I Used to Avoid Stairs…Now I Climb Mountains!

Matt is climbing Mt Cootha using walking poles. We see him from behind
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I used to avoid stairs…now I climb mountains.

This has been a huge transformation for me as you can imagine. 

The funny thing is, I don’t think I look any different now to when I was avoiding stairs. 

There might be slightly more tone and MAYBE a slightly smaller belly, but I really don’t know that you’d notice it.

To me, I still obviously have a belly, and my legs are still very skinny! Much skinnier than they were before back surgery. 

Oh that’s another very important piece of this story, 13 years ago I underwent a laminectomy (back surgery, to see what a laminectomy is, click here).

There is only one thing that changed when I started to walk up mountains.

Beforehand I believed there was no way I could do it, then I suddenly decided, “maybe I can do it!” That is seriously all that changed. 

 

I mean, what could be the downside? 

Some pain for a week?  

I was used to that anyway, but the benefits, well I’ll get to that.I’ll say one thing briefly about getting a laminectomy, it is a BIG DEAL! 

They cut bone and muscle out of your back and it takes six to seven weeks to be able to do most of the things you did beforehand, and it took me two full years to think that I may have some benefit from my back surgery.

Stones steps leading up to Mt Coolum

How I Got to the End of My Rope and Needed Surgery.

When I was 19 years old, I was slim and fit, really quite fit. I was a runner, running several kilometres 4-5 times per week.

I was working in a part time job in a supermarket at night to earn money while I worked out what the hell I was going to do with my life.

Back then Occupational Health and Safety was quite poor.  One of the jobs we had to do was stack heavy wooden pallets (the things they stack goods on to put on a lorry).

The guy I was working with was a little wiry fellow who would lift these pallets with two hands up above his head and throw them up on top of the stack.I’m 6’4” and I was reasonably strong, so I could hardly let this guy throw them up there by himself and then ask him to help me lift my pallets the correct way, could I?

I decided I couldn’t.

I lifted a pallet and felt something “twang” in my back. It felt like a small tear of I don’t know what and there was a sharp pain down low just above my backside.

I continued and finished the shift, but when I went home I had trouble sleeping and in the morning it was not any better.

A young man clutches his back in pain.

So I went off to the doctor, he gave me some pills and some time off work and told me to rest.

I went home, ate lots of food like cheese and crackers, drank lots of beer, watched the cricket (it was summer and Mark Greatbacth of New Zealand was carving the Aussies up) and got really fat.

People were shocked by how fat I suddenly became.  I went from about 85kg to 112kg!

This was the BIGGEST MISTAKE OF MY LIFE.

I now know that I should’ve kept moving, eaten properly, got good advice and kept my body supple, strong and healthy.

But I didn’t.

Over the next seven years I got married, we had our first child, and my back would occasionally play up but not too badly.

We were at home one day in 1996 preparing for our son’s christening.

I was in the garden using a line trimmer when suddenly everything froze!

I eased myself onto the  grass near the footpath and called out for my wife.

We called the home visit doctor, who gave me some valium to relax the muscles and some anti-inflammatories, but next morning I could not move.

My father and wife realised there was only one thing they could do.

I went to my son’s christening in a wheelchair!This was a turning point in my life but not for the better.

For the next nine years I would struggle with chronic back and leg pain.

After seeing three different back surgeons over time I got to a stage where one of them agreed to operate.

So I had the laminectomy.

Anyone who has had a laminectomy will know that it takes a pretty long and painful time to recover.

The fact that they cut bone (lamina is the bony tube that your spinal cord is in and “ectomy” means to cut out) and other tissue means that a lot of healing has to occur before the pain will fully subside.

And for many of us it never does subside, but instead becomes chronic pain.

The next part of life was another significant mistake as far as my body goes.

 

I would avoid anything that hurt.  

If there were stairs, I would try to find an elevator, I would avoid any extra walking or any activity that involved lifting or bending.

I even got a mobility sticker for my car for when I worked at the university, so that I could park near the door!

Absolutely incredible for me to even think about now.

What happens to people who do what I did is not good.

As I did less activity, my body and my brain decided that I should do even less.

So by avoiding stairs, it meant that next time I tried to walk upstairs it hurt me even more.

If I took any pain medication, my body would decide that I couldn’t do any activity without them!

I had to make a change!

I  saw this in a few of my clients.

Some of them who had pain, did less and less activity and took more drugs and more powerful narcotic drugs (one thing I mostly avoided).

It’s a terrible spiral where the activity becomes less and less, the drugs become more and more, and one of these clients passed away (I should mention here that I am not a doctor and was therefore not involved in prescribing medications).

At the same time I went to a couple of lectures from doctors who did a great job of explaining how chronic pain becomes “hard wired” in the brain.

A woman instructs a man in the gym as he does press-ups on a boson ball

How it is essential to move, to not  reduce your activity, to get good advice from exercise physiologists and physiotherapists about how to move in a way that won’t cause harm and how to strengthen your body in order to protect yourself from pain.

And most importantly to change the way your brain processes pain and movement.

To get your brain to realise that movement is not only not so bad, but very good.

Good for your state of mind, good for your general health and great for ensuring that you are able to do the things in life which are essential and that bring you pleasure.

So I started with walking around the block, at the same time I was doing my exercises to strengthen my quads (front of thigh muscles), my glutes (buttocks), my abdominal (stomach) muscles, all of which had been scarily reduced in size and strength.

Meanwhile my friends were getting into the very popular activity of walking trails or as we call it in Australia, bushwalking.

So really, one of the best decisions I made in my life was caused by FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).I would hear about their trips to beautiful places near where we live and how they would have funny incidents happen which they had to overcome, but which made great dinner stories, plus all the beautiful sights along the way,

One day I thought, “I could do that!”A quote attributed to Henry Ford often comes to mind about the time I decided to change my thinking, “no matter whether you believe you can or you believe that you can’t, you’re right.”

And so now I climb mountains!I’ve climbed Mt Cootha which is near where we live, many times, and on several different tracks.I’ve gone to the lower portals of Mt Barney and I’ve walked the Border track from O’Reilly’s to Echo Point where I saw the most beautiful scenes.

I’ve also walked up a very steep MtCoolum on the Sunshine Coast (read MtCoolum post here).

I thank God everyday that I made the decision to do these things. 

Yes I get a bit stiff and sore for several days after I do a big walk including a camp overnight. But the benefits outweigh the negatives at least ten to one! 

I noticed that several other things in my life became better once I decided to make these changes as well. In danger of going into TMI (Too Much Information) every part of my life improved. 

Looking out from the top of MtCoolum towards the Pacific Ocean

I will never go back to doing as little as I was previously, even though my muscles will probably never be as strong as they were prior to injuring my back.

I'm not some born again exercise fanatic.

I also realise that some people may not be able to do what I have done and climb mountains.

But I really wish that someone would’ve grabbed me all those years ago and given me the information I have now.

I am also nowhere near as fit as I hope to become, and am by no means an athlete.

On my walk up MtCoolum there were people ranging in age from 5 to 75 years old, honestly!

But at 48 years old I’m doing more things than I was able to do at 35.

What I would say is that there are a lot of people with chronic pain who could benefit from a different point of view.

A lot of people with chronic pain could be moving a lot more than they are now.

Some things may happen if you choose to take this path: you may have an increase in your pain for some time, and I know that is a very scary thought; you may get resistance from people in your family and friends who are scared for you and may try to dissuade you from taking up more activity.

So what I would strongly recommend is that you get some good advice.

Do your own research and try to find an exercise physiologist or other expert in human movement whose focus is on getting people in pain moving and living the life that they want to live.

The life you wish you could live if you weren’t in pain.I absolutely and sincerely wish you the best.

I’ll say a prayer for anyone reading this who suffers chronic pain to have the strength to see it through, to take it as far as possible and that they can achieve the life they want to live.

How I Got Moving:

Important Note: This information is general in nature and does not replace seeing a qualified therapist or doctor.

Small Steps:

The first step for me was exactly that, first, we take the steps!

So I would choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator.I tried to desensitise myself slowly.

This can involve doing a couple of squats each day and very slowly building it up.

Rest when needed:

If something hurt, I tried not to despair. Instead I would stop, take a rest, and get ready to try it again tomorrow.

Meditation:

I started to meditate. I lot of people will think this is some kind of freaky, mystical art, but it really isn’t.

In fact, a book by Tim Ferriss ( of The Four Hour Work Week) titled “Tools of Titans” found that the most common habit of all the billionaires, leaders and game changers he interviewed, was that they have learned the benefits of meditation.

You can find Tim Ferriss and some of his awesome publications plus lots of free blog posts (I’ve been loving them) right here.

For me meditation is as simple as closing my eyes and focussing my mind on my breath coming in, and going out.

I accept that many thoughts will float into my mind as I do this.Instead of getting frustrated by these thoughts, I simply acknowledge them, and imagine them getting on a bus and leaving my mind and bring my focus back to my breath.

A young couple are meditating near the ocean

After some practice I am now able to bring my thoughts back to my breathing quite effortlessly.

The benefits I’ve found after doing this for only a short while are huge. When I feel strong pain, I acknowledge the pain and where it is, think about it for a few seconds and then move my mind on.

I know it may sound like I am being glib about pain, but I’m not pretending that it ceases to hurt by thought alone, but it certainly takes the edge off it enough to be able to move or change my position to one where it hurts less.

Sometimes I lose the fight and need to take something for the pain. But instead of beating myself up about it I figure, that’s today, tomorrow I’ll feel better, and most times I do.

Using My Team:

I can’t win all the battles on my own, and I don’t try to.

When I need to I see my physiotherapist, and when things are getting too much for me to handle, I book in with my pain specialist to get a caudal epidural (injection into the cauda equina at the base of the spine).

What Has This Story Got to do With ratehotelbeds.com?

I was talking with a colleague and lamenting the fact that you can often pay a lot of money for a swish hotel in a beautiful location, only to find that the bed is either too hard or too soft to allow  you to get a good sleep.

Especially if you have problems with lower back pain or any other form of chronic pain.

She told me about the Westin hotels and how they have a bed called Heavenly beds and how great they were.

I then remarked that there must be a website that allows travellers to review beds that they’ve slept in at hotels, and she agreed there must be.

To register to become a member of Rate Hotel Beds click hereTo rate a hotel bed you’ve tried click here.

But When I Searched, There Was Nothing.

I had also recently read an article that claimed there are opportunities everywhere for useful websites which can help millions of people, if only you’re ready to recognise them.

There are some awesome resources out there, like this site I found that helps give advice to people who have chronic pain from someone who does it: https://travelswithpain.wordpress.com/about-me/

So I built ratehotelbeds.com. The idea is to build a community of travellers who rate hotel beds and allow fellow travellers to make an informed decision based on: the type of bed (spring, foam etc.), Firmness (soft to firm) and the quality of sleep out of five stars.

The site also has several blog posts on sleep related topics such as: creating the Perfect Sleep Environment; which Foods affect Sleep; and Exercise and Sleep. 

These blogs are based on the best research available, to keep the information accurate.

There are also forums where members can discuss any sleep or travel topics they wish.We’d love you to be part of our community!

Further Information on Lumbar Laminectomy:

A laminectomy is a surgical procedure which is usually performed by either an orthopaedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon.

The purpose of a laminectomy is to decompress the spinal cord. Compression of the spinal cord usually occurs when one or more discs are bulging into the spinal canal which is made of bone.

This will press the spinal cord up against the hard bony lamina of the spinal cord and also compress the nerve roots.

Nerve roots are the branches which run off the spinal cord to control and receive stimuli from different parts of the body.

A laminectomy will usually be required in the lumbar spine, although it can be required for the cervical or thoracic spine. The lumbar spine is in the lower back and controls the legs and the bowels, bladder and sexual organs.

If a decompression laminectomy is successful, the pain that was being experienced in the legs or other parts of the body should subside. Although as I mentioned earlier chronic pain is often “hard wired” in the brain, making it much harder to overcome.

Ready to Make a Change?

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