Pick me up and pour me out

I’ve been twittering madly about my bad back since Thursday. Excuse me while I offload.

morning tea‘ by kittykatfish

On Thursday night, I was taking off my shoes while sitting on Nick‘s floor. Twisting while simultaneously pulling caused some momentary weirdness at the base of my spine. I barely noticed it at the time but a couple of hours later and my lower back was very sore and stiff. I winced and minced my way home, had a hot bath and didn’t think much about it until the next morning.

On Friday morning I (perhaps stupidly) decided that although my lower back was still very sore I could walk well enough to justify going to work. I was waddling along at less than half my normal speed; despite feeling pretty good mentally, I was getting increasingly stiff and sore. Ibuprofen took away the worst of it, but something was causing my spine to emerge from my pelvis at a rather disturbing 5 to 10 degree angle, making me bend left. If I put my right hand on my right hip and extend my left hand outwards I look like a little teapot being poured out, even without bending. A constantly poured teapot. How irritating. I physically can’t straighten my back. If I bend right, my spine resembles a deformed ‘S’ from behind. Not good.

By Saturday morning, Ibuprofen alone was no longer enough. My half-speed waddle, which had on Friday induced me to mutter swearwords under my breath, had turned into full-on can’t-walk agony. Every step took an effort of will I wouldn’t have had, except I wanted to go to Dorset to see my family, especially as it was my grandmother’s 85th birthday this weekend. I didn’t feel bad enough to warrant a trip to A&E or use the GP out-of-hours service, and figured I’d be okay resting it over the weekend and seeing how I felt on Monday.

Despite a horrible car journey there (and another this morning, coming back home) resting at my parents’ house on Saturday was every bit as good as resting at home would have been. I phoned NHS Direct to get some reassurance and help me decide how urgently to see a doctor. The nurse I spoke to (who phoned back within 10 seconds of me leaving my details. Wonderful service) was so compassionate and lovely that I broke down a bit and had a little sob while saying thank you at the end of the call. I’m generally a bit soppy anyway, and unsurprisingly am especially emotional under stress and/or serious pain.

They couldn’t give a diagnosis (so I still don’t know if I’ve damaged a muscle or slipped a disc) but the advice I got was to take plenty of pain killers, rest over the weekend and unless it got a lot worse to make an appointment with a GP on Monday. They also gave some useful advice re pain relief. Hot pads are better than ice, after the first day. Alternating between ibuprofen and co-codomol (which is paracetamol + codeine) every 3 hours means one drug is always working, and I can keep that rhythm going for 24 hours a day (at least, for a while. Codeine is a bit too lovely to be taken long-term).

I’m going to see a doctor asap tomorrow (Monday morning). I badly want even stronger painkillers – ideally something that won’t constipate me in the same way the co-codomol seems to – advice and hopefully referral to physio/osteo/chiro to fix this bent spine.

I’m resting. I’m sitting up straight with a hot pad and regular pills. I’ll update once I’ve seen a doctor and know more.

Recent DrugsUpdate (Monday) – Woke up feeling quite a bit better. Resting over the weekend has straightened my back considerably. Although I’m still not walking normally, I’m able to move around much more easily than yesterday. I saw the doctor first thing today. He advised rest and gentle stretching exercises, and prescribed 3 x 50mg of diclofenac with meals (it’s sometimes known as Voltarol. It’s a more powerful non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug than ibuprofen) to help with the pain. Between that and the co-cocodomol I should be able to rest more comfortably.

Longer-term, I need to be careful about posture. I had a good conversation with the doctor this morning. He said that 15 years ago, the back injuries he saw were 99% labourers who had worked too hard and too long. These days, all the backs he sees belong to desk monkeys. He made me feel rightly guilty for having a lovely ergonomic chair but then around using a laptop in cafes and trains and ruining myself by spending all day hunching over whatever surface is available. As well as prescribing the diclofenac (and suggesting senokot to deal with the constipation) he recommended¬† the book ‘Treat Your Own Back’ by Robin McKenzie.

He also confirmed something I’ve been thinking for a while; I should consider Alexander Technique. Rachel is trying to get me interested in Pilates, which I’m less excited about but would probably also do me some good.

Update (Tuesday) – I’m even straighter and slightly less sore today. I’ve gone all day (so far) without co-codomol, and the diclofenac seems to be just about enough to deal with the pain. I’m almost walking normally, though not enough to be able to go to work tomorrow. Going to try at least one more day of resting it before going back to work.

Resting a sore back is frustrating. I thought I was up to handling some of the small tidal wave of email that’s building up, but although I was able to be constructive I was also snappy and less diplomatic than I’d have liked. Lesson learned: either avoid emailing when in pain, or be very very careful that the tone isn’t unduly influenced by it.

Some good news:

  • ‘Treat Your Own Back’ arrived today.
  • My (other) doctor friend suggests Wii Fit to build core strength (genius!) and also recommended a friend of his who does structural osteopathy and Alexander Technique in my area. I think I might get in touch.
  • Um..
  • I’m getting better.

Update (Wednesday) – Even better. Less painful and less irritable. Even took the dog for a short walk. Slightly stiff, but I’m moving around pretty well, and it’s time to get on with life again. I’ll go back to work tomorrow.

Update (Thursday) – It felt good to get back to work today. Slightly stiff, and hyper-aware of things like desk-height and chair-angle, but pleased to be walking around normally again. Normal service is resumed.

7 Comments

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  1. Sorry to hear this! I can really sympathise… hope you get better soon.

    Comment by Dale Lane — October 5, 2008 #

  2. Thanks Dale. Your back pain experiences sound pretty grim. One thing I do miss about IBM is the private medical insurance.

    Comment by Roo — October 5, 2008 #

  3. Backs: They take time to hurt and heal. Good luck and I hope it benefits greatly from a week’s rest and lots of good loving attention and care. I hope we’ll see you around for Chris Sherman’s VW London event. Best wishes! I will probably catch up with epredetor this week if he’s at the unconference that will now occur on the streets of London.

    Comment by Bruce Joy — October 6, 2008 #

  4. Welcome to 30! Glad you’re on the mend. Wonder what’s next to fall apart? :)

    Comment by Chris Mildebrandt — October 6, 2008 #

  5. Roo, I’ve had treatment for back problems for over ten years, and the actual problems for much longer, so I sympathise greatly. My problems are mechanical, what they call subluxation, or a misalignment of the vertebrae, so a good chiropractor can put the vertebrae back into position and that sorts me out.

    I’ve heard very good things about “Treat Your Own Back”, so I’m going to get a copy too. I’ve also heard good things about Alexander Technique, and am going to my first session tomorrow! Pilates I’ve been doing, albeit half-heartedly, for a few years and it does seem to help when I can get up off my arse to do it. I focus on abdominal exercises for “core strength”, which helps support the spine, and which in turn helps me maintain good posture. (Or rather, it did until I was naughty and got out of the habit.)

    Oddly, I partially trained as a remedial exercise instructor, years back, so I know exactly what I should be doing to protect my back and maintain good posture. But being crap and fallible, I rarely do it. Maybe we should start a Posture Club and egg each other on to be good? I’m sure our backs would love us if we did!

    Comment by Suw — October 6, 2008 #

  6. Hi Roo,

    Sorry to hear about your back problems – sounds pretty nasty. I’m glad that they are getting better now though. I can recommend Pilates. I started doing it once a week a year and a half ago, and it makes lots of difference to me. I used to regularly have pain in my lower back, but I don’t get it any more. Also, when you start doing it you have this freaky feeling the next day where it hurts more if you don’t hold your stomach in than if you do! Awesome :)

    Get well soon!

    Comment by Anna Pendrich — October 7, 2008 #

  7. Thanks everyone!

    Suw: Maybe the times I’ve seen you face-to-face you’ve been especially careful, but I’ve always thought you had really good posture. The idea of a club to encourage each other sounds good, though I’m not sure how to nag constructively.

    Anna: Hmm. I’ve been trying to convince myself I’m too blokey for Pilates (I know… who am I kidding) but it does sound increasingly interesting. I think I’ll start with Alexander Technique and go from there though.

    Comment by Roo — October 10, 2008 #

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