oh hai! you has the back injury too?

Recently I've noticed that some of you are coming to my little blog because you've googled "chronic back pain" or "slipped disc" or some derivation of that, and had some feedback that reading my updates has helped. Well I'm glad to know that us back-issue-laden people can draw strength from each other, and realise that our unbalanced emotional state as we go through this physical injury, is entirely normal. It's now been 5 weeks for me, and I'm about to write another update after my doctor's appointment today, but here's something I wrote on a forum that I'm pretty active on, to someone else who's had a significant back injury very recently. I hope if you've come here seeking solace or understanding about your back pain or any pain/injury, that it helps a lot too.

The original question:

"Ten days ago, I was kicked accidentally (and it really was an accident) by a total stranger.Β Ever since, I have been in pain.Β I've had xrays and seen a doctor and it's all good - it's just a muscle thing, and it should go away with rest, physio, massage, gentle exercise etc etc etc.Β But in the mean time, I am in so much pain. Β It's getting to the point that I am almost in tears about the pain and limited mobility every day.

Re: pain relief: I am taking 16mg codeine phosphate with 1000mg paracetemol. I try to avoid taking it because:

a) it means that I can't drive. b) it makes me feel groggy / vague / out of it, which I strongly dislike, because I don't feel like 'me'. c) it causes constipation.

But, clearly given how much the pain is upsetting me, I should be taking it more often than I have been.Β I am also taking 50mg diclofenac, but this is more an anti-inflammatory than a pain reliever.

Until July 2010 my boyfriend and I lived in different cities and I lived alone, so I am used to being very very self reliant and not being able to ask anyone for help. Β So thinking "I can ask for help with X task" does not come naturally to me, especially when I am tired and in pain and not thinking clearly.

Also, I had an irrational fear that if I asked him for help, he would think that I was faking or exaggerating or being lazy, and he would think less of me, even love me less.Β We had a conversation last night, and he reassured me that this was not the case, he was very happy to help me. I'm also having issues because we don't have any intimacy at the moment due to my injury. How do I cope?"

My response:

Firstly I'm so sorry you're in so much pain. I have actually just been through almost exactly your situation a few weeks ago.Β It's now been 3.5 weeks for me, and I'm only just starting to be able to sit for longer than 40 minutes and am now managing to be off the mattress for about half the day. I am on 30mg codeine painkillers and anti-inflamms twice a day, and I totally see where you're coming from about not wanting to take them, but just do it. I didn't want to either and when I didn't, Β it greatly hampered my quality of psychological state!

I can totally relate to all the anger, emotion, and frustration you are going through - in some ways, it is almost as bad as the constant pain. Here are my experiences and what I did, hopefully some of it will be helpful:

I was able to cuddle my partner only after about 10 days. I too went through the same issues of wanting to be self-reliant and fearing he would resent the lack of intimacy, as well as having to help me so much. It turned out, after a couple of tearful conversations, he was more upset that I was in so much pain and wasn't my usual happy self.

I learnt to ask all my friends for help. Having been in the role of caretaker myself, it's much easier if the burden is split. About 7 of my closer girlfriends came over every evening in turns to assist with simple things like bringing me food, keeping me company and doing my laundry/everyday tidying. This also took the load off my partner who was run off his feet working, running my business for the moment and coming home at 10pm to a needy me! It also kept my emotional state in check, because I was able to vent to them and they were very understanding!

I slept a lot, because of the debilitation. I'm still doing 8 - 9hours a night and if I've gone out, a 2 hour nap is needed.

On recommendations of my doctor, I didn't drive at all (I did try, and ended up wanting to cry at the end of it. Being seated and pulling a steering wheel around is not good in these early tender times!)

To help with intimacy issews, my partner helped bathe me and washed my hair. This went such a long way to helping me feel physically close to him. I went through a huge period of feeling unfeminine and unsensual. It helps if your partner is happy to do something nice for you, a date night - mine set up a picnic in the living room and fed me whilst we watched a movie. VERY helpful for emotional state. We set me up a laying area in the living room so I could stay connected - when my partner was cooking or friends visited, I was right there in the thick of things. YMMV with this if you don't need to lay a whole lot but I find lying flat is really good for the back as much as possible and sitting is the WORST, so I lay whenever I can. Our setup is a mattress, a stand to put my laptop on, and phone, drinks, snacks in easy reach. I moved as little as possible and I think this helped a lot in the first week. The first weekend I tried resuming some normal activity and was duly punished by my angry back.

I used the first week to do all the things I had put off for a long time. Watch tv shows, catch up on emails, read books. The great thing about catching up on emails is that it keeps you in contact with people whilst you are going through this. Try and find reasons to lay, things to do you can do when lying down. then you are being productive AND rehabbing!

Expect to be angry and accept that it'll come. I had whole moments of angry tears, and I would type out all the rageful feelings I had and email it to my closest friends. I'm a professional dancer so this has been fairly damaging not just to me but my career, my business and my ability to plan for future gigs. You will feel like it's super unfair. You will feel sad. You will feel pathetic, useless, and like you can't do anything adequately. This is normal. (And will linger!)

At the moment I'm typing this to you from my laying area. As I said, it's been 26 days and only now am I managing basic stretches and exercises, and short trips out of the house. I'm going to try driving tomorrow, and I managed a 3 hour excursion on Sunday without too much backlash (ha! did you see that??).

But overall, the overwhelming advice I have been given and I'll give you is to let it heal as much as possible. Backs are iffy things and I've pushed through many injuries in my time as a dancer. This one scares the holy macaroni out of me so much that i'm giving it the full time it needs. And I'm already seeing the results in that I'm feeling like I can now do some things because I'm genuinely better, not because I'm pushing through the pain.

Don't do anything. Your back will thank you for it.