Fifteen years ago I injured my back while I was trying to strengthen it at the gym. I had just finished doing 75 pounds on the stomach machine (the one with the bar against your chest that you push forward), and I said to myself, “If I can do 75 pounds on the stomach machine, then I can do 75 pounds on the back machine.”

So I climbed aboard the back machine and leaned my back against the weight—a weighted back-bend, if you will. At first everything seemed fine. Then I felt the oddest sensation, as if someone had just closed a zipper across my back. It was distinctive, and it certainly didn’t feel right. When I descended from the machine, I found I couldn’t stand up straight, and my lower back felt weak.

A couple of weeks later I started having trouble walking. “Are you drunk?” my husband asked one afternoon, when I appeared to trip a couple of times in a row. My right thigh was numb and tingly, and sometimes the ground didn’t seem to be where it was supposed to be. I decided it was time to go to the doctor and ended up in physical therapy for a couple of months.

Since then, my back has bothered me about once a year, but only when I would do eminently sensible things like bending over at the waist to hoist a large TV. Or picking up the carpet cleaner the wrong way. For a few days I would walk as if I had a corncob up my butt, and then things would return to normal. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t all that painful, and I could live with it.

Things changed in 2010. I’m not sure what happened. Perhaps I had come to believe my back was injured but somehow invincible after two years of doing Krav Maga, in which we regularly had to “sprawl” (go from standing to pushup position). Perhaps I had slacked off on the sit-ups more than I realized. Whatever the reason, my back decided to have mini-spasms twice a month. Then I drove to Kansas City and back twice in one month, and I couldn’t get my right leg to stop hurting. Back to the doctor and the physical therapist.

This course of physical therapy has been a revelation. I realized just how weak my core muscles have become (maybe it’s all the perimenopausal flab weighing them down). I learned names of muscles: multifidus, piriformis, quadratus lumborum, transversus abdominis. I had trigger point dry needling, in which the PT stuck needles into my sacrum and butt (she warned me she might go as deep as two inches). Only one location really hurt.

After about two months of exercises, I can feel myself getting stronger.

What I can’t seem to accept, however, is the limitations of age. Fifty is less than two years away. It is my firm belief that I should be able to lift my age in weight. So last Sunday I picked up a 50-lb. bag of birdseed and poured half of it into the container that I take out to fill up the feeder. I did my best to lift with proper body mechanics, but my back didn’t like it at all.

Then the next day I had to confess to my physical therapist. She laughed at me and suggested I wait a few months before trying that again.

Impatience is one of my greatest faults. I wonder some days how I will cope with the chaos of traveling if I can’t pace myself during recovery. I need to be strong in order to have the life I want, but I find it difficult to wait for anything.

Do you suppose travel will cure me of that?

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