When I developed chronic lower back pain in my early 40s (20 years ago, having rowed and played rugby to a high level at school and University) I had little to guide me and no idea if it was to be a curse for life or if I would get better.
I know that everyone’s back problem is distinct, but I thought my story might give some hope for those who are in a similar situation to where I was.
Over a few years my lower back pain became progressively more constant, and particularly unpleasant when seated at my desk or when travelling by car, train or plane. I found it hard to find a position where I could avoid the dull, achy pain. Even at night it would occasionally wake me up. Finally, I sought medical advice, which revealed arthritic vertebrae (degenerated facet joints) to be the likely cause. I was given an epidural steroid injection but this did not give any obvious benefit. I also tried Voltarol, also without any noticeable improvement and for several years I used a kneeling chair in my office, which did give some respite. There were some periods when I was very low, wondering if I would ever be rid of this constant, wearying irritation, which was beginning to affect other aspects of my life.
It’s hard to remember the sequence of events now, but my ability to manage the condition and to feel better occurred gradually over two or three years and was a result of (or at least accompanied by) several different factors:
- Pilates and physiotherapy (with great help from staff at PSM), involving a series of strengthening exercises and gentle lower back stretches (stretching every morning immediately after getting up and sometimes before going to bed at night)
- Using an inflatable back pillow when travelling to help support my lower back
- Significant weight loss, improved diet (with lots of green veg) and increased fitness and strength through walking, climbing and cycling (I now cycle over 9,000 miles/year, and I’m sure that my lower back is much stronger and better as a result)
- A positive mental outlook. This is so important. I was determined that the pain was not going to wreck my life and that I would find a way to manage it. That's half the battle.
Although I still experience a sore back if I’m seated for a long time, and occasionally take ibuprofen and painkillers, for the last 7 years I have felt so much better. Chronic lower back pain is no longer a dominating factor in my life and I am relatively pain-free, very happy and extremely active.
I want to share my experience with others who might feel they are trapped in an endless cycle of discomfort and despair – don't give up! Take a holistic approach to tackle the problem. Human beings have a remarkable ability to adapt – even if our poorly evolved spines try to tell us differently.
31 July 2018