by Deb Schwartzkopf
Around five years ago or so I threw my back out severely, so badly in fact, that I could not sit down for about four months. It was epic and I was in denial. This was not a sudden injury without tell-tale-signs. I love to garden. And I guess that means I love to shovel the earth- To pull those weeds- To haul that earth to other places in the garden- To reclaim vegetable space from overtaking grass sod. ALL of this requires that slight lean, twist, and heave of the back. Mine was tired. But my desire to keep going did not listen. I could feel the twinges and I just kept going- all summer in the studio and in the garden.
So one day when I was hunched over throwing at my potter's wheel, I reached forward to get a little water to finish of a pull on a simple cylinder and, DOINK, went my lower back. I could feel the heat. I resolutely finished off my work at hand and did a few stretches. I even went to an art opening that evening, ignoring the ever growing pain radiating in my back.
The next morning I nearly fainted when trying to get out of bed. It is hands-down the worst pain of my life. Shearing, frighteningly horrible, shooting pain. Now I was listening. Now I wished I had not shoveled so much. Now, I wished I had lifted those glaze buckets correctly when sieving them. Now, I wished I had not bent over my wheel so many hours. Now, I wished I had spent time taking care of my back- even a little...
It took a long time to heal. And even now I have to be careful. Lifting takes my full attention. Shoveling is only for an afternoon, here and there with a back brace in place (mostly). Tables have been adjusted to a better working height. I throw standing. I lift with my knees. I have studio assistants help me with many activities that before I did alone. I work more thoughtfully when I am on my own. Many lectures from friends and family ring in my ears when I try and push the envelope. The remembrance of the pain keeps me in check.
There are so many things you can do to take care of your back! Number one- don't be a potter! If that is not an option, notice when you are slightly leaning forward and twisting. Try to remove this from your way of being in your studio, garden or other activities... (This is the normal movement when shoveling...). Take time to lift correctly. Ask for help (I am telling myself this too).
Several friends who are physical therapists and body workers helped me through rough spots in my healing process. Their therapies, pointers, recommended exercises, and patience made it possible to find healing.
If you are hurt be careful. Get advice from a qualified body worker or physical therapist. Each person needs specialized care for recovery. Below are several stretches that I found incredibly helpful! Cheers to your healthy back!