Are you sitting down? I am, but I’ve been doing too much of that this year.
For the past six months, I haven’t been using our community exercise room. I haven’t been able to swim. I haven’t gone outside that much. I’ve become a couch potato, and you know why: It’s the virus.
This is not a good thing. My back has become chronically stiff. Getting out of my car after just a 15-minute drive requires standing next to the car door and stretching before I can take a step, even with my canes. Sitting to write this column is best done with my laptop in my lap and my feet on a stool. My desk and chair have become my enemies. I’ve needed to do something about this problem, and I have — I’ve returned to physical therapy.
Exercise or physical therapy?
I’ve occasionally done physical therapy over the years. Being married to a retired physical therapist, you’d think I would have done it a lot, but I haven’t. I’ve worked out with weight machines and ridden a recumbent bike. I’ve done pool-walking and have swum laps. I’ve tried Pilates. I’ve done hippotherapy, my favorite exercise. Each of these has helped me physically and mentally, and I’ve enjoyed them.
Physical therapy, on the other hand, can be more work than fun. And my ability to schedule it has been limited to the number of sessions my insurance will pay for. But in addition to back stiffness, I’ve developed what seems to be sciatic nerve pain running down my leg from my left hip. The sciatic nerve originates along the lower section of the spinal column, so I decided that professional help was needed to manipulate the spine where it’s pressing on that nerve. And the physical therapy office is at the same street level as my home, so I really couldn’t find an excuse to avoid it.
Visiting the therapist
The physical therapist starts my weekly sessions by stretching both of my legs upward, moving them close to a 90-degree angle from the exam table. He also stretches them out to the side, parallel with the floor. For some of our sessions, he presses on specific spots along the spine to help loosen my discs, and he massages the path of the sciatic nerve, from my butt down to below my knee. Then I do exercises myself. It helps, but the relief is short-lived.
I continue the exercises the therapist assigns me at home. They’re probably familiar to anyone with back problems, and they include knee-to-chest stretches and side-to-side rocking, with my bent legs moving in one direction and my neck turning the opposite way. They’re boring, and I’m not great at doing this homework (nor was I great about doing homework back in high school), but at least I’m doing something. And combined with weekly sessions with my physical therapist, they seem to help a bit.
Have you worked with a physical therapist? Has it helped you? Please share in the comments below.
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