Back Injury

Injuries are an unavoidable part of being an aging athlete.  Generally, they are minor twists, scrapes and contusions, but some are more serious.  Over the past 8 years, I have worked through a whole assortment of injuries

  • Rib Stress Fractures (cured by rest)
  • Osteo-arthritis in my knees (treated with cortizone shots and improved with arthroscopic surgery)
  • Sciatica (improved by using seat pad on the erg and better seat in the boat)
  • pinched nerve in my high back (trained through)

Now I am working out how to manage an injury to my lower back.  I hurt it in an open water session a couple of weeks ago.  I didn’t notice it at the time, but by that evening, I had trouble standing up.  It was a very localized pain right at the top of my left buttock, between my spine and my hip.  If I stood straight up, I could lean slowly forward at my hips and it would hurt at a very specific angle, around 60 degrees from vertical.

After that, I would stretch and maybe take a day or two off from rowing and then return.  The back pain was there, but manageable and I thought it was improving.  Then on 22 August, I did a sprint workout, a Pyramid session (250/500/750/1K/750/500/250) in my single.  I felt fine immediately afterward, but by the end of the workday, it was very painful  to stand up from a sitting position and the pain made it difficult to sleep in any position but flat on my back.  I took two days off of rowing and then eased back in with some lighter pressure endurance sessions.  It still hurt when I woke up in the morning, but felt pretty good through the day and at night.

On 29 August I rowed out on Lake Quinsigamond with my friend Joe.  We did a 2 min on / 1 min off session.  This was a bit moretame than a pure sprint session, with stroke rates around 26-28 for most of the on sessions.  But the same pattern occurred.  Felt fine right after, but by the end of the day, I was in serious pain.  Again, I could only sleep on my back.  The pain in the morning made it a challenge to bend over to put on my underwear and pants.  Working out was out of the question.  I’ve been trying to figure out what to do since then.

I even went to the unimpeachable fount of information, facebook, and posed the question to the master rowers group.  To my surprise, I’ve gotten over 120 replies so far and a lot of good advice.  Here’s a synopsis of what I’ve gleaned and the framework of my plan.

  1. Make immediate changes to try to improve my spinal hygiene.  This includes getting a lumbar support brace to remind me to sit up straight.  Sit on an exercise ball.  Stand more (I’m going to ask for a standing desk at work)
  2. Take anti-inflammatories (Ibuprofen for now) as needed
  3. Stop rowing until I get cleared up
  4. Seek a genuine medical diagnosis so I understand what is going on in there (I’ll get a referral from the guy who did my knee)
  5. Learn all I can about back injuries and how to manage them (Many people recommended this book “The Back Mechanic” by Stuart McGill.  Other folks pointed me to this online presentation by Fiona Wilson)
  6. Once I have a diagnosis and treatment plan, find a physical therapist who does a lot of work with rowers to help me figure out a plan to strengthen my core and improve my injury resistance (If anyone knows a good physio in the Boston area, please let me know)
  7. Multiple people commented on my posture in my facebook profile picture which shows me with an unusual amount of layback.  They recommended that I get some immediate coaching.  I think that is actually really good advice.  Once I can get back into a boat, I will try to find a good online (or local) coach.  I have higher hopes for online coaching since my training schedule is so constrained and variable.

Who knows how this will go or how long it will take to get better, but my priority is to get healthy and fix whatever elements of my rowing style (and lifestyle) contributed to injury before resuming hard training.  My most important objective is to be able to row until I am very, very old.  I don’t want to do something now that will jeopardize that.

So, for now, it will be cross training.  Walks, jogs, maybe some biking if I am pain free.  I won’t scratch from the HOCR yet, but I’ll make a decision about that in a month or so.

By the way, today, I went for a nice 4km walk around the island.  About 40 minutes or so.

Walk around Lt Island