My experience of coping with back pain.
In this article on back pain and my experience of back pain, I have tried to split this into sections for easy of reading! (Well, so you can skip the bits that don’t interest you. The first bit is my experience of doctors and back pain, the interesting bit is at the bottom, titled, The solutions.)
When I was a stupid teenager we used to do stupid things, one of these was ride a motorbike. Now you may wonder what all this has to do with back pain, well if I hadn’t have been riding home from a friends house one Friday evening I would never have ended up with a bad back at all. In short I got knocked off my bike and the next thing I remember is waking up in hospital and thinking, Ouch! Ouch! No, OUCH! Bloody Ouch! NURSE!!!!
Now after a few minor operations, Spinal manipulation and lots of injections into my spine, followed by lots of physiotherapy, I got back to my normal self within about 12 months.
However, every so often the bad bit of my back will kick me up the backside and remind me its still there
This happened during a recent holiday to Japan.
I was helping my brother in-law move his PC. Funny thing is he had the heavy bit, the monitor and I had the light bit the base unit!
Now being in a far away land didn’t help and it couldn’t get it properly fixed over in Japan because of time constraints. So on my return I go and see our doctor. This is a summary of the conversation I had with her.
Doctor: “What seems to be the problem Mr Porter”
Me: “Well, I’ve put my back out, doc”
Doctor: “I’ll be the judge of that, where’s the pain you having?”
Me: “Here in the small of my back, and down my right leg”
Doctor: “Hmm, stand up. Lean over to the right as far as you can. Next to the left. Now back. Finally forward”
Me: “No problem, it only hurts when I try to lean forward”
Doctor: “Okay, I´ll recommend you see the specialist, here’s some pain killer and a sick note of 2 weeks”
Me: “I don’t want time off work, I love my job and I don’t think sitting around the house will do me any good, do you? Plus these pain killers you’ve prescribed, Co-Coedamol, give me diarrhoea, can you not give me any Tylex, there a lot better didn’t make me ill, last time my back went I took them.”
Doctor: “Those are too strong until we determine what’s wrong! Well. I can’t do anything, you’ll have to see the specialist”
Me: “And when will that be?”
Doctor: “The waiting list is currently 4 months”
I leave the surgery without the doctor even touching my back, and with out the prescription. No point taking the tablets she prescribed they have little or no effect on bad back pain. I’ve been prescribed them before.
Six months go by and due to me going to have physiotherapy and occasionally to Acupuncture I live with the pain, before I get to see the specialist.
I know exactly what he will say, the same as they all say, “You’re too heavy, loose weight”
Before I go into the conversation with the specialist, let me tell you a little background information about me. At present I weight 17 stone 11. I know what your thinking “Fat B**tard” Well, yes and no. I played rugby and did bodybuilding until I was in my mid 20’s and this has left me with a heavy frame and I wouldn’t really say I was fat. I wouldn’t say I was slim either but you get the picture.
So I go to see the consultant, but before I do I write “Loose weight, Fatty!” on a sheet of paper and stick it in my pocket. From past experience I know that this is what the doctor will say! I would have been very surprised if he hadn’t. I’ve yet to meet a doctor who doesn’t go for the obvious straight away and the conversation usually goes…
“Do you smoke?” Stop smoking
“Do you drink?” Stop drinking
“Your overweight” loose weight
I go to see the specialist, a happy chap, who examines me, prods and poke’s my back, taps my knees and tickles my feet. He then starts explaining the benefits of a health life style. Have to stop you right there doc. Before my back went again, I went to the Gym three times a week, this is mainly to keep my weight under control, as I love food.
Doctor then says the immortal line “If you loose weight it will help your back”. I laugh, he asks why I laugh. I show him the note. He laughs as well. “Point taken”.
I ask him. “So, if I where the right weight for my height, what would you do then doc?” asks I. No answer.
I then explain that in the past 5 years my weight has had a yoyo effect and is constantly up and down. I have been up to 24 stone and a size 50 waist, I hate to admit that, but as you can tell I was a real lard ass, but I have however done my best to loose loads of weight. This back problem didn’t occur when I was 24 stone, it occurred when I was 17 stone! Why?
So the doctor sends me for a scan. Results come through. Yep, the scan shows I have sciatica. It’s where the discs in your back bulge and press again the nerves in your spinal column. Is this a result of my earlier accident or a result of being a Lard arse?
Okay! I admit I shouldn’t have laughed at the doctor but I don’t think he really gave a rats backside about my back until this moment. After he’d asked me a few more questions, most of which I’m damn sure he wouldn’t have asked had I not laughed, he did offer me another reason why my back might have gone again. Posture.
I ask the doctor what I can do to ease the pain and he shows me some exercise to ease the pain and some of them do work. Although not as well as some of the tablets I have got! He also showed me some exercises to stretch my back and this does help, as the stretching relieves pressure of my back, this however doesn’t last very long.
The exercise is your laid face down on the floor and you do a push up but leave your groin on the floor. So your back is now arched. Simple and it does work. Another is to sit cross-legged on the floor and push your stomach out and tilt your shoulders back. Like you’re sat to attention. Like young kids do. This one really works for me for a little while anyway.
During this bout of back pain I have tried a few different alternative methods to try to ease the pain.
First up we have Acupuncture, the Chinese art of sticking needles in to certain pressure points on your body to relieve the back pain. This works best for me, and even if you have a needle phobia its worth trying. If you have a good acupuncturist you should not feel the needles break the skin. If you feel every needle enter your body then find another acupuncturist. The less pain you feel when the needles are being stuck in the better the acupuncturist usually is. Practice, makes perfect or so they say!. The acupuncturist I used in Japan stuck a needle in my hand and I was watching and it didn’t hurt. That’s a good acupuncturist! Plus, he was blind! Even more amazing. Also, if they make you bleed, that’s not a good sign either. Read my views on Acupuncture for more information.
This can be anything from slowly manipulating the affected area, to laser treatment (a laser beam is shone onto your skin and the effects of the laser penetrate in to your body and act as a mild pain killer to the affected areas) or to direct stimulation of the nerve, (A tems machine. This is similar to the muscle exercisers you stick all over your body and they work your muscles for you, this works on the nerve though). However sometimes physio can have an adverse effect in the short term. Take one morning, I had physio at 7:30am and by 8:30am I was in agony, but I know that this is the manipulation that was done today and tomorrow the pain will be gone again.
This works sometimes for me. I think it does more to relax you than to actually decrease the pain, but it does feel good and that always helps. However, too much pressure in the affected areas can make things worse.
What! I hear you all say – how can that help. Yeah! I was skeptical at first as well, but it really does help. I’m not talking about the kind of Yoga where you stick both legs behind you neck and then do a handstand. I’m talking about the basic breathing techniques and the simple stretching exercises. Remember that all the body parts are connected to your back in one way or another and relieving the stress and tightness in all these muscles is beneficial to your whole body not just your back. Yoga also helps to strengthen your inner muscles. Bodybuilding and weight training mainly build up the exterior muscles, but yoga helps build and maintain the inner muscles as well and it really helps me with my back pain. Just sitting on the floor cross legged in the correct posture for 5 minutes really helps with the pain.
In most of our every day life we sit in positions which don’t benefit the back in anyway.
Take the settee in your front room. You sit on it and 9 times out of 10 you slouch in your seat. In other words you back is bending the wrong way. I sit on the settee in our house quite a lot and I always slouch, its comfortable. The spine however is designed by evolution to be bent the other way, shoulders over your backside, not in front of your backside. The spine is most supportive in this position. Now my problem is two fold, Number one is I sit planted in front of a computer screen all day. Number two is that my frame is very heavy in the shoulder and upper back areas as well as having a bit of a belly as well! These things are very bad for the back and, well you know what can happen.
Since I had this pointed out to me I have made a conscious effort to make sure that I try to maintain a good posture. I bought a new office chair for home. I don’t slouch on the settee any more. Most of the time I sit on the floor now with my back against the settee. I find it miles comfier than the settee and I can get up when I’ve been sat down for a while. Something I find hard to do on the settee.
Okay, so that’s my whinge about the medical service and my tips for back pain over and done with. Just one other quick note. Don’t let back pain rule your life. If it’s doing that then you need to sort out some form of relief. Don’t spend weeks laid in bed. It makes it worse (well it did for me). I never let my back pain rule my life even when it’s bad. Even if you have to take the painkillers, don’t take them though unless it’s really bad. (Some painkillers are addictive, but what’s more addictive is the pain relief they bring, you get addicted to no pain. Then when you don’t take them, Bham! Big pain…..)
Just get up and do what ever you have to do. Albeit slower and with less grace.
Update July 2009
While down in Cornwall on holiday I put my back out again in spectacular fashion and its was doubly worse because 1, we where camping and 2, I had to drive home at the end of the week.
We ended up staying an additional week so I had a few more days to rest before I had the 350 mile drive home and luckily we have friends down in Cornwall who where able to help us pull down the tent and pack the car. Phillip, Quentin thanks 🙂
This happened on the third day of our holiday so I spent a further 20 days in agony but because after about a week I started to get up and do things it gradually got better. The worst of it all was the spasms in the surrounding muscles as they tried to compensate for the pain in my back. A trip to see the Doctor was about as useful as sticking my fingers in a blender, first thing the Doctor said was “Its because of your weight” Aussie git! another know it all doctor who knows feck all about why I have a bad back. Overweight bloke with bad back = its your weight. Sure it doesnt help but its not the cause. After I pointed this out he prescribed Prozac which was great but it does funny things to you and after taking that for a few days I can definately see where the phrase “Pink elephants on parade” comes from.
I managed to drive home from Cornwall which was done in great pain, but overnight and at great speed to reduce the time spent sat in the car and lessen the agony from our less than perfect roads.
On seeing the doctor at the local hospital and having a MRI scan I now know what is wrong with my spine, a combination of not being completely straight and also having 2 semi collapsed disks. The doctor I went to see was very informative told me my options, also told me my weight it nothing to do with my back but loosing a few pounds might make it easier in the future. For the first time since 1993 a specialist took time to explain what is wrong with my back even though I’ve seen dozens of specialists over the years. Bad information, bad luck or overworked specialists?
I hope you find a solution to your bad back and if it needs surgery you get it. Remember anything you can do from the list above will always help you and that sitting or lying still for 6 months wont help, unfortunately.