Successful Back Pain Treatment

Hi, my name is Orla. I grew up with horses, so I was always active and fit. I also played volleyball, did some scuba diving and regularly went hillwalking; all without any injuries or back pain.

12 years ago, when I was 30, I was working in a office and was asked to lift bags of telephones. An hour later, my back started to hurt and from that moment on, I learned the agony of back pain. I didn't know anyone before that with back pain and was shocked to find out what excruciating pain meant. Little did I know then that it would progress and last another 8 years.

I was told that I had damaged the L4/L5 disc and that there was also degenerative damage, although I wasn't too worried about that because after researching back pain, I learned that most people have some level of degenerative damage which doesn't impact their daily life.

Like everyone with back pain, I tried everything: physiotherapy, traction, monthly injections, countless visits to consultants, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi etc. In fact, at this stage I can't even remember half of the stuff I did.  All I can remember is endless waiting rooms and form filling.

The one thing I did from the start was to continue exercising.  I walked, swam and did daily physiotherapy exercises which I know really helped in the long run. Some days it was agony, but I kept going, as the more I did, the more relief I started to get. The pain had really escalated at this stage, but exercising helped me feel that I was doing something to control it and that was something I hadn't felt since the pain started.

About 5 years after the initial injury, my right leg started to go numb and that was when surgery was initially mentioned. I saw a surgeon and he said I was too young for surgery. The problem with the leg went on for another 3 years and eventually, it was decided the only option was spinal fusion surgery. After researching it all, I had an awful few months deciding what to do. One minute, I'd agree to it and next minute, I was absolutely against it. What made it worse was everyone else's opinions. I was mad to do it. I was mad not to do it.  My head was melted with it all. At the time, between pain & the numb leg, I was at the end of my tether, so went for the operation.

I'm now 5 years after the operation and can't believe the difference in my life. After the operation I found a physiotherapist who works with Olympic athletes and his method for rehabilitation was based on fitness rather than physiotherapy . He has me doing 5 days of exercise (cycling, swimming, walking, weights) as well as floor exercises. I have even joined a circuit training class, which is on one of the local mountains and my aim is to run a 5k this year. I also do a weekly Pilates class.

Even though I am so delighted now that I have feeling back in my leg and am more or less pain-free, I still always wonder if there had been anything else I could have done to avoid the operation. I hate the thought of having messed with my body like that and sometimes wonder how it will affect me when I get older.

Saying that, I know that I can keep pain-free by constant exercising, so putting in that effort is so worth it to me.

The only time I have any hassle now is when I don't exercise. If I don't exercise for than 3 days (eg sickness, holidays) then my back will spasm and as anyone who gets back spasms knows, it's excruciating pain and severely debilitating.

I love my life now and am back to doing the majority of things I used to do before I injured my back. I still love the feeling of getting up and realizing there is no pain.  What a feeling.  It would be great to be able to bottle it and pass it on! - Orla

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