I have to workout, even if it hurts

You think it’s absurd: to work out, when in pain? Iryna Dubinina, a citizen of Lviv, also thought that way… when, suffering from spinal hernia, she began to engage herself in physical therapy. Physical therapy was the most effective method of treatment that she had ever tried and it helped her avoid surgery.

– When did you start having back pain? Was it a sudden attack, was it recurrent?

– First I felt acute pain ten years ago, when pregnant. I’d been carrying the baby, my weight grew and at a certain point it became difficult for me to get up, to walk, then I just wasn’t able to step on my leg. But gynecologists assured me that after the birth, perhaps, everything will turn back to normal. I gave birth to a child, after one or two weeks the pain was gone. And after that, from time to time, once a year or once a half-year, I had a real back pain attack. And so it returned systematically. My back and lower back were aching. There was a pain in my left leg. We always thought that one could be the aftereffects of me dislocating my left hip as a kid.

A year and a half ago, the pain became even stronger. We started looking for the cause. X-ray hadn’t revealed anything; the blood tests showed there was an inflammatory process somewhere. I was all twisted, curved like an arc. The specialists sent me for an MRI scan, whereby a 12-mm hernia was found in my lumbar region. But in six months the pain had spread to my other leg.

We started looking for doctors. All the surgeons, neurosurgeons told me that I’d have to undergo surgery. I have prescribed a course of medication, which freed me from pain for two months. Then all the symptoms returned. I again took a course, it removed my pain for a month. But I understood that I can’t live like this: buy medicine and lead a normal life for two months and then again buy medicine, again and again, such a load of pills. This can’t be good for a human body. I didn’t want to agree to surgery because I knew that hernia can eventually come back. So I thought that the surgery would’ve been a temporary solution as well.

– When did you decide to try physical therapy?

– I’d already been in constant pain for half a year. But I still had hope that this pain would go away. And I didn’t know whom to consult. Even before, when it was just a slight pain, I’ve been saying, “I would like to consult a professional, I just do not know any good ones.” Honestly, I treat doctors with caution – all of them spoke a lot, but they’re just weren’t any results. Later on, my sister told me that her colleague is undergoing physical therapy at the “Innovo” center. I came there already unable to tolerate this pain. I was very sedentary at the time. I had pain in my lower back, buttock, right leg, I had no feeling in three of my toes. The leg felt alien, not mine. It was hard for me to sit, it was impossible to lie on my back, I slept on pillows and was constantly trying for just the right sleeping position. I couldn’t even move my leg while supine. Then there were the Charley horses, horrible cramps, I didn’t know what to do.

When last summer I came to “Innovo”, my family and I were going on a seaside vacation. But during the consultation, the specialists told us that I am not allowed to go anywhere, especially when the road is lengthy: 24 hours by car. I took a chance, and we went. By the seaside I felt better, the pain was gone. The seawater was beneficial to me. But after two months the pain returned. Then I returned to the “Innovo” center and decided to take a course of physical therapy. After a month and a half, I felt relief. More than half a year since I feel no pain. Every two weeks I come to the center in order for the physical therapists to control the recovery process.

– You have managed to avoid surgery?

– Yes, I managed to avoid it. At least, now I walk, run, do everything I did before the illness. Only now I take better care of myself and all my relatives at home have also started to treat me better. They’re always trying to help me around the house. I live absolutely fine, without any pain.

– Did you believe right away that classes in physical therapy can help you?

I always hope for the best, but honestly, when I came to “Innovo”, I had serious doubts that physical therapy would help me. Because we’d gone to one doctor, second, third, fourth, and these couldn’t offer me anything. And when I started a course of physical therapy, I knew that I was physically going to do it, but I didn’t understand how this thing works, how physical exercise could ease my condition. But, I thought it can’t get worse than this. Now, with the passing of time, I analyze it all quite differently. Probably, almost anyone is a sucker for immediate results. But when I started the course, and the pain hasn’t left immediately, I kept having doubts, thinking: “Nothing will come of it!” Still, for me, it was hard to believe that it really could help me. While doing certain exercises, a nerve was getting pinched, and I felt terrible pain. I cried even because I could not bear the pain. Over time, I started to do right all those exercises that at first I couldn’t, and I was convinced that physical therapy helps.

Doubts tormented me for a long time until I saw the results. Now, I’d like to advise those people with the same kind of problem to do physical therapy. I’m trying to persuade people not to simply medicate themselves, saying: “Don’t take those pills because they may help you at some point today and take away the pain, but tomorrow it may be back”.

– After a course of physical therapy, you have to continue with a home exercise program. Is it hard for you?

– It isn’t hard for me now. I like to further complicate the exercise, for example, now I’m doing exercises with weights. Earlier, it took me about an hour to complete the program, now I can wrap it up in 40 minutes. Now it goes much faster and it is not as difficult as it was from the very beginning. I am trying to do everything that the physiotherapists told me to. Even that time we went on vacation, I took along the ball, so I could do certain exercises. I have to work out because I know how that feels, when it hurts. I do remember those nights when, before going to sleep, I used to tell my husband: “I don’t want it to be a night, I want a day eternal”. Because during the day you constantly move, something hurts a little bit, but you perceive it differently. And when night comes, you don’t know what to do, how to find a comfortable sleeping position, which way to carefully turn and how to get up in the morning.

Physical therapists compiled an individual program for me with a complex of exercises that I do at home, in order that my back not disturb me. But, in addition, it is a daily workout, of which I benefit.

– Could you compare (from your own experience) what “life in pain” and “life without pain” look like?

– “It’s hard to express how strong the pain was. You won’t understand till you feel it. Those around me saw that I walked around glum, apathetic, dragging that leg. And those nights… It’s scary, even to remember. Also, after my back pain started, we were afraid to plan the second pregnancy, because: “How would I carry that child to full term? How would the pregnancy go? What will happen next?”

By nature, I am very active, so this pain for me was just paralyzing. Now every week we go to the countryside, we love outdoor activities. And I just don’t feel any discomfort. In fact, we’ve just returned from a seaside vacation in Montenegro. And there I didn’t have any problems with my well being. I understand that the hernia didn’t go anywhere, it is still there but bothers me no more. When I do exercise, I sometimes feel shivers going down the leg which used to hurt. But I feel no discomfort.

– How people react when you tell them about such kind of treatment as physical therapy?

– In conversation with people, I often get to know that someone has a hernia, and suffers from it. Everyone reacts differently to advise to try physical therapy. But, if you’re tired out by the pain, then you are ready for anything. You’re ready to do your best in order to achieve results. For this you need to really put in the effort, I’d say, a lot of effort. And when you’re in pain, making an effort is very difficult. How do we perceive a patient? He has to lay down, rest, so no one bothers him… But if you just lie there, then you feel even worse. Everyone would like to get such a magic pill that you’d take – et voila – the next day you’re completely healthy.

No, it is probably not such a case. As for me, when people hear about the need to do physical exercise, mainly, they are skeptical about it. First, they ask you a lot of details, they appear interested, but then say, “No, I’d better go to my doctor, he will prescribe a magic pill!” But, mostly, these are quite strong painkillers. People tend to trust the results rather than promises. I used to be like that myself, at first, I used to be skeptical towards physical therapy but then, with each lesson I felt better and better, it gave me hope.

– Did you know anything about physical therapy before?

– I read a bit, but it was hard to believe(smiles). Now I know that, first of all, you yourself have to put in the effort. The physical therapists were helping me, but a lot depended on me personally, how much effort I made.

– And how did your attitude towards physical therapy change after the course completion?

– Now I believe in the power of physical therapy. I understand that this was exactly what I was looking for. I came to the specialists and they really helped me. I see the results, I feel much better.

– What advice would you give to people who have a problem similar to yours? How to make them understand that they need to put in the work?

– Believe in yourself, desire to get better, have patience and work hard. If you follow the advice that the physical therapists have given you, one day you will feel much better!

Spoked: Irina Kondratyuk

Photo: from the archive of Irina Dubinina