What got me the most was that I never saw it coming. Even now I can’t quite believe what has happened. It was a massive curveball that came out of nowhere and completely changed the way I live my life.....
I had never experienced any problems with my back before. I had always been very active and athletic, combining a day job as a painter and decorator with my passion for playing football.
And it was a passion. Whilst I was never going to make a living from the game, from the age of 6 it had always been the most important thing in my life.
I played for a team on Saturday afternoons, turned out for a Sunday morning team with my mates, and I lived for those weekends.
Nothing could make me feel the way I did during those 90 minutes.
Nothing could replace the sensation I felt when picking out a pass, scoring a goal, taking on an opponent, the camaraderie with your teammates.
The feeling of being strong and powerful in my own body.
The feeling I got after a game or training session of pure contentment, my body exhausted but sated after giving my all.
The satisfying pain of bruises and war wounds on my legs from the heat of battle. I was happy. I was content. This was my life.
However my problems began when I was 26 years-old.
I developed an ongoing tightness in my buttocks and hamstrings that meant it was taking longer and longer to recover after games.
This problem continued to deteriorate over the course of 6 months till it got to the stage where if played a game on a Saturday afternoon, I wouldn’t be able to walk properly until the following Thursday.
So not only was doing something I loved causing me lots of pain, my work also suffered.
As a painter and decorator I needed to be fit enough to get up and down ladders and be on my feet all day.
However some days it was hard enough getting out of bed, let alone doing a days graft.
This situation persisted for a few months and it was obvious that something was very wrong.
Then one day my club physio surprised me by diagnosing it as a problem with my lower back rather than a hamstring problem.
This didn't make sense to me at the time.
After all my back felt fine though so I dismissed this and instead decided to give myself a total rest over the summer in the hope of returning fresh for the new season.
I knew best right?
And after 8 weeks of no running or football, when I went for my first pre-season jog I felt like a million dollars.
I was back and I was delighted. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the real pre-season training with the rest of the lads the following week.
However when I tried to go for another jog the following day I only made it 50 yards down the road before feeling a sharp electric pain in my lower back that forced me to stop immediately.
What the hell was that?!
It shocked me. I took a minute to compose myself and did some stretches, but when I tried jogging again the same thing happened.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the last time I would ever be able to go for a jog.
Over the next year I tried everything to fix the problem. Months of physio, acupuncture, chiropractors, yoga, working on my posture, strengthening my core muscles. Everything.
However nothing worked, so I had to take the decision to go down the medical route.
After numerous consultations, X-rays, CT scans, and an MRI, my consultant eventually diagnosed the cause of my problem as a double fracture in my lower spine (between L5-S1) which was causing spondylosis and would require spinal-fusion surgery to correct.
He made it sound like a breeze.
My problem was a common one in sportsmen and he’d successfully carried out similar surgery on numerous Premier league footballers.
Nine out of ten people are as good as new afterwards, and because of my age and levels of fitness I would fly through it with no trouble and be back on a football pitch within 6 weeks.
To a guy who had been kicking his heels in frustration for over a year, depressed as hell at not being able to play the sport he loved, this was music to my ears.
I couldn't wait to sign on the dotted line and get my old life back.
However little did I know, but this was the beginning of a new nightmare.
After recovering from the effects of the operation I discovered that I was in even worse pain than before.
Before the operation my problem was sciatic pain in my legs if I sat down for too long and the electric pain which made it impossible to run.
However despite these problems I experienced no day-to-day pain. But after the operation I found that I was in pain all the time.
It was a nightmare and I found it really hard to cope with.
I kept going back to the hospital every few months for follow-ups and tried to explain to them that I was in constant pain, but it was like banging my head against a brick wall.
They just wanted to discharge me.
It got so frustrating because all the surgery team kept saying was that the X-rays looked fine and the fusion looked like it had taken well, insinuating that it must all be in my head.
Well yeah it may look good on your X-ray, but I know my body and I’m telling you it feels bloody awful!
And with NHS waiting lists meaning lengthy waits for each consultation, the nightmare dragged on and on.
I began to stop measuring the time I hadn't been able to play the sport I loved in weeks but in terms of months and years instead.
On top of that I had a new problem of being in constant pain which was making it really difficult to continue making a living as a painter and decorator.
I was coming out of consultations with tears of anger and frustration in my eyes not understanding what was happening to me or being able to do anything about it.
After two years of this back and fro, they eventually agreed that the fusion hadn't worked. Something I had known from day 1!
And so began a period of a further four operations on my back over the course of the next three years.
Each time the hope that this would be the one to take away the constant pain and fix me, followed by crushing disappointment afterwards.
This was a huge strain on me mentally as well as physically. The depression that comes with the feelings of helplessness, fragility and vulnerability that are associated with chronic pain hit me hard.
The sadness at not being able to live the life I wanted was as ever present as the pain.
The fear and despair at the prospect of a future of constant and worsening pain was keeping me awake at night.
Also with each operation requiring me to take three months off work with no pay to recuperate, I was also losing my independence.
Whilst my friends were building futures for themselves, buying houses, getting married, starting families, I was forced to yo-yo between periods of flat-sharing and moving back in with my parents whilst I was recovering and unable to work or earn an income.
As a man approaching 30 years of age, this frustration just added to my other problems.
By the time of my final operation we all knew that it wasn’t going to be possible to fix my back pain. However this final operation was designed to ease the day-to-day pain and give my back a bit more freedom.
And whilst it did ease things a bit, and allowed me more movement, the chronic pain remained and everything was still a struggle.
I had to stretch myself out every hour to relieve the pain. I couldn’t stand for too long, couldn’t sit down for too long, couldn’t lay down for too long.
This made it impossible to relax and switch off, and forget about getting a good nights sleep!
Work also became harder than it should have been and left me feeling like a man twice my age on the commute home.
And any lingering hopes I had about playing football again were dashed.
For the next two years this had a profound effect on my character. From someone who had always been genial, relaxed and happy-go-lucky, I became introverted, unhappy, self-pitying and apathetic.
I couldn’t indulge in my passion anymore and my life lost meaning.
On top of this I was getting out of bed in the morning dreading a day of painful work again.
My way of dealing with the constant pain and unfairness of it all was to try and block it out and forget about it.
I began behaving more recklessly than before. I was drinking too heavily on nights out and not looking after myself. But I just didn’t care about anything anymore.
I realised that I had to snap out of the funk that was engulfing me or I was going to end up in a bad place.
So rather than ignoring my problem I began researching it instead and discovered that whilst my back pain left me feeling isolated and alone, it was actually a problem that was shared by thousands of others.
More so, it seemed that there were many others out there who were suffering from problems far worse than my own.
Reading through the various pain forums and hearing that people were dealing with similar or worse situations and doing well gave me so much comfort and hope.
It made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
And it gave me the courage and confidence to also try to fight back.
I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I needed to take charge of my problem and not let it beat me.
Yes I was never going to fix it.
Yes I was never going to run or play football again.
I needed to accept that. I had a limitation, same as many people the world over and it was down to me to do all I could to make the best of the hand I’d been dealt.
So over the past five years that is exactly what I have done.
I’ve seen and experienced just how vital having a positive attitude is and how far it can take you.
I’ve learnt how important it is for those of us with chronic low back pain to stay active.
This means that rather than being a hindrance and a worry, having a physically active job has been hugely beneficial for me.
Which has been a big relief both mentally and financially.
And through trial and error I’ve learnt which things ease my pain and which things make it worse.
For instance, I’ve found that regular stretching helps me to remain free throughout the day which has greatly improved my working experience.
I’ve also incorporated thirty minutes of core-strengthening exercises into my daily routine which help to support my lower spine and are now as natural to me as brushing my teeth.
I’ve discovered low-impact exercises that I can still do such as swimming and yoga which have allowed me to stay fit, strong and active.
I've become aware of which types of chairs and mattresses are good for me and which ones I need to avoid.
I've also found that looking after my diet and being more sensible with alcohol helps to keep me feeling better in both my body and my mind.
And by becoming mindful of my problem rather ignoring it, I have greatly improved the day-to-day quality of my life.
So does that mean my problem is fixed?
Unfortunately not. Chronic pain is exactly that, it’s never going to completely disappear.
But by being aware, knowing my limitations and changing my lifestyle I have reached a stage where I can live comfortably.
I am now in control of the problem rather than having it controlling me.
This means I can manage to continue working as a painter and decorator and am confident that I will be able to do so for as long as I wish to.
Making a living and supporting myself again.
And over the past five years:
I’ve been on multiple backpacking trips around the world.
I’ve gained a first-class BSc honours degree in Psychology by studying part-time with the Open University.
I've led a full and active social life.
Having chronic pain is tough.
But it doesn’t have to stop you living your life or doing the things you want to do.
Positivity is key!
My life today is a far happier place than it was five years ago.
And yours could be too.
It was through stories that were shared on forums that the inspiration came to start that journey.
So my inspiration for creating this website is the hope that maybe it can also help others to take control of their problem and improve their quality of life.
I wanted to create the website that I wish I had found when my problems first started. So I have shared the things I have learned whilst researching my own problem, both physical and psychological, as well as my own personal experiences.
This website is geared towards people in physically active jobs.
As you know, for people like us our livelihood depends on staying physically able.
This can add massive mental pressures and worries over how we are going to pay the bills or support our families.
On top of the stresses that come with suffering from chronic low back pain.
And your body is the most important tool you’ll ever own as it’ll be on every job you’ll ever do.
So you need to take care of it!
However the advice that I give here is also applicable to anyone who suffers from chronic low back pain.
So if you've found this site but are in a different line of work, I hope you can still find some helpful information here too.
So to all fellow sufferers of chronic low back pain out there, thanks for reading and good luck to each and every one of you.
I hope you find the relief that we all hope for.