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My Eye Opening Bout with Back Pain

“My body is falling apart” I thought to myself! It was the beginning of September 2015 and I had just returned from a routine Hawk Hill bike ride, which I had previously done more than 50 times without pain. I was starting to sniffle, but more worrisome was a strange soreness I felt on the left side of my lower back.

My Gear for the Race

My friends and I had been training for the Pacific Grove Olympic triathlon in Monterey, CA which was now 9 days away. I was super excited for my first triathlon, strategically timed for a few days before my 35th birthday. I had convinced five other friends to sign up, and we spent the previous two months training.

I had never felt soreness in my back like this before. In the past if I felt ‘pain’ anywhere in my body I would just work through it, and it would always go away. When the soreness continued into its 3rd day and I couldn’t sleep without tossing/turning at night I thought I cannot ignore this any longer. I am a heavy sleeper and have famously slept through earthquakes, fire alarms, and even an errant sprinkler soaking my tent during the 2014 Aids/Lifecycle – but this was keeping me from sleeping well. I couldn’t be in denial anymore that I had pain, especially since I work for a back pain company!  “Is this what getting old feels like?”, I feared.

I then noticed how my mood was changing. I had my least productive day at work the next day. I started (irrationally?) stressing that I wouldn’t be able to complete the triathlon. Over the weekend I observed a general malaise over my physical and mental state. I was extremely blasé about doing my chores and it took me 3x the usual time for me to do my laundry. I was uncomfortable sitting or lying in one place for longer than 20 minutes, while at the same time unmotivated to leave my house for the 5-6 events on my typical Saturday calendar.

I didn’t recognize myself, and I didn’t like it.

Recognizing I needed to take action, I pulled myself together. My girlfriend assured me I had only pulled a muscle and Kian suggested I try some anti-inflamation medication. I was so worried about my triathlon that I took my bike in for a re-fitting and changed my geometry as a precautionary measure. I knew it was irrational to make such changes to my bike a week before the triathlon, but I felt I needed to do something. I did a swim in the Aquatic Park which helped me psychologically and physically feel better. Eventually the pain went away and I reflected.

I can’t say that I understand the experience of long term, chronic back pain sufferers, but my short bout with back pain was eye opening. I saw how my mental state changed. I noticed both desperation and lethargy in myself, feelings I was generally unfamiliar with. I didn’t care about anything else, and I knowingly acted irrationally. It’s incredible how my mind state took on a life of its own and I now understand why behavioural medicine is such an integral component of the SpineZone program. Psychology and back pain are intimately intertwined.

Maybe my experience was a blessing in disguise?

About the Author: Neil Sethi is the VP of Marketing and Strategy for SpineZone, and after crushing his time goal by completing the triathlon in 3:14:46, he decided his story would be relevant for the SpineZone community.

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