I am a (just turned) 40 year old female who has suffered from back ache since I was 17. Out of five siblings, four of us suffer from back pain! I have always gone to my GP, who prescribes pain killers and physio, but I have never been offered scans or any other test. I have always found that people with back pain are not taken seriously. Because we can’t see the problem it is often seen as an excuse for getting a few weeks off work. But how do you describe a 'bad back'? I don't mean the usual backache we can all get after too much vigorous activity, but the excruciating pain that comes when your back 'goes off' and leaves your body as well as your life incapacitated for a few weeks. Well, this seems to be only way I can describe it.
In my lower back there is a very sharp serrated knife, approximately four inches in length. It sits there waiting for me to move. It teases me, gently poking into my skin.. When I do move, the blade cuts into my back, yes it stabs me. I get the worst imaginable sharp pain in my back. (Give me child birth any day!) I begin to sweat, shake and find it hard to breathe. It makes me feel sick with pain. But the worst emotion is fear. Why fear? Well, I need to stop this knife digging further into me. But to do that, I need to move. But which way do I move? If I move the wrong way the blade will dig deeper, it feels as though my back would snap with the pressure. This decision has to be made in a split second, because the pain won’t stop until I get this blade out of my back. There I've done it, I got it out. But it’s not finished yet. It will sit there waiting until I either move the wrong way again, move suddenly after a cough, sneeze or laugh. I think this is what the medics term a 'spasm' but spasm does not justify the pain this causes. The dictionary's definition of spasm is 'tremor or twinge. Twinge! Yeah right, in your dreams. They need to find an entirely more powerful term for this. Anyway, the spasm is over. Attack or seizure seem more appropriate words, but even they still don't seem to capture the true meaning of this 'episode'. But anyway, the blade has settles down now, so I need to get into a position where I can get at least 10 minutes of pain free comfort. Alas, the pain continues. At least not the pain from knife digging into my back, but the 'aftershocks'.
Aftershocks are what I would call the constant back pain that wears you down for weeks. And there it stays. Because of the pain, I can’t sit, I cant stand or walk. I can’t even get relief from lying down. The only way I can get 'comfortable', that is comfortable, not pain free, is to lie on the sofa on my left side, with cushions behind my back to support it. I can’t even lie on my back. If I try to move, I can feel that knife poking into my back, so I have to lie back down and come up with an alternative way of moving. My pain sits in the lower left of my back. It travels into my thigh and backside. Then continues down into the front of my thigh, down into my knees and then on to my shins.
God help you if you need to cough. The knife doesn't like coughs. At first I had to wait until I could sit on the very edge of the sofa - the toilet was a good place too. Bend forward, clenching my knees with my fingers, and very slowly try to cough. It was hardly worth the bother really, but if you need to cough! After a few days, I found that bringing my knees up my chest and with my hands tightly clenching them to my chest I could cough without it hurting! Not the lung emptying type of cough, but enough to keep your lungs happy. I even took cough medicine to help ease the cough that I didn't really have, but just to reduce any need to cough. Sneeze? Don't. Block your nose to restrain it.
Lying at that sofa, I can't lift any leg further than about an inch or too, nor bend my head down to my chest. I can't reach up for anything. I even get a tingling sensation in between my thighs. A pretty miserable existence really. I didn't realize how much our back dictates our body. Every movement depends on our back for support. Your whole body is useless when a bad back strikes. But there was one good thing to come out of it. I lost 3lbs in a week. This was because if I sat the pain was really bad, and after about 2 minutes that bloody knife would keep teasing me, slyly pushing the knife against my back. So it was back to lying on the sofa. So how do I eat? Well, very little. If I sat I had to have 2 cushions behind me. And then as many cushions that were needed to get my plate at mouth level. Then moving the fork up to my mouth, god that hurt, so I usually gave up.
We always think that having a nice hot bath will work wonders. Another Don't! I tried this and couldn't get out! It took 20 minutes, in which time I had to somehow get onto my knees then very carefully try to get to my feet. Climbing out of the bath is another task in itself. As lifting your leg kills! Then, it's the decision of which leg first? Yes, it hurts lifting the leg out, but which one do I stand on, so I can get the other one out? That takes a bit of thought and forward thinking! Ok, I am out of the bath, and because I am in pain I am going to live in my pajamas and dressing gown for a whole week. And to top it all, I am going to spend exactly a week on the sofa. No bed for me. Too much pain. It was like Goldilocks and the three bears in my house, although I would have to add another bare. I tried each of the three beds in our house. My bed is too soft, my sons, as you will read about in a minute, is too hard and my daughters is somewhere in between, but wont provide the support my back needs. So, all in all, I prefer our sofa. Heres what happened…
Night one was spent it on the sofa. Horrendous. I never got any sleep what so ever. If I lay there too long, (by the way too long is equal to about five minutes), the pain would go into my knee and shin. At times worse than the back pain. So, the next night, I decided to chuck my son in with his dad as he has an orthopaedic bed. So I manage to maneuver myself into the bed and settle down for a better nights sleep. Ok I was probably so tired that I slept. I must have had a good 4 hours sleep. I then woke up at 6.30am, in need of the toilet. Aaahhh! I can not only not get out of bed, I cant even move a muscle and why am I on my back when that kills me? Then I realize. Lying in a bed on my side, I have no back support, so I must have turned over onto my back in my sleep. Everyone is in bed asleep, and need a wee. No matter how I try I can’t move. The bloody knife is awake too. Luckily I am female. And we have learnt over time (waiting in long queue for toilets) to 'keep it in' and a good job too, or I would have had to pee in my son's bed. So, I can’t move at all, so I drift back off to sleep, until the troops arrive. Well my son, bounding into room to get his ipod. "Get your dad" I say, I can’t get out of bed. So at the top of his voice, unfortunately, his voice hasn't dropped yet, he yells to my hubby. So here is my knight in shining armour, or so I thought. Not his fault though, I wanted his help, but don't want him to touch me in case he moved me and I had another 'spasm'. So, taking a very very deep breath, I begin to make my body move, the knife gets me again, so I move slightly to release it, but I don't lie down again. I have to get up. I am desperate now. It takes about 5 minutes and lots of huffing and puffing to get up. I got the hubby to put his arms under my shoulders and VERY slowly lift me up. I'm up! But my legs are shaking with the pain and pressure and he has to stand there for a minute. Very slowly I make my way to the toilet. Mind you I seem to be walking as though I have a rocket up my backside. My back is all twisted, with my right side sticking out at an odd angle. I look like a cross between an orangutan and someone with sever arthritis in both hips! Oh, and did I mention, I was hot last so I slept in the buff. And here I am still in the buff, walking across the landing to the loo, with my hubby behind trying to help, and there's the 13 year old son, getting a right eye full. Good job he's seen it before! Right made it, but now I have to sit! So after a bit of maneuvering I manage to pee. Oh what relief! But hang on, I am a female, and I need to wipe. But, I can’t bend my back and my arms are not long enough! God, what do I do now? Looking up at hubby I realize that might be bit too much to ask! So I kind of flick with the loo roll, and think what the hell, I am in so much pain, I don't gave a toss if I stink.
I am tired, worn out and in so much pain. I can’t fathom out how this can get better. This is the third time in a year this has happened. My GP usually gives me painkillers, refers me for physic and gives me a 2 weeks sick note. (I sit at a computer all day at work which doesn't help). But this is the good old UK, with our fabulous National Health Service. Free treatment! Well, in reality it took 3 weeks to get a appointment with the physic, and by then you are ok! Anyway, the last 'episode' of this magnitude I again hobbled along to the GP. And what did he say? Here are his actual words. "Some people have diabetes, some have asthma, you have a bad back and will just have to learn to live with it". He didn't even examine me or give me any painkillers. Bastard. Sorry about my French, but even that doesn't describe how I felt about him. So, this time, I haven't even bothered going to see the miserable old fogey. I will make do with my Osteopath.
Osteopaths, do they work? I am not sure but I still go to se her. My first appointment this time was 3 days after my episode began. The bed I had to climb on resembled a pasting table. There was no electronics to it, so it couldn't be raised or lowered to help me on. Anyway, I imagined that she would manipulate my back and 'click' it back into place. No such luck. It was all about massaging it. So in reality, I don't know if this helps, or if my back is just getting better itself.
Now onto pain relief. It doesn't exist! I took co-dydramol a strong painkiller and Ibuprofen (anti inflammatory) every 4 hours as stated on the packet. Not a single bit of pain relief. But I persevered with them, thinking that the pain would probably be a whole lot worse if I didn't take them. Another downside to taking all these drugs (I would gladly have resorted to the illegal sort if they were offered to me) is the affect it has on your bowels. Now I am a fairly healthy female, who makes the daily or every other day trek to the toilet. Any what did these drugs do to me? Constipation, that's what. It took six days to finally manage to get nature to answer my please. And in return I got a very frustrating and painful 15 minutes sitting on that seat.
Hot or cold compress? I always thought a hot compress was best. But now you need to use a cold compress for the first few days, followed by a hot compress. But who wants to sit with a bad of ice cold frozen peas on their back. I tell you, when you are really feeling sorry for yourself you want comfort, and heat! But, I needed something to help with this pain, so I decided to give the cold compress a go. It is the middle of winter here, so no ice in the freezer, and the only peas I have in my house come in a tin, so I had a brain wave. I put cold water into a hot water bottle. And hey presto, I feel even more depressed. It's cold and I don't like it. So, I sit with it on me back for about 5 minutes every 4 hours! and in between, I go back to the heat. Yes I am a wimp, but the heat makes me feel all cozy.
It is now 2 weeks since my episode began, and I still have to be careful. My back still needs to straighten up properly, and I stiffen up after sitting for more than 5 minutes, walking for too long still hurts, but I am well and truly on the mend. This has taken me about 2 days to write, with 5 minutes here and there, so forgive any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. I find it hard to concentrate properly whilst sitting in pain. Anyway, I hope this helps people realize how serious a bad back can be. What worries me is these episodes are becoming more regular and more painful and debilitating. I have read that after the age of 45, the gel protecting the disc begins to thicken, so less chance of bulging out and causing this pain. So hey, only another 5 years to go… Hopefully. - Carole