TTT: Must-Haves for a Bad Spine

If you’ve read any of my non-bookish content on here, you know that I have a messed up lumbar, and it’s been the cause of a lot of pain in my life over the last decade, but particularly in the last couple of years. Since I started going to a chiropractor regularly in 2021, things have gotten significantly better, and I thought it’d be fun to share the five things that have helped me in the journey toward a healthier spine.

Obviously, the first one is a chiropractor, but, very specifically, a good chiropractor. Like many professionals in the world, there’s going to be one that fits your needs better than others, and while I’ve only gone to two chiropractors in my life, I can see now how damaging my first one was for my spine. I’m so glad that I’ve finally found my way back to chiropractic healing after a dismal first round ten years ago, and it’s definitely saved me from a lot of pain over the last two years. Without exaggeration, I was unable to do literally anything without large amounts of pain for most of 2020, and my chiropractor managed to get me to a mostly pain-free place in about three weeks. I’ve continued to see him biweekly for the last year for maintenance, but I can say, with confidence, that I’d fall right back into pain without him. We had to go three weeks once instead of two, and that old pain was creeping right back up again. It’s important not just to see a chiropractor if you’re having pain that might be associated with the bones, but to find one that’s right for you. In case you’re in the North Shore area in MA, Dr. Tyler Pinstein is my chiropractor, and he’s truly a magician.

One of his suggestions to me was to use a knee pillow, and it has revolutionized my life. My issue is in my fifth lumbar, and it was caused by overextension & twisting in yoga, which means that my hips need to be level when I’m asleep, or I wake up in pain. The knee pillow has totally changed the way that I sleep, and I honestly use it every night. After a lot of research, I ended up with the Contour Legacy pillow, and I’m not at all getting anything from linking it, I just love it that much. I’m a side sleeper, which my chiropractor tells me is the preferred method of sleeping for a healthy spine, and the knee pillow helps support my hips so that they remain parallel to each other rather than collapsing in on each other. This helps prevent my spine from twisting as my hips tilt forward, and I love it.

I did specifically gravitate toward a foam knee pillow, too, because of my experience with the Lull bed. I’ve slept on a spring mattress my entire life because that was just the way growing up, and while I’ve heard that a lot of people love foam mattresses, it was just never something I considered trying. A lot of the yoga teachers on Instagram that I follow, though, love the Lull bed and have sung its praises time and time again, so when I was finally committing to actually healing my spine, I did some research into the differences between spring & foam mattresses, and all signs pointed toward it being a healthier way to support the spine, so I decided to say screw it and try it out. They had a 100 night return guarantee, so, worst case scenario, I was organizing a return if it didn’t work out. And I know that everyone says this when they try out a foam mattress for the first time, but good grief, I’ve never slept so well in my life. I honest to Satan wake up every morning still in love with my bed, and I say it out loud all the time. Between the foam mattress and the linen sheets and the hella expensive cooling pillows, my bed is a haven, and I want to be in it at all times.

Another suggestion from my chiropractor was arnica cream, and I’m gonna be real with you on this one. I don’t actually know if it works? It’s a topical cream that you definitely have to wash your hands after using because it’s toxic if ingested, and even though it is an anti-inflammatory, I just don’t know if it’s actually doing anything, but I think it is. And maybe that’s just placebo, but when I’m starting to feel pain or discomfort, I’ll rub some onto the aggravated area, and it works like ice. I’m always a little skeptical of things like topical creams because if they’re penetrating the skin, how are they actually doing anything, but I do definitely feel better after using the arnica cream, so I’m game with recommending it out loud. I’ve been using Dulàc because I like the ingredients in it, and it smells really nice!

Ice, ice, baby! People always think I’m crazy when I say that heat makes my lumbar worse, but I think that makes a lot of sense. If I’m in pain because of inflammation, wouldn’t I want to lower the inflammation rather than add to it? Ice always works for me, and this sounds like an obvious well duh moment, but the amount of people that are shocked that I use ice instead of heat means that I’m putting it on this list. I like to ice for twenty minutes usually only once or twice at night rather than doing the twenty on twenty off method, and that’s worked really well for me.

This is another well duh one because if you have a bad back, wouldn’t you automatically look into getting a good chair? But nope! Most people are going to keep sitting like they always have because it’s comfortable, and they’re used to it, so it’s a hard thing to change. And believe me, I love sitting with my legs crossed, and I still do, but I try to make an effort to sit with my feet on the ground and my chair pushed in as far as it’ll go so it’s more comfortable for me to sit upright. When I’m in bed, I now stack pillows behind me and sit with my legs outstretched so that I can simulate sitting well as much as possible. At work, I have the Ticova chair, which is pricey and literally has to be built from the ground up, but it’s excellent, and I’m really happy with it. I might even consider getting one for my room once I have the space for a desk.

This last one is less of a must-have and more of a mindset change, but pulling back in yoga has helped me in big ways. My chiropractor felt down my spine and knew within seconds what I’d done to injure myself, and I’ve really tried to listen to him. I was furious for a while when he told me that I should stop twisting and forward folding for a while, and that I would probably never get back to where I was before (since that would continue to injure my spine), and while I’m still bitter about some poses, changing the way that I think about my practice and the awareness that I need to have in my body has taught me a lot, and I’m grateful for the lesson, if not for the journey there.

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