Fitness and Self-treatment at the Yuba River
Anne, a current patient of mine, told me I had to share this story with the Union readers because of the freedom it gave her to continue to move and be active even with chronic low back pain. She learned to stop being afraid of doing things and Pain does not mean harm. She learned that the more active she became, the less pain she was experiencing overall.
About one month ago Anne explained to me how upset she was that her whole family was going to the river and she was not. She was in a great deal of pain and worried about causing herself more damage. We spent the majority of the session problem solving and came up with a plan to get her to the river safely, enjoy her day in and out of the river for several hours and return home without a glitch.
Here are some of the strategies one can use to get to the river safely and enjoy swimming and return without causing a flare up of back pain.
Safety first. July through September is the best time to swim in the Yuba River. The flow is very low and the current is slow. A majority of the problems occur in the spring when the flow is high, water is cold and the current is swift.
Choosing the location. For Anne, I recommended Bridgeport so she could easily walk down to the river without too much scrambling over boulders and large hot rocks. The Highway 49 bridge location is another spot that is quite easy to access directly under the old bridge if you get there early enough or late enough. Weeknights you can arrive at 6:00PM and park easily.
What to wear. Your swimsuit should be very fast drying and a sun shirt or rash guard surf shirts are great due to their dual purpose of sunscreen and protection from crawling on the hot rocks. River or aqua shoes are fantastic as they are sturdy and great walking on wet or dry rocks. Full brim hats, sunglasses and cycling gloves round out my gear. The gloves allow you to have free fingers while protecting the hands from the hot rocks when scrambling around.
Packing it in/out. Using a backpacker’s pack is ideal because it can hold a lot of gear and the belt that cinches above the hips can act like a support for the low back region when pulled tight. I recommend trying it out at home with various amounts of weight to dial it in. She brought several items that are easy to pack in: a swimmers pull buoy, goggles, large towels, water, snacks, sunscreen and a long strap that could be used to hold her in a slow moving current and get some traction on her back.
Pre-swimming stretching. Anne laid out her towel in a sandy section of the riverbank and went through a quick warm-up to get herself ready to go swimming. She then performed single leg balancing while bare footed to work the muscles of the feet, improve balance and coordination and fulfilling her daily Earthing / Grounding endeavors by having her bare skin in the earth.
Treadmill Swimming. After a few minutes of prep time Anne went for a swim in a deep pool before swimming into the current. I had recommended she try and swim into the current due to her past life as a swimmer in high school. This is a favorite way to get in some great swimming at the river. Find a place with a current strong enough that you can swim into the current without moving. Its ideal if the depth is shallow enough to allow you to stand up when you get tired. It can be a place where people are walking in and out of the water and the ground is covered with small rocks or pebbles. The other common areas for good currents to swim against are just below the small waterfalls in the deep pools. Do not attempt to walk on large rocks when the current is swift. Just about every popular swimming location at the South Yuba River has a spot that you can treadmill swim safely. (Note: Never try to swim into the current of a river with a hazard downstream from your location. You should always practice this in a spot that is easy to get out of the current).
Low back traction on a rock. After swimming Anne tried the traction idea I taught her. She found a large rock (about the size of a gym ball used in physical therapy) in the slow current and laid over the rock on her belly with her legs dangling in the water at about waist level. She could feel the current pulling her legs downstream and the traction occurring in the low back. After a couple hours of river time she felt empowered that she could be social and her lifestyle need not be limited by fear of causing more back pain. Anne felt better about getting out with her family and had less back pain after her river experience utilizing these few ideas.
The river is a magical place for people. People go to the river for many reasons. Some find inspiration, relaxation and a place to cool off in the summer, others go for fun and adventure, and some go for healing. Healing can occur in many forms. It can be internal or external (the body’s aches and pains).
Anne is doing much better now and has frequented the river a few more times since her initial time with a new focus on healing with movement.
If you find yourself not doing things you use to do because of pain, reach out to your physical therapist for help. Physical Therapists are movement specialists and can help you get back to doing the things you want to do without pain.