And Then There Was Change

So, I love cycling.

In 2008, I blew out my back after losing about 60 pounds on my bike. I’ve always thought it was that I was stretching wrong and destabilizing my back. That’s what I thought caused the injury.

Despite all the things I’ve tried to do to improve my back, all the rehab and everything else, it’s never really been right again. I live with kind of a constant fear that something will compromise me, or I’ll fall and get hurt. Just a constant awareness something’s not right.

For some reason, I never thought about my bike seat being the problem. I mean, how could that be? It was an expensive supposedly-ergonomic bike saddle intended for intermediate cyclists — I splurged $60 on that motherfucker, you know. It was recommended to me! It had rave reviews online.

Last weekend, I took my bike into my chiropractor’s office*, and he examined the set-up, looked at me, and then said he thought I should switch to a wider seat.

So, that was a lightbulb moment. I already had been shown what just changing my seat’s angle by 3-5 degrees could do to take strain off my back. “I’ve changed everything else in my life,” I thought. “Why the hell not give it a try?”

I cycled again that afternoon on my old saddle, and it was a wonderful sunny ride, but the next day the pain set in, and it progressed for a few days while I stayed off my bike and really, really, really paid attention to how the pain developed and changed.

I realized how tender my tailbone was, how strained my sides were, and started thinking, “You know what? It DOES seem like it could be the seat.” It seemed like maybe my hips were sagging down and excess pressure was pushing my tailbone up, which made sense if the saddle was a little too narrow for my ample hips.

Then I considered the nature of repetitive strain injuries, how we see things slowly deteriorate but because it’s nothing clear-cut we often don’t specifically know the cause, and then it just compounds until we’re fucked. I think that’s what my back injury has been. A repetitive strain injury. A bit of suckage adding up every time I did the thing I love to do — cycling.

Thursday, I got the seat.

Yesterday, I installed it. I checked out all the “how should a bike seat be installed” docs I could find online, busted out my level, made sure I got my seat horizontal.

Sick, I rode to a nearby walk-in clinic to get seen by a doc, since it’d be less time and effort for getting groceries and prescriptions filled after the appointment than fucking around with bus routes.

During my ride, I realized I had broken my nice wide seat a few months before I began cycling to lose weight in 2008, and that the seat I “splurged” on as a replacement has been the only thing that’s remained constant in my life, in all that time. This had never occurred to me. It’s the missing piece in the puzzle. The possible implications were adding up pretty quickly.

This morning, after only a 7km, 30-minute leisurely ride, my lower back feels more stable, less pained, and stronger than it has in months.

It would be absolutely incredible if, after the thousands of dollars, endless hours, countless tears, and never-ending frustrations of a 3-year ongoing back problem is ultimately resolved by the purchase of a $20 bike seat and a free iPhone “level” app.

And it will be the biggest lesson I’ve ever learned in my life.

I’m just not yet sure what the lesson is. But today I have more hope about my back injury than I’ve had in three years. It’s overwhelmingly awesome to think I may have finally found the cause.

I’m excited. I’m looking forward to beating this cold this week and seeing what develops with cycling. I love riding my bike and it’s been absolutely heart-breaking to endure so much frustration for so long.

But if it’s resolved? Oh, lord, the gratitude I’ll have. Without a doubt, living with a chronic injury has been one of the greatest character-defining, life-teaching experiences I’ve had. I won’t be bitter for a minute that I could have resolved it cheaper, sooner. That’s the way life fucking goes, man. Sometimes the lessons that should’ve been the easiest but became the hardest are the ones that define us the most.

I have literally spent thousands and thousands of dollars on this injury. I’ve lost so much income — I can’t even count that high.

If it’s all going to end and be fixed by a $20 seat, I’ll have no choice but to laugh my goddamned (now well-supported) ass off. It’s so hysterically ironic that I can’t even express it.

I’m laughing as I type, actually. What can you do, man? Life’s really a funny joke on us sometimes.

If we learn from it, then it’s not for nothin’. So, we’ll see how this goes.

Thank god I have a great sense of humour. I needed a good laugh, even if an ironic one.

*My chiropractor is a guy who’s just getting his practice off the ground on Vancouver’s West Side. Dr. Bryson Chow practices Active Release Technique, a method that is preferred by many athletes. It posits the belief that healthy muscles lead to strong skeletons, so instead of forcing bones into place like most traditional chiros do, ART practitioners like Bryson instead work on breaking the muscle memory and helping retrain your muscles so they don’t keep pulling the bones out of alignment. I wasn’t healing at all until I made the switch to ART, but Bryson is the first doc to suggest my seat might be a problem. If you have any kind of repetitive strain or injuries that traditional folks aren’t helping you get past (like Frozen Shoulder Syndrome), consider an ART chiro. A few friends have found it similarly life-changing.