Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to the Steam Bath

Just came back from a fabulous six day mountain biking holiday with Cindy & the boys... The third day was our longest: 7 hours on some fairly technical trails through remote mountains. 45 minutes into the ride my back "locked-up". This happens to me once or twice per year: I don't fully understand what causes it, or even what is going on with my back, but each incident lasts 3-7 days, and during this time my lower back is super stiff and fragile. Walking and standing is particularly uncomfortable.

I knew this might happen during the trip, so I came prepared with strong prescription pain-killers, which make things bearable during an incident. Problem was, I didn't have the pain-killers on my day pack. They were back in the van. That day being so long we didn't have an extra 1.5+ hours to go back to the van and get them. So when my back locked up I was faced with two choices: abandon de ride and go back on my own to the van - then wait for ~6 hours for them to finish - or, continue with the ride. I could barely stand or walk, but riding was fine. I decided to try to continue with the ride and return if it got too uncomfortable. Turned out riding the bike was mostly fine and only getting on and off the bike was painful. Our guide Chris and Cindy helped me out during the short sections when we had to carry our bikes and I actually really enjoyed what turned out to be one of the best rides of our trip. Having said that, by the 6th hour even riding started to become uncomfortable, and by the time we made it back to the van I could not put any weight on my Left leg. The pain-killers and a dip in an icy-cold stream helped, but I was starting to believe it might have been a bad idea to keep riding...

The next morning (days 2 & 3 of an episode are usually the worst) I could barely walk. Our guide Chris had done some research and found that there was an aquatic center nearby with a steam bath, sauna & hot tub. I was in no condition to ride, so while the rest of the group went for a ride, I stayed at the aquatic center, hoping it would make me feel a bit better. I went straight for the steam bath and within 20 minutes it was like magic: my back was almost normal. When they came to pick me up two hours later they couldn't believe their eyes: I had slowly limped into the center yet came out walking normally. The steam bath had cured me! I skipped that afternoon session, but by the next day was as good as new - and got to fully enjoy the last two days.

Takeaways?

- My theory that when my back locks remaining physically active heals it faster seems to be correct. I believe the "locking" of my back is a defense mechanism, not an injury. I need to convince my back that it is OK to relax.

- A steam bath might be a magical cure for some back problems.

- A good guide makes all the difference


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