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Recovering from a back injury

Canoeing before my back injury

By Jenny Williams, Digital and Content Marketing Specialist

I was 24 when I injured my back. I’ve never been the type of person to sit still, in fact I’ve spent most of my life switching from one activity to another – hiking, cycling, martial arts, watersports, badminton, yoga. My current favourite was swing dancing, which I’d been doing for two years.

I had an office job, but tried to get up and walk in my lunch breaks. Although I’d had the odd ache, my back had never given me any serious trouble.

Always read the instructions…

Despite the numerous sports I’d taken part in over the years, I’d never managed to build up much muscular strength. So, I decided to challenge myself to get fitter. I downloaded an exercise app on my phone and a friend gave me a set of small yoga weights to try.

One evening I excitedly got the weights out of the box and had a play about with them. I didn’t read any instructions and ignored my boyfriend’s warnings. I figured that they were too small to cause any real damage if I didn’t use them quite right and I think I must have used them in a way that put too much strain on my shoulder.

The next morning my shoulder felt like I’d pulled it, but the pain went away after a day or two and I thought nothing of it. Then, a week later I was sat watching a film when it made me jump and my lower back had a spasm. The pain was so intense that I froze – I was so afraid to move in case it happened again.

Starting physio

I took the next day off work, covered myself in Deep Heat and soon felt ok. Then, a month later, I had another back spasm whilst canoeing with my boyfriend on holiday.

When I returned, I decided I had to do something about it. I was so worried about having another spasm that I went straight to a physio instead of going through the NHS. Friends and family told me not to bother and said I shouldn’t worry, but I knew that something wasn’t right.

My first physio didn’t seem very professional – she took no notes, didn’t give me any exercises and none of our sessions seemed to match up. Although I’d never seen a physio before and didn’t know what to expect, it felt wrong so I moved on.

Physio number two was fantastic! He checked my movements, listened to my story and took a ton of notes. He told me I had lordosis – curvature of the lower spine – coupled with a weak muscle structure. This meant that my back was less able to cope with stresses and strains.

Road to recovery

I was given exercises by my physio, which I did religiously, and was told to be very careful what else I did. No lifting heavy objects. No sitting still for too long. No activities with jolting movements. Sadly the latter meant that swing dancing was out. This was tough, as dancing had become a way of escaping from day-to-day worries; no matter how I felt it always put a smile on my face.

Because I didn’t always feel like I had a problem, it sometimes surprised me. One evening I had a back spasm after putting my hands above my head to reach into a cupboard. I felt like I’d become old. Going up stairs or steep hills hurt. The only activities I seemed to be able to do were the gentle stretches and movements that my physio gave me, and my bike ride to work. Some days felt incredibly frustrating.

Through all the frustrations, anger and tears, I knew I could always talk to my boyfriend. He was there to listen when I needed a rant, pick me up when I felt low and give me encouragement when progress seemed slow.

I went to see my physio twice a week, which helped to keep the spasms at bay.

Goals

I made getting back to dancing my ultimate goal, as I felt it helped me to have a definite achievement to focus on. At first I hoped to dance in 6 months. But this soon became 9 months, then a year, then a year and a half…

As my main goal kept moving further away, I was careful to celebrate the small milestones. First my physio visits dropped to once a week, then once a fortnight, and I was told that my spine was straightening out. I was allowed to join a pilates class for people with back conditions and my strength came on in leaps and bounds.

Slowly I started trying new activities. I joined a samba drumming group for a while, which gave me a chance to lose myself in music with more gentle movements my back could cope with. I bought a set of walking poles and my partner and I started getting outdoors and hiking again. I felt like I was getting back to my old self!

Then, two years after my first spasm I finally went to a swing dance class, which felt incredible! It’s now three years and counting, and I feel in better health then I ever have been – so long as I remember to keep myself moving and maintain my progress.

Lessons learned

Here are some lessons I thought I would share to help others going through a similar experience…

  • If you’re trying out some sports equipment, such as weights or a machine, read the instructions or get someone to show you how to use them properly. If you have an injury, check with your doctor that the exercise will be suitable for you.
  • Seek professional help if you’re in pain or an injury won’t seem to go away.
  • Don’t be afraid to try going somewhere else if you’re unsure about treatment you receive.
  • If a professional gives you exercises, try your best to do them – they really help!
  • Focus on the small achievements, but have a main goal in mind.
  • Even if you feel better, keep doing activities that help you maintain your health.
  • Talk to someone – it’s not a magic cure, but it can make you feel like you’re not facing your problems alone. That’s why Ben’s here – whatever’s going on, you can talk to us.

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