So, the first follow-up to The Journey Begins, and it’s a slightly frustrating one. On the 10th February 2013, my back went into spasm just four months after getting into rowing. It was a huge blow as I’d found a sport (aside from climbing) that I absolutely adored and was passionate to get involved in, and then discovered that my very skeleton was at odds with the movement. Scoliosis and an over-rotated pelvis meant the pivot motion of rowing overstrained my lower back, and thus followed 2 months of physio. It was a frustration, I gave up rowing, and decided to get better and focus again on climbing. Things improved and this year I set myself a climbing goal.
9th February 2014 – a Sunday morning climb at a local wall, psyched to start the training and begin to make an impression on my little plan. During my third climb of the day I reached through and something went in my back – a twist and crunch assured me that all was not well. By the evening, I couldn’t get off the sofa, pain radiated across my lower back and seared down my leg. Within 48 hours I was walking (slowly), and managing the pain with ibuprofen, but an emergency doctor’s appointment on Friday confirmed that I had slipped a disc. At 21, that is an even greater blow than mere muscle spasm, and 2 weeks later, whilst I’m no longer on prescribed pain killers, I’m still very stiff and starting physio (again) tomorrow.
The first week was a bad one. I think I was lower than I realised, and behind closed doors was close to tears thinking about what such an injury early on could mean. Stretching hurt, walking hurt, sitting hurt, and I have no idea if this is going to impact me permanently or become a recurring part of my life.
However, this weekend I went to Portland for the first outdoor trip of 2014. For better or for worse, I decided I was going to get on the rock – I can’t sit around waiting to get better, and movement I have read will help the recovery and mobility of the back. So with over-cautious movements, I got myself up a warm-up grade 5, sitting on the rope every few moves, calculating where to go. For the first time, I was concentrating on the movement of the climb, not the exposure, state of the rock, or the top. I slowed down immensely, trying out body positions and making the moves in a way that wouldn’t strain anything further. A greater sense of body-awareness meant that whilst I probably could have climbed it clean in one go, I climbed it well with no ill-effects. It was a beautiful day, feeling like spring after all that rain and greyness. Trying a 6b was a little ambitious and I called it quits half way up, the awkward bridging moves unwise as they’d cause me to twist. But a second 5+ was a calculated and calm ascent, completely clean with only a little bit of ledge fever faff.
I don’t know whether climbing is good or bad for a slipped disc – I was stiff afterwards and a little sore, but stretches seemed to sort things out and two days later I don’t feel any different. There’s just a small sense of achievement – a tiny shift of thinking, in that maybe, just maybe, this injury might do me good. It’s very early days still, and who knows what the physio might say tomorrow. But with plans for indoor climbing tonight, tomorrow, and probably at least once more this week, perhaps the awareness that has come from this frustrating event will in the long run improve my climbing. Slowing me down, making me think about my body in such a heightened way that I’ve never done before.
I’m choosing to use this now as a positive step – and even though this isn’t a life-changing injury and could always have been a lot worse, it’s still had a personal impact. It would be so easy to curl up into a ball (which incidentally really relieves the pressure on my back!), and hide away from any activity, for fear of further pain. Whilst I’m not going to be jumping off boulders any time soon, I’m beginning to think that slow recovery, strengthening of muscles that haven’t worked in 21 years, and a continuing understanding of body positioning, can only be a good thing towards that elusive 7a…