If you visited the clinic this spring you may have witnessed me valiantly soldiering on treating patients as I gritted my teeth trying to ignore my back pain. The reality is there was probably more whinging than soldiering happening so apologies to any patients that had to endure my moaning. I consider myself very lucky to have a job that I love but when you can’t even lean forwards without pain it did make it a bit challenging at times.
I think my experience has been fairly typical of what can happen with acute low back pain and something that I’m sure many people can relate to. So if you will forgive the self-indulgence, I thought it would be a good idea to use it as an opportunity to show what can happen when you have a bad back and what you should do.
First and foremost pain is horrible.
A pretty obvious statement on the surface but one that needs mentioning. As an osteopath, I work with people who are in pain every day. I see first hand the impact it can have on people’s lives. It takes you away from the activities you love or makes them a lot less enjoyable. Osteopathy sees each patient as unique. Each patient has a different set of requirements and expectations that they would like their body to fulfil in order to be happy. We call this “agency” and it can vary dramatically for every patient. It could be a very simple task that most people might take for granted, such as being able to put on your shoes or coat, or it may be being able to pick up your toddler easily and without pain. Our sense of agency is key to our identity and if we have a limited sense of agency, over time it can start to have a real impact on our mental health and quality of life.
Don’t panic and keep moving!
Back pain is incredibly common and the vast majority of low back pain will resolve perfectly on its own. Even a minor muscle strain in the low back can be incredibly painful. Pain often leads to people restricting their day-to-day movements as they believe that such discomfort must mean that they are causing further damage. However, this is very rarely the case. All research shows that people who maintain moderate movement heal much faster than those who don’t. Our bodies heal much quicker when we move. Even after a hip replacement operation, patients are now up and on their feet the next day. Movement is the key to life. It has to be said that the key word is “moderate”. If you are experiencing pain and have any marathons planned, it might be wise to postpone them for a few weeks.
When to visit the osteopath?
I get asked this question often and it can be a difficult one to answer consistently. I gave it two weeks following the onset of pain, but it may be different for you depending on your own personal experience of low back pain. If you (like me) have no history of back pain then I think it’s ok to leave it a couple of weeks and see if it resolves on its own. If you experience back pain regularly and it often lasts a couple of weeks or more then I would consider visiting an osteopath relatively quickly as we can usually reduce the symptoms considerably after the first session and get you back to moving more comfortably as soon as possible.
The exercises really do work!
Part of keeping active is the dreaded prescription rehabilitation exercises. I know I go on about them and it’s important to stress that, although I was a bit rubbish at doing my own exercises at first, understanding that mine was a disc issue and my body might need a bit of help encouraged me to be a much better patient :). Pain is a great motivator! From the moment I started seeing my osteopath and sticking to my exercise routine my symptoms began to improve. They really do make a difference.
Healing is not linear.
It is now 7 weeks since I initially hurt my back and I am very happy to say that I am feeling much more comfortable. It’s great to be mobile and pain free again but there have been good and bad days along the way. My osteopath has been fantastic but the 24-48 hours following her treatments were not pleasant. Initially, treatment aggravated the area slightly, but I really felt the benefit once the initial discomfort had settled and my body adjusted to being manipulated. Combining osteopathy treatments with adhering to my exercise routine really helped to resolve my pain. I do still get the odd twinge but that is normal and part of the healing process. Monitoring your improvement over longer periods of time like a week or two rather than how you feel in the moment is a much better guide of how you are healing.
Self-care going forward.
From now on I’m going to take a bit of time out to focus on my self-care. Nothing too dramatic. Little and often is the key. I’m going to add pilates to my weekly routine and ensure I stretch regularly. As painful as this experience was it has been really valuable too. It has served as a reminder of how much back pain can affect you not just physically but mentally too. I know my experience doesn’t compare with those who have been suffering from pain for months or even years and I’m not trying to say it does. It has been useful in that I now have a small appreciation of what some people experience daily and hopefully that will help me be more understanding of what patients are going through. I am hopeful that such empathy will help me to improve as an osteopath, making me better equipped to help more people experience less pain in their lives.
If you are experiencing any aches and pains or are unsure if we can help we offer a free 15 minute chat, either at the clinic or by phone, to all patients to answer any questions or concerns you may have. Just click the link below or call 0208 088 0442 to book.
Thanks for reading!