The title isn’t a metaphor. I’m wrote this post while sitting against a heating pad. This month’s guest article, Life Outside of Dance…, came at the perfect time for me. The night I reviewed Birgit’s final draft was also the night I woke up with a painful muscle spasm in my back. A cluster of muscles in my upper back took it upon itself to seize up and refuse to be moved. It made that painfully clear every time I tried to roll over or shift my position in bed to get more comfortable. The next morning was Friday. I was able to get out of bed and walk. I could even bend down and touch my toes! I just couldn’t rotate to the right. At all. You never realize how many actions require at least a small turn to the right until you can’t do it.
After I slowly and awkwardly took the dogs outside (once again, so grateful my apartment building has an elevator), I decided this wasn’t happening. I called out sick from work and got out my heating pad. I spent probably another hour arguing and debating with myself until I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to make it to my dance lesson either. You know it’s bad when someone who has shown up to lessons with a migraine voluntarily cancels her next chance to dance.
The weekend was pretty miserable. The tension in my back started to release, but only moved up into my head. I spent Saturday laying on the couch with a heating pad on my back and an ice pack on my head. What a sorry sight I was! Sunday wasn’t much different, though the headache wasn’t as sharp.
There were some bright moments to come out of the darkness. The local chapter of USA Dance was holding their monthly social dance on Friday night, and I had told the organizer I would be there. I obviously wasn’t going to be able to dance, but I decided to go anyway to hang out and watch. I didn’t stay long, but it was nice to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen in awhile and just be in that social ballroom atmosphere.
The other bright moment was Saturday night. A friend had invited me to an Argentine tango event in LA. It was the premiere of a short film starring two famous tango dancers, followed by a milonga. I don’t know Argentine tango at all, but I hadn’t seen my friend in awhile and thought a different dance experience would be good for me. I seriously debated flaking out at the last minute due to my headache, but since I would again just be sitting and watching (and I hate not following through on my promises), I dragged myself out. The dancing in the film was beautiful and I actually did end up dancing one “tanda” (a group of 3 to 4 songs). The basic tango didn’t require any twisting or rotating, so I did ok. I didn’t step on my partner’s feet!
I’ve been carrying my heating pad around like a new teddy bear, taking it to and from work with me this week. While the original muscle cluster had let go by Sunday, my back was still stiff and very achy. Teacher had texted me to ask if we could do a double on Wednesday because he would be out of town on Friday, the usual day for my second weekly lesson. I agreed, as long as we went easy on my back. I wasn’t about to cancel two weeks in a row!
Wednesday at the office was rough. My back ached whether I was sitting or standing at my desk. My back wasn’t any better by the time I got to the studio, and I didn’t make it through the double lesson.
We focused on waltz since the other dances had faster movements that could potentially hurt more. Despite my limitations, we actually made some progress. We worked on when I should and should not be rotating my upper body in turning figures. The results were improved pivots and shadows! Through the constant aching, I was pleasantly surprised.
After 45 minutes, Teacher suggested we stop and try to schedule the second lesson for Thursday. I didn’t want to stop, but it was hard to deny that the pain and stiffness in my back was preventing me from really diving into the concepts we were working on. No sense wasting a second lesson with only half effort! Stubborn me still stayed at the studio to stretch and then at least walk through my routines to make sure I could still recall the choreography.
We were able to reschedule for Thursday evening, but first I went for a massage. A friend gifted me a session (thank you!!) and I was able to book it between work and my lesson. My back pain was gone after the massage! And then it quickly started returning about five minutes after I left the place. As the masseuse said, I have “a lot going on.” She did a lot of work on the knots in my back, shoulders and neck, but you can only do so much in an hour. The knots in my body are a long-term project.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m hindering myself by pursuing both my dance and writing passions at the same time. They compliment each other, since I write about dance, but time I spend writing is time I’m not working on my dancing and vice versa. Spending more time in front of a computer certainly doesn’t compliment the physical conditioning required for dance. Maybe it would be better if I just focused on one.
As Birgit’s story pointed out though, it can be beneficial to have something outside of dance, just in case you’re forced to stay off the floor. While I couldn’t dance, instead of being stuck on the couch with a heating pad and nothing else to focus on, I worked on writing projects like the solo practice guide (when my head wasn’t pounding). It was also a well-timed cautionary tale about trying to push through injuries instead of taking the time to heal. It’s been a week and my back is still healing. If I had been stubborn (or stupid) and tried to go to that first lesson last week instead of cancelling, my recovery time could be a lot longer. The silver lining is that it happened when I don’t have any competitions on the books, so no pressure to continue training as hard as ever.
Of course, I’m still going to a two-hour Smooth workshop tomorrow. I promise I’ll go easy.
4 thoughts on “My Aching Back”
I’m going to take of my dancer hat for a second and put on my professional hat and suggest that you get checked by a chiropractor. Massage is amazing, but when muscle spasms happen so hard and deep that it lingers more than a day or so, and prevents you from functioning to that level, it’s an indicator that more than just a spasm is happening. Also, those muscles are attached to bones and joints, and even though your back muscles feel like they are attached to pretty solid bone, those joints are made to slide and shift. It’s not uncommon for the posterior rib to shift around in its attachment to the vertebrae. And all the massage in the world isn’t likely to have the kind of effect as an adjustment to return the joint back to its proper alignment. There’s also likely some nerve entrapment in the area, which is what’s sending that nasty pain up to your neck/shoulder/head.
The up side here is that you should feel some significant relief almost immediately, and subsequent massage should really diminish the pain to low/no level. Also, most insurances cover chiropractic care and few/none cover massage (at least right now, anyway). You shouldn’t need a long term series of care, just one or a few sessions to get you past trauma. And honestly, if you’re going to be planning to dance long term, it’s good to have a few great bodyworkers you can call on because this sort of thing is pretty inevitable, no matter how fit someone might be.
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I’ve never been to a chiropractor and honestly the thought of someone moving my vertebrae around gives me the willies. BUT you’re not the first person to suggest it and I’m trying to keep an open mind. 🙂
I used to be SUPER scared of chiropractic but then a friend introduced me to a type of chiropractor who specializes in a certification called ART (active release technique) and it’s nothing like the quick “crack!” stuff that I always pictured (and had previously experienced) when working with that type of care. So if you have someone in the area who uses that certification I’d recommend starting with them!
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I didn’t even know there were different specialties under chiropractics! My back is feeling better, but I got the name of a sports medicine place that does a variety of therapies including chiro. I’ll probably check that place out, but thanks for the tip!