"The key is to close your butthole," said my physical therapist, and galdarn it, he was right!
Today was my second visit to the physical therapist, and my progress had been barely discernible in the 19 days since my last visit. I have really taken to this therapist--he understands that the frustrated athlete in me wants to push and push in the exercises, go fast, "knock 'em out," as we used to say about the remaining line drills or "suicides" left to run at the end of hoops practice.
Alejandro, my therapist, knows, though, that I must be protected against myself, as speed is not key in my back exercises, but instead precision and execution. He is the Phil Jackson and Tex Winter of physical therapy, a veritable bastion of knowledge, but it still doesn't make it easier for me to slow my roll, even with Angelo Dundee in my corner.
Alejandro gave me three exercises last time, two for increased flexibility, and one for strength. As back sufferers know, back pain is not really back pain at all-it's hamstring tightness, neck pain, shoulder weakness, and on and on. The pain shoots down and up your body like a pinball machine lighting up, gradually highlighting a different part of your body.
The first stretching exercise is one in which I do a sort of lunge with one leg forward and the other back, with the knee of the front leg directly over the foot.
The second exercise is a pretty standard hamstring stretch, in which I lay on my back, extend one leg in front of me, and stick the other leg in the air, straightening it as best as my tight muscles will allow.
The third exercise is a strengthening one, designed to fortify my core muscles that are very weak and add undue stress to my lower and middle back. I lay on my back, with one leg outstretched, and the other pulled tight to my chest. The movements are nuanced and a bit complex. I am to push out with my outer abdominals (my obliques), flatten my lower back to avoid arching, and avoid puffing up my ribs and lower chest area too much. All this is to be done while concentrating on not holding my breath. It is seemingly an oxymoron in that I need to expend energy on concentrating my breathing, so that the breaths are so smooth that I don't have to think about them.
This is still my biggest issue with the strengthening exercise, as I feel that I am having to work harder than I should have to at breathing, while simultaneously tensing every muscle of my core. It seems harder than it should be, but it is getting better...
All of this improvement can be linked to the hallowed words of that Yoda in a physical therapist's guise: "Close your butthole." He said that he was not sure why this worked medically, but it did. Other patients of his were not able to enjoy the full benefits of the core strengthening until they heeded this advice, and I must say, though, I still feel a bit hurried and the exercises still feel unwieldy, the butthole advice has helped me immensely.