Saturday, July 5, 2014

How to not be Stupid with a Broken Back and Beat the Odds of Health Professionals

I don't watch sports. I play them, I just don't watch them (too boring to watch people chase a ball around a field for a few hours...more fun to watch goats do the same thing for a few minutes, in my opinion). Recently, I was notified through various social media accounts that some guy name Neymar who plays for the Brazilian soccer (futbol) team at the World Cup just suffered a fractured vertebra in his lower back (Fox Sports reported that it was his "third vertebra," which basically means the author doesn't know jack shit about the spinal anatomy, but then again, it IS Fox....) and is likely out for the rest of the World Cup. Some people are optimistic in saying that he might be able to play in the next game if he takes good care of himself in the next couple days, but if you think about it, any educated and sane person would most likely choose to be able to continue being able to play soccer in the near future, rather than have an attempt at another match where he's already the main prey and risk being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. 

A quick lesson on spinal injuries, a fractured vertebra = "broken back." Vertebrae are spikey marshmallow-shaped bones, so it's hard to have an actual separating break in the marshmallow part of the bone, so they're technically fractures. There are also various types of spinal fractures, each of which have varying levels and types of pain and rehabilitation. 

A broken bone takes about 6-8 weeks to heal. Before that, it has the opportunity to get worse, if not handled properly. After that, there's all sorts of fun things to deal with, like scar tissue, newly overcompensations of muscles, and other soft tissue stuff. With a broken vertebra, these "fun things" will likely stay with you for the rest of your life. But the main thing is, if it's treated correctly, and the homework is consistently done, then the option of playtime will continue to exist. But first.....6-8 weeks of letting that bone superglue itself back together is vital. Sorry, Neymar, if you're smart, you're not going to finish this year's World Cup. But if you do things right, you can play again next year. If may never walk again. I'd choose the first option.

One of the permanent injuries I have to deal with on a daily basis is a severe wedge compression fracture in my 2nd lumbar vertebra (the one above the one Neymar is reported to have broken). My marshmallow basically looks like the unevenly squished one that got jammed under a can of Spaghetti-O's. This was from a 4-wheeling accident in the Californian desert back in '08. 

Long story short, after about 2 years of various rehab programs (ending in the style we now use at Live to Play), I was able to do all the fun things the docs told me I wouldn't be able to do anymore, like run a few half marathons (I was never a runner before), compete in taekwondo again, start up a new martial art (brazilian jiu jitsu) and compete in a few of those tournaments, help my parents move, and lift heavy weights. I had exceeded the best-case scenario that was presented to me. 

The thing is....I still get back pain. I get it more often when I have bad posture and don't do my workouts, but that's a good thing. It reminds me that I have to keep doing my homework. I have to keep lifting and sit up straight so my muscles are strong enough to compensate for the fact that I have a spine that makes me look like a stegosaurus when I bend over. It reminds me when I've eaten too much because the pressure on my spine from my food baby causes me to be uncomfortable in every position possible. It tells me when I have too much fat and too little muscle when I gain weight because the muscle I do have isn't strong enough to support the weight above my injury. I have to do this for the rest of my life if I want to function like a normal human being, and especially if I want to do anything fun. I know this for a fact. But it's either that, or have weak supporting muscles, highly increasing my chances of paralysis (docs thought I'd for sure end up with permanent nerve damage and partial paralysis, based on my initial x-rays). 

The last 2 years, I admit I've been very on and off about my homework. I've kind of done it when it's been convenient and when I haven't been tired (read: lazy). I spent the last 2 years starting and building my business from scratch, and also used it as an excuse to be lazy. Because of that, my attendance in the fun things in life (largely hiking, jiu jitsu, and taekwondo) have been extremely spotty. If I don't do my homework consistently for at least 2-3 weeks straight, my back lets me know it after one session of something fun by making me extremely uncomfortable for 2-3 weeks. It also doesn't help when there are overzealous training partners that don't know how delicate your situation can be. A catch-22 of my rehab is that it makes me strong overall. Not just arm-wrestle strong, but nuts 'n bolts strong. That's what it's designed to do. But then you get known as "the girl that's stronger than boys" at the gym, and all the guys think they can spar hard with you because, well, strength. They don't realize that my weakest link is pretty damn weak when they try to fold me in half or twist me like they're trying to wring out a wet towel. That's when I learn who I can and can't train with during my first few weeks of getting back on the mat. 

I've learned that getting back into the swing of fun things will take a slower start than it used to. I've learned how to have a lot more patience and willpower to stop myself from doing too much. I've learned that ego in these kinds of situations does nothing but sideline me for another stint of time. I've learned that competing isn't everything. I've learned that sports and competition aren't what make me, but just things I enjoy doing doing, so I should treat them that way, instead of an identity. I am not a professional competitor, but I like to compete. It's ok if I miss a competition or athletic event here or there, because I didn't do my homework. It's not the end of the world. There will always be another one, but I only have one body. I choose a healthy, functional, pain-free body over an overzealous competitive spirit. 

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