My back hurts.
As I write this, I’m shifting around in my office chair to find a comfortable position, because couple of hours ago, I completed a Crossfit WOD (workout of the day) that involved a bunch of deadlifts. It’s funny that when I type the word “deadlift,” my computer tries to change it to “deadliest.” (Go ahead and try it. See?) It’s funny because for a person with chronic back problems like me, the mere concept of a deadlift does seem pretty deadly, so my computer is spot on.
Let me insert a quick disclaimer before I proceed any further. I’m a blessed man. I mean, really, really blessed. I’ve got an awesome wife, three incredible (and slightly crazy-making) kids, and a very cool life. There are a blue-million people out there who are facing much more formidable challenges than me, so believe me when I say, I’m really not complaining. And I blame my back pain on basketball, not deadlifts. I’ll get to that in a minute.
But after some consideration, I’ve decided that the world’s population can be neatly divided into two kinds of folks: Good-Back People (GBPs) and Bad-Back People (BBPs).
GBPs think they have their own problems, but they’re wrong. They don’t have any problems. They just don’t know it.
Channeling Chubby Checker
BBPs spend a large portion of their lives shuffling in and out of chiropractic offices, laying prostrate on floors, strapping heated, electrified bands around their waists, and fantasizing about being GBPs.
We covet our neighbor’s backs and we make no bones about it. A BBP with a cool mill in the bank, a hot spouse, and freshly showered, well-adjusted kids would chuck it all for a lower torso that would allow them to simply tie their shoes without grinding their teeth in agony.
BBPs are easy to spot in public because we rarely stand still. We are often found lifting one leg up like a stork or thrusting out our hips in a kind of self-chiropractic adjustment or twisting our upper body back and forth like Chubby Checker, who must’ve had an absolute nightmare of a back.
If you notice someone suddenly jerk as if they’ve been shot or stabbed or have stepped into an invisible pothole, you can bet they are a BBP. This is because back pain can be ninja-like. You’re going along, enjoying your day, exhibiting proper posture, not trying to lift a VW or hoist an anvil or install a child seat in a 1990 Honda hatchback or anything crazy like that, and then — BAM! — the ninja springs out of the darkness, knees you in the lower back like a thug hired by Tonya Harding, and disappears into the mist. In an instant, a grown man becomes a 39-weeks-pregnant woman with one hand on her lower back and the other groping for the nearest stable object.
If I only had a spine
It’s nearly impossible to adequately describe back pain to a GBP, but here’s a good analogy: Imagine you’re the Tin Man, and you’re still in your rusted state, the way Dorothy and Scarecrow found you in the Evil Woods or Forest of Doom or wherever it was. Remember that terrible creaky sound he made and how Dorothy oiled his joints until he could move around? This is how my back feels (and actually sounds) practically every morning, except there’s no Dorothy and no oil can. There’s also no Scarecrow, thank God, because that would scare the hell out of me first thing in the morning, but I digress.
Because of our Tin Man-like mobility, BBPs often have irrational fears. For example, we sometimes believe that we may actually break in two. As crazy as it sounds, we truly believe that if we learn forward a little too far, we’ll just snap right off at the waist.
BBP-husbands have fears that thugs will approach us in an alley as we leave the show (like in “Ghost”), insult our wives, and force us to make a choice between a) defending our bride while screaming, “Ouch, ouch, back, back, back!” with one hand clutching our L-5, or b) ignoring the slur and losing our Man Card for all eternity.
Crossfit: temporary insanity
It was the impending loss of my Man Card that ultimately spurred me to try Crossfit in 2010. Some eight years before, I had undergone lower back surgery after two decades of chronic pain. ( I can trace my problems to an injury that occurred while dunking a basketball when I was 21.) In the years following the surgery, I had essentially decided that my athletic days were gone forever, and given the slightest provocation, my lower back might literally disengage from the rest of my body and plop to the floor, leaving me with an unsightly gap between my upper and lower, er, hemispheres. When my do-gooder wife started Crossfitting at a local box, I thought she was suffering from temporary insanity. And when she first described a burpee to me, and then suggested that I TRY one, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she had increased my life insurance earlier that day as part of some diabolical plot. The idea of purposely casting myself to the floor and up again repeatedly was so absurd, I could scarcely formulate a response. I believe “Aa-aackk…” is what I came up with. (My burpee form is fairly well documented and can be found in the blog, “Top 12 reasons why this 47-year-old HATES Crossfit.”)
Through various forms of coercion (I believe the withholding of marital favors was involved at one point), I finally consented to try Crossfit. Three years later, I’ve learned some interesting factoids, like:
- My back is stronger than I gave it credit for,
- Sitting or standing still for long periods of time is actually a lot worse for my back than strenuous exercise,
- I can do burpees, but they’re much worse than I expected,
- The Mona Lisa doesn’t have eyebrows or eyelashes, and
- I dislike GBP Crossfitters even more than regular GBPs.
Back surgery = “Band of Brothers”
I want you to focus on the first two factoids. When a person suffers from back pain, the natural inclination is NOT to go to a gym and start banging giant tires with sledge hammers like Thor trying to fix a flat. Rather, it is to hobble to the nearest sofa, lie motionless, and let people bring you refreshments. I’ll admit this can be fun — I watched the entire “Band of Brothers” mini-series the week after my back surgery — but it’s never really going to help strengthen a bad back, which is the only true antidote for back pain.
But there again, I digress, because I’m not a doctor nor am I sponsored by Crossfit or any other fitness program. I can’t make recommendations for what you should do with your own sorry excuse for a muscular/skeletal system, only tell you what I’m doing with mine. Amazingly, I can deadlift almost 300 pounds with this old Tin Man frame, and while that’s not much compared to many, it’s an incomprehensible miracle for me. But more important is the fact that I can still offer my “Daddy Express” piggy-back rides up the stairs to my 6-year-old at bedtime.
The take-away from all this? If you gotta dunk, make it a doughnut.
Also see: “Top 9 Reasons why I should be the ‘Face of Crossfit’ instead of Rich Froning,” “The Top 11 Things a Crossfit Virgin Should Know,” “Top 10 Lame-Ass Reasons Not to Exercise”, ”Top 11 Things a Warrior Dash Virgin Should Know,” and “I Know You’re Trying to Be Nice. Don’t.”