For 3 years now, I’ve been saying my one regret in life is trying rowing when I was at university. I fell in love with the sport, became super fit, and thrived on the competition that drove me to the gym or the water 6 days a week. My heartache comes from the fact that through this sport, I discovered a weakness in my back that meant rowing really wasn’t for me. I went from finding a passion to having it taken away from me, and years of physio to try to stop the pain.
It’s been 3 years since my first back injury (brought on by rowing) – 2 years since my second back injury (brought on by climbing – my hobby of more than 12 years). It’s been 6 weeks since my third back injury, brought on by hiking – something I’ve done my whole life. It’s been 3 days since my fourth back injury… brought on by sitting on a bench. What I’ve come to realise is the fundamental cause of these injuries is not the activity I was doing at the time, but the lack of activity that preceded the incident. The exception to this being the first injury, as this happened at a time when I was the fittest I’ve ever been – however, the inherent weaknesses of my body were exacerbated, so regardless of how ‘fit’ I was, I hadn’t worked the key areas to hold my body properly.
My only regret is that I did not take notice that first time. Once the pain subsided, I became complacent, stopped the physio exercises, and just went back to my occasional stint in the gym, a bit of swimming, and climbing. All good things, but not nearly enough to get my core to a position where it could support my spine correctly despite any imbalances.
This realisation has come after three days of the most intense pain I think I’ve ever felt. Spasms wracked my body till I was bent in half. Sitting for 30 seconds required 20 minutes of incredibly painful shuffling before I could stand to even near-vertical. Being 23, this complete debilitation has been soul destroying. Having been somewhat active in the past, I suddenly faced the idea that perhaps I’ll never be as flexible again, and may never be without discomfort. It feels like it may finally be easing a little, but only just.
Then I took real stock. Had a look at my body (which is currently so lopsided I look like a caricature), and realised that actually this is all fixable. The first day of agony I ended up hobbling into a local physio who thankfully took ‘limp-ins’. I know it’s going to cost me a small fortune, but he is the first physio I’ve seen since that first injury (and I’ve seen a few) who said I didn’t need to stretch, I needed to strengthen. The pain isn’t from a major trauma or accident. My body is still fundamentally healthy. The problem is I have muscles that have been underutilised, and if I can get those working in the way they should be, I should never have this issue again.
It is possible to get better. It is possible to recover completely and not settle for “well, it’s better than it was.” To not need to crack my back before bed so I don’t get stiff. What it’s going to take is perseverance and hard graft. It’s relatively easy to say all this now, when I’m already fed up of the pain and enthusiastically promising all sorts of training regimes. But I am also more realistically determined. Whilst the previous episodes have been an inconvenience, this time it’s scared me. The extremity of the pain was so much more than I’ve experienced before – and the fact that it was caused by inactivity was a wakeup call.
So this is my public announcement, as there’s no point regretting anything in life unless you’re going to learn from it. I’m going to get fit again. Slowly, I’m going to get my body back, and make it better and stronger than before. And if I don’t… well, then I deserve what I get through laziness! But there’s so much more I want to do, and I want to do it well, not hampered by something entirely reversible. Take your regrets, and turn them into reasons for better…