Back Pain – things that help me

This week I’ve had a recurrence of the back pain that plagued me for around 2 years, before I became pregnant with Etta. It has knocked me for six, because I had thought I was on top of it.  I already have a lot of coping mechanisms in place for dealing with being in pain, from when I suffered with it before, but it is definitely slightly different dealing with pain while looking after a child.

I’m trying to stay positive about it, and hoping that it is just a little flare up and that it will be gone soon. In the meantime, I’m going to use it as a reason to post  about all the things that helped (and are still helping!) me to cope with living in pain on a day to day basis. I also just want to add that I don’t have any professional qualifications around managing pain, I am just sharing what has helped me, though of course I hope that in sharing this it can help others who are experiencing back pain.

My back pain is mostly sciatic pain and other nerve pain. It is caused by two bulging discs, one of which is touching my spinal cord. The feeling of nerve pain is very odd, to me the sensation is a little bit like cold water running down my legs, combined with the feeling of pins being stuck in my skin. It is extremely affected by mood, stress and anxiety. If I am relaxed enough I can convert the pain to just ‘sensations’ but as soon as something stresses me out, or distracts me from relaxing, the sensations are interpreted as pain again. For this reason, a lot of the things that have helped me are based around de-stressing!

I think the relationship between pain and state of mind is extremely interesting, but I don’t want people to misinterpret this as me saying that pain is imaginary, or that it is easy to switch it off just by thinking differently. Know that anyone manages chronic pain is likely putting in immense amounts of effort keep on top of their pain, face the world and perform many of the mundane tasks that pain-free people take for granted.

When I first hurt my back, one of the first things I did was to buy a Backfriend. This is a portable seat-adapter that makes most chairs more comfortable to sit in and supports your back correctly.  I still use it at my computer chair, though I think it has limited use as a portable adapter if you have really bad back pain, because having to carry something extra around with you can make things worse.

I also started going to a gentle yoga class. Yoga is one of those things that is often recommended if you’ve got a back problem – but if you are experiencing severe chronic pain, it can be hard to find a yoga class that is gentle enough not to trigger worse pain. If I went to a normal yoga class I’d probably just have had to lie on my back for most of the poses, feeling rubbish about myself. So for me a super gentle yoga class was great, because I could do all the movements and know my body was getting some benefit from moving, whilst also being able to seriously relax. Because of looking after Etta, I now don’t go to a regular class, but I do gentle, relaxation based yoga videos on YouTube like Yoga with Adriene.

Doing yoga lead me to look into mindfulness. Finding this article on using mindfulness to cope with pain was a moment of complete breakthrough for me. Tears streamed down my face while as I read it, and it completely changed the way I approached pain. Before reading it, I just felt complete desperation and a sense of ‘how on earth will I get through the day?’ every morning, and a similar sense before I completed any task or activity. Realising that I just had to cope with the now was a huge release. Funnily enough, it is the thing I am struggling most to do since my pain has returned!

YouTube is an amazing source of relaxation videos. I used a lot of progressive muscle relaxation and Yoga Nidra videos.

I found myself searching for ones with the most relaxing voices, and stumbled across something called ASMR. ASMR is basically people talking in a soothing voice about mundane things. It is really good if you find it hard to let yourself relax or meditate because of constant brain chatter. The person talking replaces the brain chatter for me. Some people experiences ‘brain tingles’ from listening to a soothing voice, and also from personal attention. You might have experienced it yourself without knowing what it was, maybe when someone was explaining something to you, or showing you how to something. I realised that I experienced it as a child, without knowing what it was during opticians appointments, while listening to science lectures and later, when watching QVC! I now use ASMR to keep me relaxed while I’m working (I have it playing in the background), to de-stress, and also to get to sleep. My favourite ASMRtist is Gentle Whispering, but there are tonnes of people making videos,and some of it is about finding someone whose voice triggers you, or who makes videos that contain your specific triggers. I have recently been wondering whether to make my own ASMR videos, as I use an ASMR type reading voice (I call it ‘my counting voice’) to help Etta go off to sleep! Do you think it is a good idea?

Once I was enough control of my life through yoga and mindfulness to think about tackling my back pain, I bought a CBT workbook, enrolled on a CBT and mindfulness based pain management programme at my local hospital and started doing graded exercise to build up my core strength. One of the things that I think has lead to my most recent setback, is a loss of core strength, as I neglected my exercise regime over Easter, and while Squidlet had chicken pox.

Because it is really important to me to maintain a positive outlook, I’m trying really hard not to beat myself up about causing a recurrence of my pain. I remember what a dark, dark place I was in when I first hurt my back, and I know that thanks to the many people who shared their coping experiences or made their yoga and ASMR videos available online, I am not in that place now, despite being in pain. I really hope that sharing some of the things that have helped me cope with pain will mean that my difficult experience results in healing and happiness for others. Please do share your experiences of coping with chronic pain and illness in the comments, and maybe you can help someone else out too.

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10 thoughts on “Back Pain – things that help me

  1. Em I love you and yes make the video of your own. I think it would be great. I totally agree about understanding and managing pain being greatly helped by a state of mind. I find inviting the pain to do its thing and welcoming it in is absolute key in not letting it overwhelm me. Its not alway possible but more often than not it is and I feel I can cope for the next 10-15 mins until it usually subsides or at the worse changes into a different place with pain and then I can start it again… x

    1. That is SO true about welcoming the pain Becki! I think maybe its one of the things I find hardest, because I so want to be pain free. But it is absolutely true that when you do that it changes the quality of the pain. Maybe I would describe this as more of a ‘practice’, a bit like yoga and mindfulness (maybe it is part of mindfulness) because some days I can do it, other days I cannot, or only partly. But the more I do it, the easier it becomes.

  2. Hi Emily, Your post has come at a most poignant time! I’ve been having Knee and back pain for years (though probably not even a quarter of what you’ve been going through), and just yesterday my knee pain has resurfaced yet again, I haven’t a diagnosis (as I seem to be a bit doctor phobic currently, or just dissatisfied with my GP surgery)- I just know it keeps coming back to me every now and then, especially when I start getting back to my every day life and activities after taking it easy (such as running, which I dearly love!). I have core exercises for my back which I’ve been keeping up with and they really do serve me well and have stopped me having anything super serious for years.

    I hate that my knee effects my ability to do my job, I feel an incredible amount of guilt when I just feel I can’t do what others are doing and I see them having to take on extra difficult shifts because of me and unfortunately I feel currently feel a bit unsupported by my managers currently (though I know they are going through a lot with cuts and stuff). Seeing others ‘do my work for me’ makes me feel rubbish and a bit stressed I guess.

    I completely forgot that last time I had back pain I had started taking a ‘mindful’ route with it and found that it had got me through some difficulties, I have been a bit stressed lately as I’m preparing for the open house along side the part-time work and I really think I need to try some of those techniques again. I’ve also booked a doctors appointment (for one week tomorrow, it’ll probably be feeling almost better by then if I lay off it!). I really wasn’t sure how I was going to get through this week (work and open house) with a dodgy knee but I aim to go to work tomorrow and be in the now, It’s not bad enough to be off work I just have to hobble around and therefore I can’t keep up with our young, springy, running people! I aim aiming to get it sorted out properly now though, I’ve been putting off the doctors for so long as I feel I can just get by or cope but it’s stopping me from enjoying life and being able to feel self worth at work so it’s time to get it sorted or find ways of dealing with it.

    I feel silly for writing these gripes as I know it’s not chronic pain, just niggly pain at the moment, but I wanted you to thank you for reminding me to find coping techniques, and to work on the mental side of things too. I really hope your pain subsides soon and you find your way with it, thinking of you! Sorry for the garbled over-sharing, it may not even make sense as I’m pretty tired writing this!

    As for the ASMR I really like the sounds of hairbrushes and tinkly sort of sounds, I find them really relaxing but I tried looking for things online before and found them all to be a bit weirdly intimate, but perhaps I’m being too prudish!

    1. Hi Claire, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I am really sorry to hear that you’ve been suffering knee and back pain. I think it is impossible to know what another person is experiencing pain wise or to compare it, so don’t feel that your experience of pain is invalid. I found doing care work impossible because of the guilt and sense that my role was to care for others, not have others thinking about me. I worried that my limitations would limit the people I was meant to be supporting. But what is interesting is that when I hear your story I think, why shouldn’t people with limitations choose support roles and expect some support themselves in order to enable them to do that. Sometimes it is not just about the things you are physically able to do, but the way you make the people you support feel – enabled and empowered. Reading your story has made me think that when supporting others that everyone brings something different to the role. I know how incredibly passionate you are about the rights of people with learning disabilities and I think having someone so committed to true equity in a support role is much harder to find than someone who can undertake the practical physical side of care work.

      I really hope you find some relief from your pain – if you are not happy with your gp, do look into changing. I changed mine from an extremely unsupportive gp who actually made my condition worse by ramping up my anxiety about it, to an absolutely brilliant one who specialised in chronic conditions.

      I know what you mean about some asmr being weirdly intimate! I quite like the intimate aspect, but I think its about finding a content maker who makes the kind of things you are into – some focus more on just sound making. I love the role plays! Probably because my early experiences with asmr were in those types of situations.

  3. Really feel for you, having spent about a year with sciatic (and quite unbearable bottom) pain after the C-section birth of my son, added to my already fragile state having pre and post eclampsia, it is a situation people rarely understand, and obviously made a whole lot worse when little people just want to throw themselves at you or climb all over you at every opportunity. Really great links, thanks for sharing……And I wish you better, pain-free times very soon!

    1. Gosh, I think experiencing that right after giving birth would be so awful! It is hard enough adjusting to having a baby, without also having to adjust to being in pain. And after what sounds like a traumatic pregnancy and birth experience. I am continually astounded by the things that women suffer with around childbirth, and yet somehow manage to get through. I agree that people often don’t understand it – I think people think that back pain is like ‘back ache’ .

      I am definitely finding the constant clambering on me and need to be carried quite a challenge at the moment!

  4. Yes I can relate to the “being the Mumma climbing frame too”! I find explaning to them that we can play in other ways often has them trying to look after you and do little things for you. they take it as a role playing exercise. Sometimes Caspian aged 3 forgets but mostly he just looks concerned and says “you can’t do that Mumma can you because you have a ‘ick back” then he gives me this cheeky little smile and snuggles in. its actually heart melting. Of course if i don’t get to remind him between him forgetting and then launching himself into me at 100 mph then its a different story! 😉 Its a narrow window to get the reminder in there too….

    1. Etta has been surprisingly good when I tell her firmly. I’ve noticed that she is worse at listening to me saying I can’t do something when I am feeling guilty about having to say no – I think that my tone of voice comes out differently and doesn’t translate as a firm confident, ‘no we really can’t do this, let’s do something else’! Clearly trying to deal with my guilt about this is the way forward! 🙂

  5. I’ve never heard of ASMR before, but I remember having that tingly feeling at the back of my head at school with certain softly spoken teachers. After having watched the above YouTube video I’ll definitely use ASMR to relax in the future. It’s great! Thanks for the tip!

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