Helping Yourself

With self-treatment, it goes without saying that there is no physical input from anyone else. Although I strongly suggest that in the beginning you see a physiotherapist, manual therapist, chiropractor or osteopath who will isolate your problem and initiate the un-jamming process, the rest is up to you. There are many operators who are expert at undoing complex jamming of vertebral segments, but they alone cannot deliver you from trouble. You need to help yourself and be confident about doing so—and being effective! Even the best therapeutic magician, who plays the spine with the finesse of a concert pianist, can only address the 'hands-on' aspect of your care. The background decompression of your spine and the restoration of your trunk control can only be done by you.

Spinal therapies which do not recruit the sufferer enjoy short-lived success. Yet most people would love to help fix their problem, if only they knew how. A quick tweak here and another tweak there, and a repeat appointment in a couple of weeks, rarely achieves anything if you have not done the groundwork in the meantime. The regenerative period may be a fraction of the degenerative one, yet it still takes time. It is a journey which must methodically unfold as it stops the destruction and turns it around. A condition which has taken years to evolve cannot be cured in a moment, especially when the factors which brought it about (gravity and our upright stance) never go away.

You have to decompress your spine. No-one else can do this for you. You also may have to loosen contracture of the spine's soft tissues. No-one else can do that for you. You have to restore strength to weak muscles. No-one can do this for you either. So except for the subtle art of manually loosening a spinal segment, which is hard for you to execute with any degree of accuracy, you do the vast bulk of rehabilitation yourself. And remember, you have the invaluable advantages of intuition and instinct guiding you from the inside.

The fundamentals of self-treatment are to minimise the compression and restore elasticity to an immobile link. Restoring segmental freedom introduces mobility which allows the disc to undergo pressure changes to bolster nutrient traffic and stimulate cellular metabolism. As a consequence, the disc can suck through and hold more water which improves its health and also makes it more resilient. Thereafter, the disc can also absorb shock better and is less victimised by trauma. A properly hydrated disc also spares the facet surfaces excessive contact. It acts like a pivot on which the segment tips, while the intrinsic muscles at the back control the forward nodding of the vertebra like horse's reins—all of them working at their most efficient angle of pull. When a disc flattens, there is less of this see-sawing action, and everything works less well. Strain and eventually pain sets in. Gradual restoration of disc height is thus the first objective of treatment. The key to the remedy is as simple as knowing the cause.

Preliminary thoughts

Self-treatment of a spinal problem involves graduated combinations of a few simple exercises, rather than a great variety. And because the central jamming is the first disorder from which other conditions flow, the fundamentals of all treatments are just the same—even for more complex disorders. Whatever the problem, the same few exercises keep cropping up: rocking the knees to the chest, spinal rolling, squatting, using the BackBlock, abdominal strengthening exercises (reverse curl ups) and intrinsic spinal strengthening. But before starting these, it is important to know that treatment of any problem must be taken at the right rate. In what is essentially a healing process, the regimen must be embarked upon with determination, subtlety and intuition. There should be a fine balance between rigour and rest. It has to mean business but cannot be rushed. You have to do what is necessary, unflinchingly, but you cannot harry your back. You must tailor treatment to your spine's ability to recuperate after each 'new' activity.

Be guided by your instincts. You do have to keep pushing the spine at times when you might be fearful about it but remember, most pains are good pains and most people are fearful of the wrong wrongs. They are too defensive and too ready to brace against the pain, wrapping it up, clenching around it and keeping it inside the spine.

Incidentally, it is surprising how dramatically you can reduce your discomfort by willing the muscles around your pain to relax. You can do it during any activity: walking along, waiting for a lift, or stretching to make a bed. As you feel the muscles start to grab, concentrate on making them let go, like a meaningful glance to stop a naughty dog jumping up. Subtle—even bizarre—as it sounds, a simple breakthrough like this is a huge milestone in the management of your back problem.

When self-treatment fails, it is often because you have been too tense to disengage from the pain. At the same time, there may have been too little (or too much) physical effort. You may not have been sufficiently calm and persevering or you may have been too vigorous, with too high an expectation of an instant cure. Alternatively, it may have been progressed too recklessly. The clue with self-treatment is to keep going, quietly yet purposefully: not too timid, not too aggressive. Just keep going with thoughtfulness but not obsessive introspection.

Chances are, you will occasionally lose control of the treatment and things will seem to go backwards. You will have a hiccup in progress when everything seemed to be going swimmingly; a savage twinge as if your back has turned around and bitten you. When this happens, you will be cast into despair and lose your serene overview, and your confidence will waver. More importantly, it will stop you dead. You will fear the worst and you will be too frightened to keep moving forwards. But if you grind to a halt, the back will have taken over again.

Rest assured that at some stage, all of you will have to deal with some kind of wobble in the path of recovery. You will think you are getting nowhere; that it shouldn't be this painful. You may feel weak or nauseated or sorer than yesterday. There may be newer pains higher up, or a different type of pain in the same area of your back.

Keep calm and ride out the storm. Employ all the resources you have to avoid panic. Your back is simply complaining about the new rules, and it is very important not to succumb. You need to ease up for a day or so, but do not stop. Remember you are on a one-way trip, and the direction is forward. Having stirred up the very centre of things, it is critical to keep going so that in the end there is something to show for it, after the reaction has died down.

You will not reach this point if you abort part-way through. You will be left with the sense that whatever you did made you worse. You will have provoked the root cause into an angry reaction lasting several weeks, even months, without the follow-through to see any appreciable gain at the end.

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