical disc degeneration and compression on my spinal nerve? Really? I had one doctor tell me that I absoutley need spinal surgery and another tell me casually that he sees patients with this condition everyday. "All you need a course of physical therapy and you'll be back to normal." Which leads me to seek out a third opinion which I will receive from a spinal neurosurgeon in September.
In the mean time my pain and spasms have thankfully (for the most part) disappeared and if I didn't know any better I would assume that I simply had an injury which healed. Except that I've had continuing pins and needles in my right hand and I can't do even one push up from my toes and maybe four from my knees. Not impressed. My physical therapist says I have lost a bunch of function in both my triceps. So he's "shown" me some postural exercises to do. I have to say that my "PT" is very disappointing. Can't believe he gets paid for "treating" me.
And...two weeks ago I started noticing spasms in my right glute and quadricep muscles and after about two days of this (and one long plane ride) I woke up with intense pain on the right side of my lower back. "What the hell? " I was unable (and afraid) to pursue a diagnosis. I took a bunch of pain killers, drank a bit of wine (just saying) and carried on. It took about a week to subside but it was very uncomfortable. Absolutely no twisting or bending forward without a sharp, jolt of pain and a constant backdrop of throbbing discomfort. I'm so grateful to be pain free as I write.
This has been humbling for me. I've been lucky over the years but am questioning some of the workouts I've been doing. I do love HIIT especially the style I teach - innovative moves, fun, challenging and yes very gruelling. I'm not sure it caused my condition but I'm convinced it aggravated it. Without a doubt moves like mountain climbers and plank jacks are extremely tough on your neck and shoulders. And what's the point?
So how do we stay strong, lean and motivated while preserving our joints and staying injury free. It's a balance and a challenge because everyhwere I turn I see instructors as well as participants taped up. Hips, knees, shoulders even the achilles are common victims to overuse injuries. Especially in our forties and older (did I say that?).
What is safe and effective for one person may not be for another. And I keep coming back to the same conclusion. We should be moving functionally, in a way that makes sense and is relevant to the tasks we have in life. In which case we should be doing strength training (of course using natural movement patterns like pushing, pulling, bending and reaching). And swimming, walking and even running. All natural activities which help us survive. I'm not suggesting insane distances or superman speed and if running hurts, then by all means listen to your body. And note that we're discussing training in terms of the average person, someone whose goals are to stay healthy and fit for life. HIIT has it's place but we need to give more thought to the specific moves and whether they jeopardize our "components". My thoughts. If you include HIIT make sure it's short - 30 minutes or less. Two to three times a week max. Well thought-out movements that make sense. Strength train at least twice a week. And one long, slow steady state workout of at least 45 minutes for endurance. Build in a recovery day.
I admit I was doing too much. I was feeling at the top of my game. Sixty minutes of HIIT, three times a week, plus two SPIN classes, strength training and running. No rest day. I should've known better. We not invincible even when we think we are. Let's stay for the long haul.