Coming into my first and second pregnancies there was one thing I was vereeeee worried about. That was the chronic back pain that I suffer from. In 2008 I was rear ended at high speed and sustained damage in my spine. I have damaged disks throughout my thoracic spine, a really nasty herniation at T7-T8 and various states of disrepair between T7 and T12 and the T-L junction. Also some degenerative discs in my C-Spine and muscles in various states of tension, trying to do their best to hold everything together. Maybe a bit too enthusiastically.
In English, this means I have the back of a 80 year old!
I lived in a cave of chronic pain for about 3-4 years before I learnt that managing chronic back pain means a holistic and global approach.
In the early days I thought of managing back pain in a very simple, sequential manner.
That’s a very western approach, isn’t it? And do you notice how it’s so “out of my hands” – someone else did this to me. Someone else is going to tell me what to do. Someone else is going to fix me.
There’s a huge piece missing in my first approach.
“What am I going to do to take responsibility for this? For addressing this pain?”
The patient must partner with the provider in a team.
Of course, after physio, the acute pain improved but the chronic pain continued, grinding me down, especially in 2010 when I was working on my Masters Thesis at a desk for l ong hours.
So, I stepped into another A-B-C type model.
Back to Dr –> Referral to pain clinic –> Medication –>A few workshops on pain –> more physio –> incorporate additional treatments (shockwave, active release, graston, kinesiotaping –> incorporate additional approaches (yoga, core conditioning)
*and the cycle continues.
I made progress in terms of pain reduction, functionality and posture going through these programs, but there was a missing piece to the puzzle.
- We need to address back pain globally
- We, the patients, need a mindset shift.
We need to address all possible contributors with a global approach and the mindset that we are an expert on ourselves, too.
But, in our medical model, we tend to narrow it down to a few identifiable factors whose diagnoses and treatment is in other peoples’ hands – the experts.
We tend to take the view that we are a recipient of care and healing from a group of experts, rather than a partner in it.
Trying out Different Approaches When Physio Failed:
8 years after the accident and two babies later, I’ve gotten my back pain to a fairly manageable daily level. It’s funny how pain really motivates you. In 2013 I started going through some major life challenges in the psycho-social-emotional world. In addressing self care, lifestyle and mental health, funnily enough, I addressed another component of my backpain.
In early 2014 I started working with a life coach as part of my own coach training. We did quite a bit of somatics work. This is an approach in the field of ontological coaching that honours the body as a domain in which we exist & communicate.
It is part of 3 domains: The body, emotions and language (the mind.)
I learnt to approach my back not as an enemy or a difficult “other” but my own personal messaging system and guide. We did a ton of visualization, meditations and “talking to my back as a friend” (yes I totally eye rolled every.single.time I had to do this.)
As cheesy as it felt, and despite my initial resistance to all of this “woo woo” I had some profound mindset changes. Rather than treat my back as a person to be angry at, shut out, or struggle against, I learnt treat it as an ally, part of me, and a friend.
When pain occurred, it wasn’t something to be fought against with treatment, but listened to and engaged with.
Think about a difficult person you know.
When you shut them out and don’t deal with them, it continues to eat at you. You get NOWHERE. Nothing will change. Ever. Until you sit down and have a friendly, constructive talk.
It’s uncomfortable, but when you communicate with them and at least try to come to some kind of rapproachement, it eats at you less, knowing you engaged with them. Even if it doesn’t work out.
Think of back pain the same way. Do you engage with it?
By sitting up and engaging with the pain, really taking note of it and observing it, and even journaling about it, I was able to determine when it was occurring and what the patterns were.
There Were Connections Between Backpain and My Life.
My physical environment (how much time I was spending sitting down or in positions with my back extended, for example particular chores around the house such as washing the floor or vacuuming) – so much of our day to day is automatic and habit-based. Once we become a better observer of our habits, we can change them, and for me this involved reassessing which chores I could trade with my husband and being aware of when my posture was shifting into compromising positions.
My stress levels. If stress or emotional experiences happened in my day to day life, it would manifest itself as a flare up in my back pain. I began to see the back pain as a nice barometer for how the rest of my self care was going, and it became an excellent companion in the pursuit of a good life style and good self care. On a painful day, I am able to sit down and take stock of how things are going. It gives me huge motivation to pursue a healthful life and has helped me step into a growth mindset, rather than a fixed “this is the way it is” mindset, which I struggled with in the early days.
My life style. Shockingly, despite the physical labour and nature of being on maternity leave with two large babies, I went through an incredible regression in back pain! I was constantly in motion all day, without time to sit down in positions that compromised my spine. With a flexible schedule I was more likely to engage in my core exercises and throw in some extra stretching. Surprisingly, the constant state of movement was a game changer for me. How do I know that? I’ve had the change to return to an office job twice now, and the flare up in pain within days of being back at a desk has been astounding.
My Nutrition. Pretty easy. Lots of water and alkaline foods, healthy fats have worked well. Lots of gluten, sugar and acidic foods have worked terrible. It’s hard to pinpoint whether the backpain leads to shittier nutrition in the quest for comfort, or whether slips in nutrition lead to backpain (it’s like the chicken or the egg question) but I do know through experiments, these two are interrelated.
Seeing What I Could Control in My Life (That Influenced My Back Pain) Gave Me a New Sense of Responsibility and Confidence
I’ve learnt a ton in the last 8 years, and if I’m totally honest, the journey has been fascinating. This injury has given me the strength to battle through a challenge and most importantly, a new mindset when it comes to managing our health.
I’ve gone from fighting against the pain as an enemy, to treating it as a friend and a messenger. And I’ve learnt to put my energy into the areas connected to my pain.
If I was to put managing back pain into a model now, here it is: