Thursday, May 5, 2011

Saying goodbye to back pain

I'm a little afraid to write this post in the event that I jinx myself.  I'm not superstitious....but hey, why tempt it?  But oh and posts must go on....

Before I started this journey, I had back pain pretty regularly since 2003.  I have no idea what really happened, but one day I bent down to pick up my bag and as I bent down, I felt it.  Pain that took my breath away.  Pain that if I kept moving I could at least attempt to function, but if I stopped, I'd be down for the count and if I attempted to get back up and moving, beads of sweat from the pain would appear.

Since that first encounter, I had 'episodes' about every 6 months to a year, with twinges here and there in between.  Steadily, however, they got worse each time.  The first time was about 2 days.  The second time about 4 days.  The mother of them all in 2007 in had me down about 2 weeks.

Once I moved here to Northern Ireland, I finally saw a doctor with the "mother episode" in 2007.  It twinged when I was at a conference and I bent down in my chair to, once again, pick up my bag.  (And to be clear, it wasn't my bag - I started hurting before I even touched it). And I then proceeded to drive home, stuck in the car for 2 hours, and then decided to go to bed because it hurt to move.  That was a mistake.  When I woke up the next morning, it hurt so bad that I couldn't get out of bed to go to the toilet, couldn't bend to get dressed, and I panicked and asked my friend Emma to take me to the ER because I was in so much pain.  She helped me dress and somehow I got into the car, but I really have no idea how.

X-rays, muscle relaxers, narcotics and a trip to the osteopath later revealed nothing life-threatening, but that the ligaments from my sacral joint (at the base of my spine) had stretched abnormally (or perhaps slightly torn) causing the muscles (the sacrospinalis) to seize/spasm to compensate for the injury.  Skeletally, there was slightly more wear and tear in that area, but nothing really profound.  But the doctor suggested that the stress put on my spine, particularly in the sacral area, was caused by my weight (more particularly, my hanging belly) and the injury to the ligament was a result of that stress.

Back Muscles Chart by ~BadFish81

(isn't it beautiful??  2007 via deviantart)

I continued to have pain after the episode in 2007, with another bad one a few months later in 2008.  I used heating pads, ice packs, and drugs - but it only managed the pain somewhat.  And with each twinge, I lived in fear of the next one.

So, as soon as I felt up to it I started doing yoga in late 2008 and 2009 and noticed an improvement.  I noticed on the days that I started hurting or having twinges, if I stretched properly, it usually kept the more severe pain at bay.  But after talking with a few qualified people, I knew that the main issue was my weight and that I desperately needed to strengthen my core muscles to avoid further bouts.  My back needed the muscles to be stronger and harder in order to shore up the ligament issues that kept causing the problem.

I write this because it occurred to me last week that I haven't had any *real* back pain (like the stuff I described above) since just after I started this journey.  I've half-way expected it to come back, but so far it hasn't.  Occasionally I might ache a little - most of the time from overexertion - but the twinges are gone.  I realized I no longer live in fear of being incapacitated with pain.

I'm amazed at our bodies and the difference exercise and physical movement can make.  There's a woman at my gym who told me the other day, "I hate exercising, but I have to."  So I asked her what she meant and she told me:
"6 years ago, I came in here in a wheelchair.  I have fibromyalgia.  If I want to move and have a life, I have to come here, I have to walk on the treadmill at a certain pace, I have to do the weights, I have to do it all.  I don't want to go back to the life I was living before."
I think that's amazing.  And I feel privileged that she chose to share that with me.

And it reminded me that while I still have my hanging belly and still have another 110 lbs to lose, I know my back thanks me already for the almost-50 lbs that are gone.  We're both happy that it's stronger and been given the chance to heal.  And here's to hoping that I'm back-pain free from now on.

How has your exercise changed your health?  
What improvements have you noted?


  1. I have more energy because of exercising. As I age, I want to be able to climb a flight of stairs and open a jar. My mom who is 84 has to wait for someone to come over to open a jar for her. It's a feeling of accomplishment that spills over in to all areas of life. Congratulations, Jayme, on the loss so far and the losses to come. You can look forward to greater and greater relief from the back pain.

  2. I can climb the stairs at work and not feel like I am going to die when I get upstairs. My doctor has cut the dose on 2 medications I take in half. Hopefully at my next doctor's appt they will go down even further. (in July).

  3. I used to wake up every morning with back pain - and not just back, I guess. My whole body ached. These are the NSVs that mean the most to me - buying smaller pants is awesome, but not hurting all the time is the best feeling in the entire world.

  4. Just losing almost 40 pounds has done so much for me! It has give me the confidence to just live without so much fear. I used to fear a lot of stuff. Now, I just get up and go and I don't think about it. My weight loss has given me freedom and smaller clothing!