Last Tuesday night I injured my back at practice. Of course, it happened doing something I’ve done many, many times. I’ve had minor muscle strains and sprains at practice before, and I usually just keep going.
But this time I couldn’t. I even had to stay home from work the next day because I could barely roll out of bed.
Less than two weeks away from a competition (which is a big deal in this part of Canada – there are barely any b-boy battles here), plus a presentation I’m doing on injury prevention! Hah! There’s never a good time, only “less bad” – and this is definitely a “more bad” time for me.
But perhaps this will end up being a good thing. I’ve read and written so much about the science of pain (particularly low back pain). I suppose it’s now time to actually experience it first hand.
Here’s how its going so far, plus some research I’ve done on this particular injury.
How it happened:
Last Tuesday night I was practicing after a particularly tiring day at work – possible contributing factor? I don’t know, maybe.
Already warmed up, I was starting to go over some moves and combos. One such combo was a funny transition to a backspin (the last move I do on this video). After doing it reasonable well two times in a row, I decided to put more power into it. During the kick of my right leg, (an inside-out crescent kick with some abdominal flexing and twisting), I felt a slight twinge of pain in my right lower back.
At first, I tried to walk it off, rubbing my back. This kind of thing has happened countless times all over my body. No big deal. But when I tried to do more dancing – I couldn’t. The pain started to get worse.
Damn it! I need to practice!
First insight: when you’re actually in pain, all recommendations that you are fully aware of (and would give to others) go completely out the window.
I decided to wait a little longer. I sat on the floor and did some stretching – my groin, hamstrings, etc. I would have done this anyway before practicing harder stuff. But then I started to stretch my waist by lying flat and twisting my knees to the side. It was stiffer than usual. And when untwisting (returning to neutral) – the pain was intense.
After trying a few more moves that caused intolerable amounts of pain, I decided I should actually stop. With http://www.bboyscience.com/wp-admin/post-new.php#the competition coming up, this was rather upsetting. I spend the rest of the night very angry.
You knew this was coming.
The pain wrapped around my right side in a “C” shape, close to my lower ribs, and didn’t spread much further than the size of my palm. There was nothing in the middle of my back, and I could flex and extend my lower back fine. Twisting and side-bending was what caused pain, particularly against gravity / resistance or with speed. Coughing or sneezing feels like I’m being stabbed in the ribs.
Definitely a muscle strain – which isn’t so bad as far as back injuries go.
Second Insight: high risk of confirmation bias when diagnosing yourself. I want it to be “just a strain”, so perhaps those are the symptoms I’m noticing the most?
I started to Wikipedia different lower back and abdominal muscles. Here’s where it hurts:
My reasoning led me to start diving into Pubmed, and here’s what I found:
- Results in a tear of the internal oblique abdominals at their attachment to the lower four ribs. That explains the location of the pain.
- Caused by a sudden, eccentric, unbalanced trunk rotation. That’s pretty much exactly what I did – although my technique must have been a bit off.
- Treatment is conservative and non-operative, involving sport specific rehabilitation. Great! That’s easy enough. I can do that.
An interesting injury – could definitely be worse. Funny that it turned out to be a side strain when it hurt the most in my back at first. That’s probably an important lesson about back pain.
However, strains usually take a few weeks to subside before you can “go all out” again… and I have a week and a half before the competition – not to mention all the practice time I’m going to miss.
I love science but THIS SUCKS.
How things are going so far:
Stubbornly, I only took one day off work and exercise (Wednesday). I felt ready on Thursday, although it still hurt a lot. Most guidelines for injury and pain recommend early movement, so I thought what better way than to go to work? Of course, I avoided any strenuous work, and asked for help wherever possible.
I’ve noticed that Ibuprofen actually does a good job of decreasing the pain, although I am trying to minimize how much I take. I’m also trying to eat really well.
I went to practice after work on Thursday, and just moved extremely slowly, and experimented. I know I should have rested – but I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing! Yes, most everything caused pain. But there were some things I could get away with, and as I warmed up, it actually started to feel better.
I did the same thing Friday after work. It felt even better, and I could move a little faster, and get into positions that I couldn’t attempt the day before.
Yesterday I stayed in and relaxed. It was nice.
It’s now Sunday. The pain is now centered at the front of my right side (at the ribs), and I barely feel it in my back anymore. I took one ibuprofen early this morning.
Overall, it’s definitely not a severe strain. If it wasn’t for this competition, I would have just taken a week off… but I just can’t!
Third Insight: the pressure of competition and (my self perceived) expectations of others are causing me to behave much less responsibly that I normally would.
Tonight I have practice, and I’m going to try some “riskier” movements. It’s been over three days, and hopefully a decent scar has formed (although it probably isn’t very strong yet). I plan to warm up very carefully, and stretch before doing anything difficult. I’m also going to take an ibuprofen about 30 minutes before I go. I’m going to try my more powerful movements, but as slowly as possible and with as much care and emphasis on technique as possible. If it hurts, I’ll “downgrade” my practice to what I did Friday.Third Insight: the pressure of competition and (my self perceived) expectations of others are causing me to behave much less responsibly that I normally would.
I’ll keep you all posted about how it goes.
Wish me luck!