3 years ago

My Back Story - My Fight Against Back Pain

Find out how my back pain nightmare began, the impact it had on my life, and how it inspired me to start Back On Site.

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 curve ball that came out of nowhere and completely changed the way I live my life.

I had never experienced any problems with my back before.

In fact quite the opposite. 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.

Because even though 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. 

It was all me and my mates would ever do before and after school, and even during break times too.

And this didn't stop when I became an adult. 

As I trained twice a week, played for a team on Saturday afternoons, and always made it for a Sunday morning run out with my mates.

In action for the mighty East Ham United in 1999.

In action for the mighty East Ham United, circa 1999.

And I lived for those weekends.

Because nothing could make me feel the way I did during those 90 minutes on the pitch.

Or replace the buzz I felt when picking out a pass, scoring a goal, or taking on an opponent.

The camaraderie I had with my teammates. The feeling of being strong and powerful in my own body.

The pure contentment I felt after a game or training session with my body exhausted but sated after giving my all. And the satisfying pain of bruises on my legs from the heat of battle.

I was happy. I was content. This was my life and that was fine by me.

What The F*** Is Going On?

However when I was 26 years-old some unusual things started happening in my body and my problems well and truly began.

First I developed an ongoing tightness in my buttocks and hamstrings that meant it was taking longer and longer to recover after games.

And it was also slowing me down on the pitch too. Surely I was too young for my body to be giving up on me?

But this problem continued to get worse over the course of the next 6 months, until it got to the stage where if played a match on a Saturday afternoon I wouldn’t be able to walk properly until the following Thursday.

Which wasn't great when I had to be climbing up and down ladders with my paintbrush on the Monday!

So not only was doing something I loved now causing me lots of pain, it was making it difficult to do my job.

In fact 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 becoming obvious that something was very wrong, but I didn't have a clue what that was.

Then one day my club physio surprised me by diagnosing it as a problem with my lower back rather than the hamstring problem that I suspected it to be.

This didn't make sense to me at the time. After all my back felt fine, it was my hammies that were causing me all the problems.

So being a know it all I dismissed his advice, and instead decided that giving myself a total rest over the summer would fix my body and allow me to return fresh for the new season.

After all, I knew my body best right?

And after 8 weeks of no running or football (which was hell for me) I went for my first pre-season jog.

And wouldn't you just know it, I felt like a million dollars.

I was gliding down the road feeling fitter, stronger and healthier than I had done in years.

I was back (if you'll pardon the pun) and I couldn't have been happier.

Now I was full of optimism and couldn’t wait to get stuck into the real pre-season training with the rest of the lads the following week.

And to show them all what I was really capable of after struggling through the previous season carrying my injury.

However when I tried to go for another jog the following day disaster struck.

As 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 as the severity of the pain was completely new to me. And it was totally disabling. This felt serious.

So I took a minute to compose myself, did some stretches, and the pain faded away.

However when I tried jogging again the exact same thing happened after a few strides.

And 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.

Swapping An Injury Nightmare For A Medical Nightmare

Over the course of the next year I tried everything to fix the problem. Absolutely everything.

I had months of physiotherapy, acupuncture sessions, saw multiple back specialists, took up yoga, worked on my posture, strengthened my core muscles.

I gave it all a go. However nothing took away that sharp electric pain that stopped me from running.

So in my desperation to get rid of my problem and having exhausted all my options, I had to take the decision to go down the medical route.

And 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).

He said that these fractures were causing spondylosis and would require spinal-fusion surgery to correct.

Which is a worrying thing for anyone to hear, but even more so for a guy in his mid-twenties.

However he quickly allayed my fears as he made it sound like a breeze.

He told me my problem was a common one in sportsmen and that he’d successfully carried out similar surgeries on a number of premier league footballers.

And that nine out of ten people are as good as new afterwards.

Also because of my age and fitness levels I would fly through it with no trouble at all and be back on a football pitch within 6 weeks.

Now 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.

So I couldn't wait to sign on the dotted line and get my old life back.

However little did I know it but this was the beginning of a new nightmare.

As after recovering from the effects of the operation I discovered that I was in even worse pain than before.

The Aftermath Of Spinal Fusion Surgery

So what went so wrong after I had my surgery?

Well before the operation my problem was mainly 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 this changed after the operation, and I found that I was in pain all the time.

And I still couldn't run!

The screws and rods in my back after my first spinal fusion surgery

The screws and rods in my back after my first spinal fusion surgery

It was a complete 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 now in constant pain and that the operation had made my problem worse, but it was like banging my head against a brick wall.

In fact they just wanted me to nod and smile so they could discharge me!

It was so frustrating because every member of the surgery team I saw were all saying that my X-rays looked fine and the fusion had taken well.

Insinuating that the pain must all be in my head.

Well yeah it may look good on your X-ray pal, but I know my body and I’m telling you it feels bloody awful!

And with NHS waiting lists in the UK meaning lengthy waits for each consultation, the nightmare just dragged on and on.

So the time I hadn't been able to play the sport I loved turned from weeks into months and then into years.

And on top of that I had the new problem of being in constant pain, which was making it extremely difficult to continue making a living as a painter and decorator.

So I was coming out of consultations with tears of anger and frustration in my eyes, not understanding what was happening to me and being powerless to do anything about it.

I just felt totally helpless.

After two years (!) of this to and fro, the medical team eventually agreed that the fusion hadn't worked.

Something I had known from day 1!

Falling Into Despair

And so began a period of a further four major operations on my back over the course of the next three years.

With each surgery giving me the hope that this would be the one to take away the constant pain and fix me.

Yet this was always followed by crushing disappointment a few weeks afterwards, when the pain would return as my body healed.

And I don't mind admitting that this took a huge strain on me mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.

In fact the depression that comes with feelings of helplessness, fragility and vulnerability that are associated with chronic pain hit me hard.

And the sadness of not being able to live the life I wanted was as ever present as the pain.

Also fear and despair at the prospect of a future of constant pain was keeping me awake at night.

And with each operation requiring me to take three months off work with no pay to recuperate, I was also losing my independence.

So while 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.

Which as a man approaching 30 years of age was frustrating and soul-destroying beyond belief.

And by the time of my final operation we all knew that it wasn’t going to be possible to fix my back pain.

In fact to this day I still don't think the medical team had a clue what was causing it.

However this final operation was designed to ease my 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 remained a struggle.

So I had to stretch myself out every hour just 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, which made it impossible to relax.

And forget about getting a good nights sleep!

Work also became harder than it should have been, and left me aching like a man twice my age on the commute home.

While any lingering hopes I may have had about playing football again were completely and absolutely dashed.

And for the next two years this had a profound effect on my character.

I went from being someone who had always been relaxed and happy-go-lucky, to someone who was introverted, unhappy, self-pitying and apathetic about everything.

Because I couldn’t indulge in my passion anymore, I was in constant pain, and my life lost meaning.

On top of this I was getting out of bed in the morning dreading going into work to suffer again.

So my way of dealing with the constant pain and unfairness of it all was to try and block it out and forget about it.

Which I did by starting to behave more recklessly than before.

I was drinking too heavily on nights out and not looking after myself, chasing women and having pointless flings, not setting any goals, and just drifting through life.

Because I just didn’t care about anything anymore.

Life had fucked me over and it wasn't getting any better so why should I bother?

Taking Charge Of My Pain

However I realised that I had to snap out of the funk that was engulfing me or I was going to end up in a very bad place.

So rather than continue to ignore my problem, I began researching it instead.

And I discovered that while my constant back pain left me feeling isolated and all alone, it was actually a problem that was shared by hundreds of thousands of others.

In fact I found that there were many others out there who were suffering from problems far worse than my own.

And reading through the various pain forums and hearing that people were dealing with similar or worse situations and still managing to live well and be happy gave me so much comfort and hope.

As it made me feel like I wasn’t alone, which gave me the courage and confidence to also try to fight back.

So I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself.

Instead I needed to fight back and not let my back pain beat me.

Yes I was never going to completely fix it. Yes I was never going to run or play football again.

But I needed to accept that.

I had a physical limitation, just as many people the world over do too, 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've done, and the difference in my life has been amazing.

And I’ve realised just how vital having a positive attitude is and how far it can take you.

The first thing I learnt was how important it is for those of us with chronic back pain to stay active, and doing so has kept my pain at an absolute minimum and made my working days much more comfortable.

And this has been a big relief for me, both mentally and financially.

Also through trial and error I’ve learnt which things ease my pain and which things make it worse. So I have adjusted my daily habits, routines, and lifestyle to benefit me the most.

For instance, I’ve found that regular stretching helps me to feel loose and relaxed throughout the day which has greatly improved my working experience.

I’ve also incorporated thirty minutes of stretches and core-strengthening exercises into my daily routine, which helps keep my spine strong and supported and which are now as natural to me as brushing my teeth.

And I’ve discovered low-impact exercises that I can still do such as swimming, walking, and yoga, which have allowed me to stay fit, strong and active.

I've also become aware of the furniture I use to sit and sleep one, learning which types of chairs and mattresses are good for my back and which ones I need to avoid.

And looking after my diet and being more sensible with alcohol has helped to keep me feeling better in both my body and my mind.

So by becoming mindful of my problem rather ignoring it I have greatly improved the day-to-day quality of my life.

Does that mean my problem is fixed?

Unfortunately not, as chronic pain is exactly that, so in most cases it is 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 and happily.

And I feel like I am now in control of my 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.

So I can rest easy, knowing that I can make a living and support myself again.

And I've also started setting myself goals and challenges again, which has meant that over the past five years I've managed to achieve a lot of things that I am proud of.

For instance I’ve been on multiple backpacking trips around the world that I never thought I'd be able to manage with back pain.

And I started studying again, gaining a first-class BSc honours degree in Psychology with the Open University.

A proud moment and one I didn't think I'd ever manage.

I've also kept myself active, fit and healthy, while leading a full and active social life.

And I've created this website.

So while living with chronic back pain is tough.

Bloody tough.

It doesn’t have to stop you living your life or doing the things you want to do.

Positivity is key!

Why I Started Back On Site

It was through stories that were shared on back pain forums that I found the strength and inspiration to start that journey back from the brink of despair.

So my inspiration for creating this website is the hope that maybe it can help others to also fight back against their pain and improve their quality of life.

My thought was that 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, as well as sharing my own personal experiences.

This includes the things that may be causing your back pain, the various ways you can try to get rid of it, and the lifestyle changes you can make to live a pain free life.

As by getting to know your problem, you can take the first steps towards being able to fix it.

So to every fellow back pain sufferer out there thanks for reading and I wish you good luck.

And I hope that you'll join me in the fight against back pain, as my life today is a far happier place than it was five years ago.

And if I can do it, then so can you.

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I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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