Category Archives: Health

Work-Life Balance: Why It’s Not Nonsense

 

What does ‘balance’ mean to you? One simple definition states that balance is “…a state in which opposing forces harmonize, equilibrium.” I like this definition both because of its simplicity and also because it is the definition that lends itself most well to the concept of ‘work-life balance.’
As a member of my organization’s wellness committee I am very much interested in the concept of work-life balance and try to work to help others in my organization achieve that balance. Recently I came upon a piece written by leadership consultant Jason Lauritsen.  The gist of Lauritsen’s message is this: work-life balance is artificial because too many people are working in jobs that they hate. Lauritsen’s view is that if we can just get people engaged in their work, then they wouldn’t find it so onerous and wouldn’t feel ‘out of balance.’

Lauritsen’s sentiment is echoed somewhat in a response by Michah Yost: Work Life Balance is Nonsense. Both Yost and Lauritsen entertain the concept that work-life balance equates to separating work from life. I think this is where the logic becomes faulty. Both contend that work is part of life and to try to separate the two is a futile endeavor. I would tend to agree with this but I don’t think that is what work-life balance is all about.

Lauritsen states that people who truly enjoy their work and are good at it don’t talk about work-life balance. They don’t need to. The concept is foreign to them. In my experience these are precisely the kind of people who are at most risk for being ‘out of balance’ when it comes to work vs. life issues.

I have friends and family members who I would consider to be ‘out of balance.’ They are ‘always on.’ Vacations are interrupted by cell phones and emails. School programs and sporting events are not attended due to travel and other work responsibilities. There is constant conversation regarding their work. They seem to take great pride in promoting the image of how important or successful they are in their careers. Money seems to be a great motivator and their never seems to be enough.

I don’t claim to be in perfect balance but I’ve been told by colleagues that they admire what I have been able to achieve in my own personal and professional lives to achieve balance. I have a demanding career but it is work that I enjoy. Do I enjoy it 100% of the time? NO! For the most part, my work is stimulating and gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Still, when my work schedule keeps me from attending a school event, enjoying a holiday or getting exercise, I feel bad.

I have made choices in my career that have allowed me achieve a greater degree of balance between my work and family life. Some may view this as not reaching my potential. This line of thinking is short-sighted and underscores a fundamental problem we have in this society: WE IDENTIFY OURSELVES BY OUR WORK. If I turn down a leadership position at work in order to have time to volunteer in the community, coach my kid’s sports team or train for an Ironman does that equate to ‘not living up to my potential?’ I don’t think so.

We are not one-dimensional. We are complex beings. We are more than just workers, employees, or executives. The concept of ‘work-life balance’ is not dangerous, not artificial and not nonsense. It is essential to our very being and too often overlooked. To go back to our original definition, the components of our lives need to be in harmony and equilibrium. When I was working 100 hour weeks as a surgical resident my life was out of balance. Similarly when I trained for my first Ironman, my life was out of balance then as well. Just because someone who loves their job or other activities does not PERCEIVE their life to be out of balance does not mean that it is not.

A Real Pain in the Ass for Cyclists

Piriformisgraphic

 

My  legs have been pretty heavy this past week. My runs have been tough and my last road ride on Friday morning left me with some soreness that I’ve not experienced before. I knew I was going to be in the car all day Saturday so I was looking forward to a day of rest.

Apparently 14 hours in the car wasn’t exactly the kind of day off that my legs needed. I woke up Sunday morning with a terrible pain in my left hip, buttock  and shooting down my left leg. By now, most of you are probably thinking that I have a lumbar disc/ sciatica problem. While that is a good thought, I’m here to tell you about what I think the real problem is: Piriformis syndrome.

Piriformis Syndrome, or PS as I will heretofore refer to it as, is the condition usually afflicting athletes such as runners or people who sit a lot. I know…damned if you do….damned if you don’t!  It’s caused by inflammation of the piriformis muscle which is a hip stabilizer deep in the buttock region. When this muscle becomes inflamed it can actually impinge upon the sciatic nerve causing symptoms that are very similar to lumbar disc degeneration.

When I palpated my ass through my lycra spandex cycling kit this morning I could feel a knotted muscle and there was a definite trigger point that caused shooting pain down my leg.  Otherwise, most of the time the pain is nagging and seems to be aggravated by lateral hip and thigh movement.  Sunday afternoon I was out in some moderate surf playing with the kids at the beach and I could tell every time the waves shifted me to the left and required resistance.  It hurt.  Not terribly but noticeable.

So why am I pouring all this out in my blog.  Trust me, I’m NOT  looking for sympathy.  It’s more of a PSA.  Judging by the number of lumbar spine and hip films I read each week, these are common presenting complaints by patients to their doctors.  A suspicion of lumbar disc disease usually exists and an imaging workup will ensue.  This could involve xrays, CT scans and even MRIs.  This is expensive and involves radiation exposure.

I know, I know…I shouldn’t be discouraging medical imaging.  After all that is how I make my living.  But I actually care just a  little about you guys.  So here’s the deal.  If you are an active dude or dudette and have these symptoms keep this diagnosis in the back of your mind and mention it to your doctor.  If he/she is not a sports medicine physician, then they might not be keyed into it and will go down that path of lumbar radiculopathy.  That can lead to expensive diagnostics and treatment.

It seems the treatment for PS is actually pretty conservative.  It is recommended that the offending activity be curtailed first and foremost.  REST.  Ah…well….if you are reading this you might be an endurance athlete and we don’t do rest well, do we?  Anti-inflammatory medications might also help in acute flare ups.  Direct massage of the affected area can be helpful.  Sometimes the piriformis muscle can be palpated as an over-contracted ball of muscle in the buttock region.  Direct massage or using our great friend the foam roller could help.  There is also some stretching that can be done to alleviate the symptoms.  If you are not comfortable massaging your own ass you can always call this guy.

cyclistmassage

 

Otherwise some alternative forms of treatment such as osteopathic or chiropractic manipulation might be of use.  I can tell you that 5 minutes of self massage really provided me some relief before my ride this morning.  The point of the all this is that if PS is really what you are dealing with and not lumbar disc disease then you shouldn’t need a bunch of expensive tests and treatment.

Anyway, I hope my sore ass and thigh have helped you understand a little about the little known entity that is Piriformis Syndrome. Keep it mind (or your doctor’s mind) if you are having butt pain and shooting pain down your thigh and leg. Stay well my friends!