Back in the saddle again

When it comes to self-diagnosed muscle strains, beware the advisers you choose

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

One of the first real lessons for many managers is learning the importance of leading by example. One can say or promise anything, but actions alone determine whether subordinates will follow a leader into battle — and whether they’ll have your back once you’re there.

Having learned this during some sobering rookie experiences, I usually try to walk the talk at work. But this week has been more of a limp, and I have been more of a shuffler than a leader.

It was at my daughter’s house that I made the mistake of bending down to pick up a virtually weightless set of holiday lights. The immediately-aggravated nerves in my back worked much better than the lights did.

That thoughtless movement introduced me to a condition I self-diagnosed as a lower back strain. Though the sharp twinges already commanded my attention, a four-hour flight to Las Vegas ensured top-of-mind awareness for days to come.

Back home, I hobbled to the computer in search of immediate remedy. Although experts say that lower back strain is the second-leading cause of missed work in the United States, I searched through conflicting opinions as to what could actually be done about it.

I got in to see my physician, but likely based on his experience with other patients, he advised me to simply take it easy for a while and attend physical therapy. He gave me a prescription meant to reduce the inflammation, but by Day 3 I was having difficulty standing, walking, sitting or lying down, which pretty much covers all of the positions available to primates.

Seeking quicker relief, I referred myself to the always helpful amateur medical community of friends, co-workers and relatives and connected with well-meaning people near and far, many of whom I had known to have experienced a condition similar to mine.

My first confidante suggested a hot soak to relax my muscles, so I diligently withered in a tub that night. A couple hours after I dried off, a relative warned me to stay away from heat and to use ice, which I did the next day.

One friend suggested I immediately perform common back exercises demonstrated on the Web. The same day, though, an athletic fellow advised me to avoid them because they would aggravate an already strained back.

A co-worker told me to drink lots of water, but as I guzzled from the fountain, I recalled that this is the same advice she gives for all other conditions. Another said I needed to stretch each day because it breaks up toxins in your system. The advice came a bit late.

As the week wound down, I finally began to feel better, although I must admit I’m not exactly sure it was connected to the suggested remedies. And for once, I was glad the people I work with didn’t have my back.