On Back Ache

Last week I wrote a post about back ache and also about an episode of overdoing it (Practice What You Preach). Thought I would revisit it today to explain exactly what happened to me.

I have explained before that I have had postural problems, but these revolved mostly around neck pain. It started about five years ago. My hands and arms began aching so badly I could barely hold a fork or type. The pain was not acute, like a bruise or break, but instead a dull aching throb that radiated all the way up from my fingers through my elbows and shoulders, then up to my neck. It followed me around everywhere - I could get no relief. I couldn't sleep and I could barely work.

But I was lucky. I found a super physio (Super Physio) who helped me to get better by working with me to correct my muscle imbalance (essentially poor posture). Sitting for long periods of time – for me, while playing the piano as a youngster, at school, at university and finally at work – without being aware of proper body alignment meant I started using the wrong muscles to support my body. As I slouched, my shoulders slowly became more forward, which encouraged my head, neck and the rest of my spine and shoulder joints to lose their proper alignment. It was when my poor upper body posture eventually sufficiently dragged on my neck that my shoulder joint movement became altered and the severe symptoms set in. The pain in my hands and arms was not the cause of my problem, but a symptom.

There was another complication for me as well – I am hypermobile (as I've mentioned before), which means my ligaments are longer than the normal person. This is scientific speak for being flexible. Being hypermobile isn’t necessarily a problem, as long as there is sufficient muscle strength in place to control and support joint movement. For me, this wasn’t the case, and without proper posture I could slouch further than most people, making me more prone to developing poor muscle alignment.

And if you're wondering how I got better, it was very hard work. I did exercises twice a day (and sometimes more) for about four years. It's a really long story and there were some complications along the way – so it probably took me longer to get better than it would for most people. I do plan to do a much longer post at some point that goes into more detail.

But back to the back ache. What happened to my back when we moved house was entirely different from my neck problem. Instead of a repetitive injury that caused a muscle imbalance, this was more of a "traumatic" injury, i.e. the result of lifting something too heavy or too quickly in a funny position or perhaps the repeated bending and stretching over to pack boxes. I may have injured a joint in my lower spine or caused a small muscle tear.

Regardless of exactly what happened, the treatment is similar to what my physio prescribes for most back pain, and that is a set of exercises that builds and uses the strength in your abdominal muscles to stretch out the muscles on your back – so they stop spasming. (It's not weak back muscles that cause back pain, it is weak abdominal muscles.) The use of anti-inflammatories, like ibuprophen, also speeds the healing along. But, it's also interesting to note that healing from something like this takes time – about 12 weeks – which is why even though we moved in May, I'm still feeling the pain.

So I'm back on the floor more often again, doing my exercises. But I wouldn't have it any other way, because it works.


  1. I'm really in favor of taking pain killers to manage your back pain. Which on the face of it doesn't seem shocking, but there are SO MANY PEOPLE who think: "You shouldn't take pain killers. It's bad for you. You could get addicted. The best way to manage the pain is to just wait until it passes."
    Do you ever come across people who say this? It drives me crazy.

  2. I totally agree. For muscular pain (like backs) taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and diclofenac, reduces inflammation, which can help the healing process if the injury is traumatic. And pain is tiring, so maintaining proper posture -- and doing any necessary exercises to help improve things -- is much harder if you are in pain. I took NSAIDs almost constantly while I was in physiotheraphy for the pain in my neck/shoulders and it helped a lot. The main risk with these drugs is damage to the gastrointestinal tract (i.e. ulcers). So it's important to eat when you take them and go to the doctor if you do have any stomach problems while on them. I am really happy I don't have to take them frequently anymore, but agree with you that waiting until the pain passes might not be the best way of coping. And it was never an option for me -- there was no way I could have worked (and lived) throughout those years without taking them!


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