I am not medically trained, but I am very well qualified to talk about back pain, as I have suffered intermittently from pain every since I damaged my back in my very early twenties.
I had come home from a long and particularly tiring day in the London office where I worked, and laid down on the sofa while dinner was being prepared by some kind of family member. As I was called to the table, I sat up and my back twisted out: instant and excruciating pain. There was no detailed medical diagnosis – no routine scans in those days – so rest was prescribed and I spent several weeks lying flat and having stressful phone calls from work who could not believe it was taking me so long to get better. The spams in my back were so severe that if I tried to stand with my hips level, one foot swung a good inch off the floor, such was the effect on my muscles.
Nowadays activity rather than rest is recommended for most back conditions, and people are encouraged to keep moving, but in the day rest was the thing.
Sometimes I got better and returned to almost normal, but I was always aware that my back was fragile, and I had to watch how I used it when decorating, gardening, or doing housework. There would be a point when warning twinges began to raise the alarm, and I'd need to stop. I also could not sit for long without getting stiff and sore.
I discovered for myself that keeping moving was much better than lying down, and that sitting was worst of all. Walking everywhere I could have a great help, and certainly if I woke up in the morning with a stiff or sore back, by the time I had walked to work I would be feeling pretty limber. Walking could not solve all problems though, and on occasions when the old back problem flared up too much to be cured by a good walk, I found myself back in a semi-invalid condition.
A better signpost to a long term solution was the improvement I found through learning Tai Chi. As my strength and balance improved, the amount of issues and warning gripes from my back fell, and gradually I came to feel that back problems were a thing of the past. Not so.
About three years ago we relocated, and I stopped Tai Chi as we settled into our new home. I was also doing a lot of lifting and rearranging of furniture and my back problems came back with a vengeance. I experienced the most excruciating pain of my life, unable to find a way to stand, lie or sit that was not agony. I could not walk, and my legs were drained of strength so stairs were a nightmare. A good chiropractor put me on the road to recovery and removed the pain, but I knew I had to get back into strengthening activities. I could not find convenient Tai Chi classes nearby, so signed up for pilates, and I have never looked back. The classes have strengthened my core muscles so my weak back is protected. I have also started on yoga for flexibility, and locally we have a piloga class – mostly pilates but with influences of yoga. I go to three classes most weeks, which are fun and good for general health, fitness and flexibility as well as core strength. I start each day with some of the pilates / yoga warm-ups to loosen up to start the day. Combined with walking and some other cardio based exercise classes, I am feeling stronger and fitter than I have for years.
The moral of my particular story is that I have to work at keeping healthy and fit. I need to keep my core strong, and if I do do I am confident that I can be fit and active and enjoy all the things I love to do for years to come.
If you are lucky enough to have a healthy back, cherish and care for it! If, like me, your back is your weakness, sign up for some good professional classes and beat it by getting strong.