I had my own personal experience with back pain last weekend and I felt the need to share it with you.
Over the last few years as a practicing Physio, I think it would be safe to say that I have seen and treated hundreds of cases of back pain. It's extremely common and varies in severity. It doesn't discriminate and can pop up anywhere, anytime! Most people will experience some level of back pain at some point in their life. But that doesn't mean this is something to be feared or too concerned about. Sometimes we do experience back pain because we have structurally injured our back, sometimes our body is just trying to send us a message.
In my case, I felt a little niggle in my back a few weeks ago after I lifted a few large, heavy, awkwardly sized boxes in and out of my car. I felt a gradual onset of lower back tightness over the duration of the day. I treated this like I usually would, I had a rest from what I was doing, I got on the floor and did some gentle stretching and massaged some cream into my tight back muscles. Over the duration of the next few weeks, the tightness persisted and I addressed this by lying on the floor with my spiky massage balls for 20 minutes every morning and doing some stretches and gentle exercises - this always made me feel heaps better! But certain movements and activities still made me feel a bit stiff, generally prolonged sitting or standing, or leaning forward treating my patients over the treatment table.
Then came the big event... stubborn and strong headed Heidi decided to put together a large piece of furniture by herself when she really should have had someone to help her like the instructions said. I had spent a few hours bent forward and heavy lifting that day, and then I decided to lift this very heavy cabinet off the floor. Then I felt it! An awful sensation in my lower back that made me cry out. There was intense pain and tightening in my lower back. I couldn't move. I thought straight away, "wow, I think I've done a number here", and maybe also a few swear words. A large adrenaline rush followed, I panicked. Thoughts were running through my head, "What have I done?", "How could I be so stupid?", "What am I going to do with this cabinet now?", "I have so much left to do.", "What am I going to do with all my patients booked in with me next week?", "Where is my phone in case I need to call someone for help?", "Heidi, this is ridiculous, you are a Physio, you should have known better.", "I wish I could turn back the clock a few minutes." I caught myself in this downward spiral and decided to sit quietly for a few minutes, take some deep breaths and remain calm. This is ok. You are ok.
I quickly realised, this must be how so many of my patients feel when they hurt themselves. Except they wouldn't know what they've done, what the sensations were, what that meant, what they should do next. I all of a sudden had a whole new appreciation for what they must feel and what this experience might be like for them. It was consuming, I couldn't stand, sit, walk, take a deep breath, cough, laugh, sneeze without experiencing a pain in my back that was enough to buckle me.
What followed was most important in my recovery. I forgave myself for lifting the cabinet, I accepted the symptoms I was feeling and reassured myself that they were not dangerous. I rested. I alternated positions all weekend, walked around the house, took some analgesia, had hot showers, used heat packs, did gentle movements. I listened to my body. I asked for help with tasks I wasn't able to do around the house. I was extremely lucky that I had a super special friend who could give my back a gentle massage, some dry needling and taped it up for some extra support.
As each day passed, my pain and movement improved. Just like any soft tissue injury, it will be a few weeks until I'm feeling 100% again. But I'm thinking of this just like other injuries I've had over my life; a sprained ankle I did while running, a knee injury I got whilst skiing, a hip injury I got when I fell off my bike. Accidents happen in life. I've done another soft tissue injury, which will heal over time, my injury happened because I overloaded the soft tissue in my lower back, not because I was bending and lifting something really heavy. I will return to bending and lifting things in the future, just like I returned to running, cycling and skiing. Bending and lifting is not to be feared, they are functional movements we do everyday. However, I will re-assess with a bit more caution next time and make sure I only lift a heavy item if I think I have the adequate strength and fitness to do it. Otherwise, I'll make sure I get someone else to help me!
As always, every injury is different, and it's best to seek some guidance from your Physiotherapist who can help you with your recovery.