A Real Pain in the Back

It seems like everyone I know has back problems. In the mix of conversation a friend or family member will remark, “Man, my back has been killing me …” or “I couldn’t sleep last night, my back was aching …” They say it with the right amount of frustration, but I can tell it’s something they wish would hurry up and pass.

I tell them all the same thing: Don’t mess around with that; get it looked at ASAP. Because sometimes back pain doesn’t just “hurry up and pass.”

A little over three years ago, I hurt my lower back. Only, I wouldn’t admit that I had hurt my back. Not until the dull ache and stiffness turned into a full-blown feeling of electricity that ripped down my backside every time I tried to stand up or sit down, and would leave me flat on the floor, the pain bringing tears to my eyes.

I had sacroiliitis — inflammation of the sacroiliac joint, which connects the lower spine and the pelvis. My doctor couldn’t pinpoint the initiating event, but that was because there were apparently too many possibilities to choose from.

As it turns out, I had not been treating my spine very kindly. My offenses included sleeping on a very unsupportive mattress and using a too-soft pillow; sitting for 10- to 12-hour stretches at my work desk; not exercising regularly; lifting heavy boxes and other objects (I’d moved apartments a few months prior); not eating a healthy diet; straining to hold yoga positions that were too advanced for me; and others.

“But I’m only 25!” I thought at the time. “I’m way too young to be having serious back problems!”

I had made the mistake of assuming that youth was a defense against problems like this. I had abused my body, believing that I was young, therefore I was healthy, that my body could take it, bounce back. I was wrong.

Treatment included chiropractic adjustments — at first they were weekly, then gradually the time between visits was increased — combined with TENS therapy. It only took a few weeks for me to feel better. After a month, I had completely regained pain-free mobility. But at my doctor’s recommendation I kept up with my visits for over a year to ensure that my issue could be fully resolved and to keep up with spinal “maintenance.”

At home, I tried to make lifestyle changes advice from my doctor. I bought a better mattress and pillow. I started sleeping on my side, with a pillow between my knees, to support my spine as much as possible. I stopped trying to lift things that I suspected were too heavy for me. I began to take breaks from sitting at my desk every hour or so — for example, walking to the kitchen for a drink of water. And I incorporated gentle stretches and back-strengthening exercises into my daily routine.

The whole experience taught me a lot. I learned that I am not invincible, and that back problems, like so many other health problems, can affect anyone, at any age. I also discovered just how important my spine is. As my main support structure and part of my central nervous system, it affects virtually everything in my body.

So I learned the hard way that I can’t ignore my spine’s calls for help. I need to take good care of it. And if I do, hopefully it will take good care of me.

Repeat after me: Be kind to your spine.

Image via Glen Wright on Flickr

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