Anyone who has been a lifelong athlete knows what I’m talking about when I say we prioritize pain. We do. That nagging tingle in a muscle is largely ignored while we go on with our workout. That hitch in the ankle which feels like the joint could pop in a very not so nice way is still run upon until such time it goes away. We ice, we heat, we take ibuprofen, repeat. When we’re in real trouble, out comes the ace bandage! Because ace bandages cure all!

Unfortunately, that kind of behavior tends to escalate throughout life. Mostly because we don’t have time to go to the doctor, and we’re not going to like what the doctor has to say, and dammit, I just got back up to 200 on my bench and I don’t want anything, including rest and recovery, to get in the way of that.

So that was me a year ago. I was dead lifting at the gym and some schmuck who was not watching where he was going bumped my bar as I lifting. I heard a very audible pop and my feet momentarily went numb. I immediately dropped the weight, all of it, on the floor and stood perfectly still to assess the damage. Feeling came back to the feet and I slowly stood upright. It didn’t feel like anything was hurt but I still decided to call it a day.

Over the next month my lower back began to nag me. It was a familiar pain, mostly like a sore muscle and I ignored it. When it morphed into something indescribable and deeper, I slapped on an ice pack, then came the heating pad, then came the ibuprofen. When all failed, I resorted to real medicine.

I tried a chiropractor but mostly he just cracked my bones. I usually felt worse leaving his office. When he finally prescribed an x-ray which showed a definite stress fracture in my L5 vertebrae, I knew it was time to go see doctor-doctor. So I got in to see a Sports Medicine doc who then ordered physical therapy. And it actually helped after about two excruciating weeks. In the meantime I was so uncomfortable I couldn’t sit, stand, or lie down without pain.

What I had managed to do to myself was multi-layered. I had a stress fracture, it hurt, so my body started moving in a way to make it hurt less. That movement resulted in bulging discs which screwed up the mechanics even more resulting in some pretty substantial tendinitis. I spent months picking this injury apart and putting myself back together again.

And I’m still not 100%. There’s an old adage in power lifting that says once you screw up your back, it’s screwed up for life. I’m really trying not to accept that as a reality so I’ve gone back in to see yet another physical therapist. I say another because I have seen three thus far. They were all perfectly nice men, but when you are working on an athlete, having a beer gut and generally being out of shape does not inspire my confidence in your abilities to fix me. I allow I can be completely wrong, but there you go. I want someone who understands the difference between feeling better and being well. So it’s not enough that my back doesn’t hurt, I need to be able to perform my sport.

In the regular life of a sedentary person, this back thing would be a non-issue. But the fact is, normal for me is being able to squat and dead lift over 200 pounds and has been for a long, long, time. If a marathon runner came back from an injury and kept puttering out at 5 miles, then clearly, the runner still has some issues. Which by the way, the new PT says treating runners is the WORST! “They don’t know when to stop!”, so I don’t feel too bad about complaining.

So I am not healed. There’s still something wrong. And my trying to change my whole workout (that has served me well for 20 years) so that I don’t encourage pain is just stupid. And it’s not in my nature to say that I still need to heal. I have to put the work into figuring out what is wrong. I have to make the time and take the time to put the body right. And that completely goes against the grain of the competitive athlete’s mindset. But I’m going to do it anyway.

And I really, really, hope all this can happen by June because there’s some competitions I want to enter.

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