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Dealing with a bad back

When your back goes, it makes you feel about a hundred...

On a personal note, I am feeling utterly fed up today, on account of being at the end of day three of a bad back.

As ever, with a bad back, it took a long time to create the problem (two weeks of not doing my yoga after my boob procedure), but only the slightest thing to tip it over the edge -- lifting the laundry basket, which wasn't even heavy, and shaking the contents out onto the floor in front of me. I joined them immediately afterwards. 

Back problems of this nature (mine is in the coccyx and sacrum) are usually muscular in origin, though they may be due to a ligament tearing, and the intense pain you feel usually rights itself in about four days, though it can take about 4-6 weeks before full healing occurs.

It used to be thought that resting up was the best thing for a bad back, but it's now known that 24-48 hours is ample, and after that you need to get moving. So painkillers are in order too, to make this a little more bearable, though not so many that you overdo things. 

I follow a set regime when my back goes: ice packs for 15 minutes at a time; heat from an electric heated pad, hot baths, and heat rub such as Ralgex; a metal-boned back brace, more for security than anything else; a walking stick where required; painkillers; anti-inflammatory gel; a night-time muscle relaxant such as Tetrazepam; and yoga. Other than the yoga, all of these should be discontinued after four days, or sooner if you can tolerate it.

There is an excellent book called Rebuild Your Back, available to download from Rebuildyourback.com. which I highly recommend for an exercise regime. If I had not reglected my daily back exercises for the past two weeks, this latest injury wouldn't have happened, but now that it has, the exercises are more crucial than ever. 

These basically involve lying face down with your arms by your sides for a count of about 20 deep breaths. Then you raise the front part of your body into the 'Lion' pose, with your forearms resting in front of you, your head up and your lower back relaxed. Again, about 20 deep breaths, keeping your back relaxed and taking care not to clench your buttocks. 

If the pain allows, you should now rear up into the 'Cobra' position and afterwards, turn over and perform the 'Apanasana' pose, followed by a full set of sciatic nerve stretches, hamstring stretches and then relax in the 'Child' pose. 

This is my normal morning routine, along with Mountain, Dog and Cat poses and if I'd been less of a bloody idiot recently, I wouldn't now be hobbling about like this, unable to achieve the most basic of tasks. A lesson there somewhere if I was bright enough to learn it.

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Repairing a bad back

If you suffer from back pain, check out this excellent website

Another quickie, I'm afraid, as after shifting two cords of wood into the barn over the past three days, I am officially knackered. This is what comes of marrying someone with a bad back. I moved 16 wheelbarrowloads the first day, 17 the second and the final six today, and I now deserve some time off. 

Two cords, for the uninitiated, is six cubic metres of wood, and it weighs at least 590kg per cubic metre - in fact, depending on how dry it is, up to 930kg per cubic metre. You do the maths. Settling for the lower figure, and knocking off 40 per cent for airspaces, I've still hauled a couple of tonnes of wood into the woodshed. It is a good job that I'm as strong as an ox. 

The reason for THAT, as it happens, is a website called Rebuild Your Back.

I have always had a dodgy back, having 'slipped a disc' at the age of 11 while playing leapfrog (the French, by the way, leap a sheep rather than a frog, in case you didn't know). Of course, from Rebuild Your Back, I now know that you cannot 'slip a disc' as if it was a hockey puck sliding out of your vertebrae, as I had imagined for many years. In fact they're held in there by connective tissue. But what you can easily do, which I assume is what I did all those years ago, is tear a ligament. 

Ligaments are tough things to heal and a ligament injury is hard to even identify. Doctors usually go on the pain level - agony is a muscle tear while screaming agony is usually a ligament. They take much longer to heal than muscles and you're looking at 6-8 weeks for a full repair, and scarring usually ensues.

I happen to be blessed, all over my body, with ligaments that are very stretchy (which is why I can do the splits). But they are also pathetically weak and physios have been warning me for decades to build up some muscle to take the load of my body, or my joints will give way altogether.

Of course, like most people I did nothing about it despite periodic back pain till BANG back in January. My back went big time, this time, and the pain was indescribable. It hadn't been this bad for three years and I couldn't do ANYTHING. Couldn't turn over in bed, couldn't stand up, couldn't sit down, couldn't get in the bath.

I was furious - and also terrified. My mother injured her back when I was a newborn and I never knew her without pain. She was lost in it much of the time, irascible, irritable, with an unpredictable, explosive temper, and I spent much of my young life looking after her. Back pain ruined her life and I am damned if I'm going to let it ruin mine. 

Once the acute phase had passed, I hit the internet and lucked out by finding Rebuild Your Back. This is a site written by someone who knows what he's talking about - a patient-expert, if you like. He has several e-books to download (they are well worth it), and I downloaded the one on back pain and religiously worked my way through the exercises.

They are wonderful - extremely painful to start with - but tremendously effective - and my back has never felt so strong and supple. I try to do 20-40 minutes each morning, followed by pushups and core exercises such as the quadruped, and various other exercises worked in from yoga, pilates and other programmes. 

It is crucial, I think, as you get older, to address your areas of bodily weakness. This back has been a problem for 35 years, so the issue will never completely go away. But thanks to regular, specific exercise and special care, I do keep mobile, and I hope that my old age won't see me, as it saw my mother, crippled by my back.  

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