Saturday, April 24, 2010

I'll Be "Back"

Posting has been slow this past week due to lower-back problems and my resulting inability to sit at the computer for extended periods. Like a huge proportion of Americans, I wrestle with occasional belt-level (lower back) pain. My father wore a back brace during and after his Air Force days as a pilot. I must have inherited his structural imperfections given my history, and my son Daniel has suffered occasional bouts (though he has become religious in his attention to proper lifting -- i.e., squat-to-lift -- techniques and remains mostly pain-free).

I recall like it was yesterday jogging with my friend, Joey Falkner, in his quiet, hilly Birmingham neighborhood, somewhere around 1970 -- and the pain I felt shoot through my lower-left-back -- right where I feel it today -- while running up a steep hill (trying to keep up with my fleet-of-foot friend). Uncle Sam paid for surgery at Walter Reed Hospital while I was in the Army (1973) which cleaned out the deteriorated pieces of the disc between the L5 and S1 vertebrae, which relieved the horrific sciatic nerve pain with which all low-back folks are familiar. Surprisingly, the Army also awarded me a 20% service-related disability and has sent me a small check each month since 1974. (I once calculated what I would have accumulated, with interest, had I saved that check every month from then 'til now -- it's more painful to think about than my back pain -- but I digress.)

Since the surgery, I've managed pretty well with only occasional bouts of weakness. I usually don't know what brings them on, but they almost always account for a week of inactivity -- off my feet, spending the day on the floor reading while doing some exercises, etc. I'm at the end of one of those weeks now, and feeling better. (It hasn't been all bad -- I've lost 7-8 pounds from not eating much -- subsisting just on miso soup and juices from my Jack LaLanne juicer -- a great product I have written about before.)

I am anticipating the arrival today of this product -- the Holy Grail for back pain sufferers: a Teeter Hang-Ups EP-950 Inversion Table. I've had one of these before and it worked wonders, but I sold it after I went a few years without any significant back trouble. Bad move. I will likely keep this one for the rest of my life -- for now and for the future, just in case.

The table allows you to lock your feet into the bottom stirrups, lay back on the mesh "table," and assume a position from horizontal (pressure off the back) to 180 degrees inverted -- hanging free, upside down. It's this latter position that is so therapeutic as it allows your spinal column to decompress, taking pressure off discs and nerves. (One is usually a quarter to a half-inch taller after a session, but gravity quickly restores you to normal height.)

This table (and other competing products, I suppose -- but this one seems to command the largest following) really works. I ordered this from Amazon where 70 reviewers have given it a solid 5-star rating. With Amazon Prime the shipping was free, and two-day shipping was only $3.99. Having used one successfully for a couple of years, I didn't think twice about ordering it -- I've got to get back to work.

Have you not joined Amazon Prime yet? I recall Jon Stewart harassing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about Amazon Prime on his TV show:

Bezos: "Join Amazon Prime for $78 and you get free shipping for a year!"
Stewart: "$78 for free shipping? That's not free!"
Bezos: "HA HA HA HA HA!!"

But A.P. is worth it when you order lots of stuff from Amazon, especially these kinds of large, heavy items. Two-day shipping for $3.99? Come on!

Seriously, if you or a loved one needs back relief, consider a Hang-Ups table. (And a shout out to Ben Bradford for my introduction about six years ago.)

P.S. I am also committing to a new resolve yoga-Pilates type exercises to strengthen my core (as well as converting to Daniel's squat-to-lift religion), something biking and rowing don't do very well. I even bought a yet-as-unopened "Yoga for Back Pain" DVD a couple years ago during my last bout. I suppose it's time to open it, right?

Update: The Hang-Ups arrived at 10:00 a.m. this morning. Ordered Thursday night, received it Saturday morning -- a 50" x 30" x 8" box weighing 79 pounds -- for $3.99 shipping (Amazon Prime price). The FedEx lady couldn't believe it. I became a devoted fan not long after they opened for business in 1994 and haven't strayed since -- for reasons like this.


  1. Glad you got the table. Hope it helps.

  2. ....

    how is the table doing? I always desired to
    try inversion therapy. No back issues, just curious. I swim and bike pretty intensely and
    have just started yoga(about 10 classes). Hard to justify $400 though to try something new. I guess I need to learn the yoga headstand but bet it is not the same as the table.
    Have not had the desire to go meatless yet but if I keep reading you it might rub off.

  3. Sursalterpath:

    The HangUps table works great -- having had one before, I was confident in its use. It is a lot for an "appliance," but amortized over the next 30 years it's a good investment. Have also committed to a daily regimen of yoga/stretching exercises, things that biking and rowing don't touch -- especially for my hamstrings which are so crucial to back/posture.

    As for the "meatless" question, I encourage you to read The China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell -- the report on the largest study ever undertaken on the relationship between diet and health. Like a true scientist, he followed the evidence and switched to a pure plant-based diet as a result of his own findings. There's nothing in animal products that we need that is not found in plants -- and plenty that we don't need (cholesterol, sat. fat, antibiotics, hormones -- not to mention hidden things like prions that lead to Mad Cow, etc.). The evidence is becoming clearer all the time that a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet for human health.

    Thanks for your comments.