September 04, 2009


So I had one of those "Oh f@#k!" moments this week at the gym.

I'd actually been having a great workout, fueled by excessive amounts of caffeine and awesome tunes, and I'd cruised through my cardio and most of my weights in fine spirits.

I'd just finished doing some shoulder presses and was returning the weights to the weight rack when, like a total dumbass, I broke one of the fundamental Gym Safety Rules:

Bend Your Knees, Not Your Waist, When Lifting or Lowering Heavy Weights!

Duh. I know this. But I got careless. I bent mostly from the waist to put the weights back and not enough from the knees and then....

Owww. Followed by the sinking uh oh feeling you get when you know you've "done something" to your back.

As it happens, I've had some previous experience with this sort of dumbassery before. I've had a couple "episodes" where I could barely move for a few days, and the recovery period lasted almost 6 months. (A doctor speculated that I probably have a herniated disk, but since I'm not gonna do anything surgical even if it's true, I've never had an MRI to confirm).

The bad news about this history is that I knew this most recent injury could end up being a Big Freakin' Uncomfortable, Inconvenient Deal. But the good news was, my previous cluelessness had taught me some helpful lessons on what to do next!

And rather than waste perfectly good stupidity, I thought I might pass on some advice to those who have not yet been through the "Acck, My Back!" experience before.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am a lazy blogger, not a doctor. Consult an actual physician if you have injured or are preparing to injure yourself.

So you've heard of the acronym "RICE?" Well, it's a helpful reminder about what you're supposed to do in the wake of a painful and possibly debilitating sports injury. But it leaves some important things out.

Let's elaborate a bit, shall we? Now while I'm generally a proponent of whole grains, I think this situation calls for some WHITE RICE. So here's what to do immediately after you've injured your back:

W: Whine.

Whether this is going to be a couple of uncomfortable hours or many months of a chronic injury, you are only going to have a few short minutes of optimal sympathy from your family and friends. Might as well take advantage of it while the injury's fresh! Chronic injuries may be painful, but no one wants to hear about them. So milk it while you can.

H: Halt

After you have hurt yourself, STOP YOUR WORKOUT. This seems so obvious that no sensible human needs to be told this, right?

Well, the first time I injured my back, I clenched my teeth and finished the remainder of my workout, because I had things left on my list! I avoided only the back exercises.

Do not be this dumb! Whenever you've clearly "done something" to your back (or your calf or thigh or neck or whatever)... Adios. You're done for the day.

I: Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories.

Obviously not if you can't take these because of allergies, sensitivities, stomach problems, or other reasons. But my big mistake the first time around was not keeping the inflammation under control because it seemed more "virtuous" to keep the pills to a minimum. When I finally went to a doctor, I discovered that I'd needlessly prolonged my symptoms and could have returned to normal functioning much more quicklly if I'd just taken a few pills.

T: Teach Yourself Injury Prevention Techniques

Once you've hurt yourself, all those warnings you've been blowing off about strengthening certain muscles and stretching others and moving and sitting properly? These suddenly seem a lot more relevant and important. The trick, however, is not just to do these things for a while and then start blowing them off again once the injury fades from your mind.

Alas, it seems I have not mastered this "trick".

E: Experiment With Body Positions That Don't Hurt as Much

When you're back's messed up, you may not be able to just plonk yourself into your regular chair, or sleep in your normal position. You may feel dorky standing up when others are sitting, or tilting back in your chair, or lying down for a day when you have things that need to be done, but try to do what you can to irritate your injury as little as possible.

Your injury needs to heal, and it's not going to do that very well if you're putting constant pressure on it. Tell your boss to go to hell if he doesn't like you lying on the conference room table during staff meetings.

Er... or maybe not.

R: Rest

Seriously, take it easy. Depending on how severe your injury is, you may need to hunker down completely for a day or so and it might then be a long gradual easing back into activity before you can resume all the hard ass stuff you did before.

But "rest" does not mean remaining immobile for weeks! They used to advise people to stay in bed for absurd lengths of time with back injuries; now it's much more about walking around and getting gentle exercise back into your life, which can actually help healing.

I: Ice!!!

This seems to help me a LOT. Right after I injured myself this time, I went home and used my Moji. Even though it's designed for knees, it worked great! (If you don't have one, ice or bags of frozen vegetables work too). I iced 20 minutes at a time, 5 or 6 times that first day, and that plus the ibuprofen really seemed to calm things down.

C: Compression.

I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about this, but it's supposed to be a good thing when you have an injury.

E: Elevation?

Really? This is part of the standard "RICE" advice, but how the hell do you elevate your back above your heart? Are you supposed to spend the day upside down? Instead, I think they must mean Elevate Your Mood!

So if your doctor doesn't prescribe painkillers with any entertaining recreational potential, I discovered that a big glass of merlot works very well as a muscle relaxant, pain reliever, and mood elevator. NOTE: This is probably not actually medically advisable, so check with your doctor first and don't try to sue Crabby if you burn holes in your stomach or start seeing green unicorns flying through your living room. And always check labels of any drugs you are taking to see whether you can safely combine them with alcohol.

The Happy Ending:

Turns out this was not one of those Bad Back Episodes; I discovered pretty quickly that it must have been a minor strain. I have kept moving but have avoided anything heavy duty; I'm about to ease back into my normal routine but will be very careful.

Where You Can Get Actual Medical Information:

Mayo Clinic has a whole bunch of information on back injuries. (And specially for you hypochondriacs in need of something new to worry about, there's a section on rare and serious conditions related to back aches).

And Because it's Friday

I have a little extra silliness to squeeze in at the end of this post!

First up, the weekly Juice Quiz! Don't worry, this week it's only one question:

Why does Crabby have so few friends?

1. She has an unconventional theory about personal hygiene that she'd love to tell you about;

2. Crabby does not actually exist; she is a software program dreamed up by the folks at Google to subtly dissuade people from getting fit so they'll spend all day at their computers instead;

3. Crabby has an irrational fear of a common communication device;

4. Crabby has all the friends she needs! So what if they all live inside her head?

The answer is revealed here . (Oh, and there's a new giveaway too, this time it's one of those cute little Flip Camcorders.)

Pity The Mutants

And next up, our pal Pubsgal mentioned a funny website in her comment yesterday, and I went there and spent quite a bit of time giggling over it. It's called Photoshop Disasters, and it collects examples of commercial photoshop abuses, both subtle and not-so-subtle. I couldn't help feeling sorry for those models with freakishly big heads or long limbs or short necks, extra or missing fingers, or heads screwed on backwards. But the mutant children are particularly poignant.

Have a great holiday weekend, and try not to injure your back or let your arms melt into your pool toys!


  1. Great advice.

    My Sweetie has his back "go out" with regularity, and has also opted to treat conservatively. This means staying home and getting catered to.

    In fact, he is upstairs now, on a busy work morning, resting the back he injured last night carrying a tv that I told him I would move for this very reason.

    So I get to have his pleasant company for the -- oh, wait, he's yelling for the muscle relaxer, and some ice water and next he'll want an ice pack and -- (aside: hold on, I'm coming!) -- gotta go!

  2. I have back issues and your advice is spot-on, and funny too. So next time I hurt my back, I can print this out and laugh while I cry in pain!

  3. Glad to hear it wasn't one of the really bad injuries! But hopefully you are still milking it for all it is worth. And I'm totally with you on the phones and Twitter and all that other stuff.

  4. So sorry to hear you're feeling achy! Back pain must be outlawed! Good advice - especially the milking it part. It must be done early and often as loved ones tend to get sick of it after a few days. Hope you're feeling better soon! Could be worse - could be one of the mutant children.

  5. Thanks for the advice. Mine's more a constant thing, but they haven't found anything on x-ray. Stupid doctors. But, I know how it feels (a little). I hope it really is a speedy recovery.

  6. Love the White Rice. I'm glad to learn your back injury isn't so bad. You get to rest and you got a great blog post out of it.

  7. So sorry about your back. That's no fun. Just don't get cocky and start working out too soon and actually, really, hurt it this time.

    But I want to thank you for that mutant arms picture. It's making me laugh me in an absurdly perverse way this morning. ;)

  8. I like the "whine" part best...but I'm sure the others would help, lol!

    Glad it wasn't a long, painful injury. And thanks for saying to halt the you, I'd probably just keep on going until I was done. Doh!

    Now I'm off to check out the mutant photoshops!

  9. Glad to hear your back injury wasn't too serious!
    Loved the White Rice.
    Thanks for the chuckles.

  10. Oh no!!

    Im married to someone who has chronic back pain (so much so that he lamented to me getting OLD the other day and I had to remind him he'd been moaning about the back since we met 15 years ago) and have (knock wood) not ever had any myself.

    only you could turn the pain into a hilarious post, Cranky.


  11. Excellent advice! I will avoid brown rice the next time (!) I hurt a body part.

  12. I will be sure to follow the WHITE RICE advice the next time I have a moment of dumassery. Hope you are feeling better soon!

  13. I have also “herniated/slipped/compressed” disks in my lower back and am afraid of surgery. May I suggest some physiotherapy in addition to WHITE RICE if your medical plan permits.
    I have had two major bouts of crippling back pain – the first because I never did core exercises and I was hefting about carry on luggage and a laptop on a regular basis, and the second – because once you’ve done it once you can do it again at any time – when I sneezed while bending over to pick up a stuffed toy. (As an aside the study on pain and swearing is in fact true as you should not swear in front of your 2 year old niece when your back goes out due to her incredible ability to clearly enunciate words and phrases you would rather she did not repeat. I am convinced that had I shrieked what I wanted to shriek my recovery would have been faster.)
    If you can’t get access to good physio then I would also suggest adding the following two components to WHITE RICE: (i) sleep on your back with a pillow under your lower legs/knees for the first little while after it happens, and (ii) when you are able, start to do the Cobra yoga move very slowly a few times a day. While I initially found the Cobra stretch to be counterintuitive to the pain I was experiencing as I thought it would further compress the disks, it actually seemed to work.
    And as a final note, I found that no matter how much you beg, your doctor won’t prescribe medical marijuana to help ease the pain. (I didn’t even try for stronger stuff as she immediately told me upon diagnosis that she would not prescribe narcotics due to the correlation between prescription painkiller addiction and back pain.) In fact she just laughs at you and will only prescribe a slightly stronger anti-inflammatory together with something to protect your stomach lining.

  14. That is I'm gonna get a shirt with that printed on it. That is, unless you wanna print some out in which I'd be happy to respect your copyright policy and purchase one ;-)

  15. WHITE RICE: I love it!

    Especially the whining.

    Also helpful for back/muscle stuff:

    Yoga. Or stretching, if "yoga" sounds too intimidating. But GO SLOW and warm up 1st, or it can compound the problem!

    And, long hot bath in Epson salts. AHHHHH!

  16. Thank you all for the smart advice, encouragement, and commiseration!

    I am happy to report that I went to the gym this morning for my first workout since The Incident and it went great! I skipped anything that might possibly be controversial, and didn't push too hard, but did about 2/3 of my normal workout with no pain at all.

    Self diagnosis: this wasn't a disky injury like previous times, just a muscle strainy one.

    And it was actually an excellent reminder to STOP BEING A CARELESS ASS when carrying heavy weights.

  17. And that is why we are such good friends, Crabby. You never expect a call from me! It's a perfect relationship. :)

    Sorry you injured yourself. I had a really bad back injury when I was 15 from slipping on a wet floor. If it wasn't for the padding in my butt I would've broken my tailbone. I got "lucky" with just a lot of torn stuff back there. It was years before I could stand up from a sitting position without being pulled out of my chair. THAT made me really popular in high school. Ibuprofen and heating pads were my very bestest friends during those years.

  18. I love WHITE RICE. At least in this instance. Otherwise I like the long grain stuff. : )

    Now - Why so shy of back surgery? I can't say I've done it myself, but for the Lobster's sake... My husband had chronic "tweaked" back pain consistently for 7 years (golf, basketball, carrying a box wrong, you name it). He went to the chiro, he did the rest/heat/blahblahblah. It would get better.

    Until. He totally blew out his disc. If you think it's bad now? You don't want to know how bad that is. He ended up flat on his back for over 3 weeks. A week trying to convince himself it'd go away, then a week to get the diagnosis/surgery scheduled, then another week following surgery. Pure hell and misery. For both of us. Ever since? Not a twinge of pain. We even spent 16 days trekking all over Italy a month after the surgery. Sore feet, yes. Back pains? Not a one. He never could have done that before.

    So my advice to you? Next time? If the doctor says you should consider surgery? You should give it serious thought.

    In the meantime, I'm glad this was just one of those muscle things and that you're back in the thick of it!

  19. I'm new to your blog but can so relate to those back injuries! Hope you are feeling better soon!

  20. OH NO! I love your advice, both the funny & the real to life stuff! Yes, we have to be careful & follow the "weight lifting rules" so as not to get hurt. I once did that stupidly as well when a gym goer who did not know gym etiquette wanted to talk to me while I was on the hack squat. I should have ignored but I did not & thus, the back stuff.

    And I so agree that if the injury is not really bad, movement & stretches are key along with all the other stuff. I have been at a point where I could barley get my butt off the floor into a bridge & by day 7, I was back at it so it.

    Of course, always check with a doc if you are uncertain!

    Hope you are back to normal or whatever normal is to you soon!

    Have a good one!

  21. I'm so sorry to hear about your back!! I'm glad it was just minor. Knock on wood I've never tweaked my back.

    Photoshop disasters has long been in my google reader: LOVE.

  22. Oh thanks! Another site where I can waste hours!

    Glad your back is better!

  23. Sorry to hear you injured your back but good to hear it wasn't as bad as you initially thought.

    My husband hurt his back for the very first time 2 weeks ago. I recommended a few things for him to do but he went and did his own thing. This Monday he FINALLY started doing what I recommended and guess what? He started feeling better within 2 days.

    Thanks for listing everything out so logically and with an easy to remember acronym.

  24. Ouchie! Thanks for taking one for the team and teaching us an invaluable lesson.

    You've just been elevated to Cranky Martyr status. Extra kudos for adding "dumbassery" to my vocabulary, which will surely come in handy this holiday weekend, it being Cleveland and all.

  25. Sounds like wise advice. I could have used it last month when I hurt my back lifting - of all things - a 10 week old kitten! Yeah, that felt dumb.

    Hope you're feeling better in no time.

  26. Sorry to hear about your back and thanks for your advice. I have not hurt my back before but will take on board all your tips. Number #1 being 'bendz zee kneez'. I had an Austrian ski instructor tell me that before.
    I am still pondering on the 'how to elevate your back'. Interesting!

  27. Oh, really sorry. Crabby! I guess you know what to do, and from my experience almost all back injuries get better without any serious treatment.

  28. Back pain is a real problem in our world today. It can be a seriously debilitating condition, and it’s not always easy to treat! I think Exercise not only helps to maintain proper weight, but also helps build and maintain strong muscles. However, if you already suffer from back pain, consult your doctor before starting an exercise routine.

  29. Hi Crabby, the 'white rice' in this post is brilliant (and being you, funny). Been cruising through your blog and I appreciate the mid-life perspective on fitness. Sure I love the twenty-something runners too, but I can relate to you trying to keep on with your fitness a bit further down the road.


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