some thoughts on back pain

I thought I knew a bit about back pain!! And then my back went into spasm and I realised I had no idea how BAD it could feel!! Here are some thoughts on back pain, based on my recent experience…

Woman down!

This was me, part way through teaching a class, when my lower back and glutes locked up. Long story short, several hours of heavy gardening (a few days prior to this) had left the muscles in my lower back, glutes and hamstrings overstretched, weak and vulnerable; I carried on as usual for a few days but at the moment pictured below, my body responded by tightening up the whole of my left hand side, leaving me literally unable to get up!

back pain

I think it helped that I understood what had caused the sudden spasm. It didn’t help that I knew my class were watching on at home, unable to do anything. It also didn’t help that I live alone – it was a scary experience to go through alone…

Once I got over the initial panic, there were a couple of things in my favour:

  1. it was night-time so I gradually got myself sorted and then went to sleep – which gave me 8 hours where my body could relax without any demands being placed upon it
  2. I remembered that I had some medication (prescribed for anxiety but actually a muscle relaxant) in a kitchen drawer (not ideal as I had to work out how to get downstairs, but at least I had access to it from the start)
  3. I have very understanding clients who totally didn’t make a fuss about me cancelling work for the next couple of days

Things that helped me get moving again:

  • diazepam was undoubtedly the first thing! I’m not someone who uses medication often, but I was very happy to have these – they enabled me to get to sleep comfortably for the first two nights
  • lying on my ‘good’ side in bed so that I could very gradually bring my left knee a little bit towards my chest – gently stretching the muscles which had gone into spasm (NB it was a tiny stretch – the smallest amount possible)
  • the next day I could lie on my back in bed – this allowed my spine to regain a gentle, supported, neutral position
  • gentle hip movements on all fours (on my bed because I couldn’t get to the floor) – my main focus was on letting my body guide me where it needed to go: gentle hip circles, some side-to-side hip movement, the very beginnings of a cat/cow stretch, a baby child’s pose position – I did these several times a day for the first to days
  • very gentle rolling using a trigger point ball against the wall – much kinder than working with a ball on the floor; I focused on rolling my glutes & low back, going onto the edges of my pelvis and sacrum where the muscles attach
  • walking (at a snail’s pace to start with and only on even ground and over a short distance) – the dog didn’t enjoy this first walk at all!! The day after my back spasm, walking was very uncomfortable; on the following day it felt easier the longer I walked; on the third day it felt normal again
  • movement rather than staying still – sitting was worst so I didn’t do much of that for 3 days; standing was ok so long as I kept moving gently – lots of hip swaying while waiting in a queue to buy garden pots; by the second day I could weight-bear evenly on both feet; I did some light gardening – not necessarily to be recommended (but luckily I got away with it!); a gentle yoga class on day 3 – I only did the moves which felt ok (limited forward flexion, no holding in position, very gentle rotations)
  • listening to my body – sounds corny but it really helped to tune-in and follow my gut about where and how I needed to move, when I needed to rest, etc
  • believing that this was a short-term, transient state and not somewhere I was going to live for a long time! Initially my head fell into a rabbit-hole of panic – what if my spine was the issue, what if it was cancer (bizarrely that one shot straight to the front of my mind as I was lying on the floor in agony!!), what if I couldn’t work, and then I’d have no income, and then what would I do… blah, blah, blah. Luckily I got back out of that particular rabbit-hole of doom quite quickly. It’s not helpful to think the worst – far better to just do what you can to get moving and then go from there

What to do if you have back pain:

The list above is intended as general guidance only.

If you’ve over-done it in the garden or tried a new type of exercise, this guidance will help you to get moving again – and I think that getting moving is of key importance in this situation. If your muscles have gone into spasm you definitely don’t want to leave them there…

That said, back pain is a broad umbrella term and some issues are more serious and need more urgent attention than others. If you experience sudden or unexplained back pain, or an onset of symptoms such as numbness in the legs or a change in bowel and bladder control, always seek help from a medical professional as soon as you can.

Sorry to end on that note, but it needed saying because I am not a medical professional and this guidance is not intended to take the place of medical advice. This is just my thoughts on back pain from someone who had no idea what back pain felt like until a week ago!

And my final piece of advice is this – if you need bamboo roots digging out of your garden let someone else do it…

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