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My New Perspective on Low Back Pain, Now as a Patient…

The following piece is written by one of our Evoker Physiotherapist’s, Andrew Robertson after suffering low back pain last year.

Stage 1 – The Injury

What began as a stock standard Wednesday in early October last year turned into an ongoing saga that ultimately helped me to gain more perspective on dealing with low back pain.

I went to the gym at 5:15am and began my usual routine without much of a warm up. On the second set of my second exercise (bent over rows) I felt a sharp pulling in my right lower back that was unlike anything I had felt previously. As most of us do, I ignored it at the time, continued to push through the pain and managed to finish my workout.

Over the next few days I continued to ignore my growing discomfort as I didn’t want to acknowledge my injury for what it was. This would have meant stopping my gym or football training – both of which I used as coping mechanisms for any other stressors in my life.

Stage 2 – Denial

Over the coming weeks I began to realise I had a problem that wasn’t going to resolve itself. I tentatively sought out some informal treatment from my colleagues and started taking some anti-inflammatories in an attempt to manage my symptoms and help me get through busy days at work. At this stage I was still stubbornly clinging onto my exercise routine although I had to make some modifications due to my back pain.

My pain was now affecting my productivity during the day and my sleep at night. Despite what I knew about the limited correlation between pathology on scans and back pain I decided to get an MRI. When the scan came back clear, I used it as an excuse to push through my discomfort and continue to play football. The actual season was approaching and I was starting to become worried about missing games.

Throughout this period I also sought an opinion from an independent sports doctor in regards to diagnosis which ultimately made no difference to the treatment plan that I would eventually embark on.

Stage 3 – Acceptance

After almost 5 months of pain and haphazard management I knew I had to take my back pain seriously – my quality of life was suffering. I discussed the full extent of my pain with Adam and we set out a formal plan of treatment to help get it under control.

This involved multiple treatment sessions per week initially, focusing on reducing my acute pain with hands on physiotherapy. We agreed that I was to undertake no formal exercise that led to an increase in my back pain, including football and the gym.

As my pain started to settle (which took several weeks) I slowly built up my load tolerance with gentle glute and lumbopelvic strengthening exercises before I returned to running. After I could jog pain-free we integrated some football-specific activities in isolation (such as kicking and sprinting) before returning to team training. The real key here was gentle, slow, progressive and monitored exercise.

Stage 4 – Maintenance

After almost 8 weeks of formal rehabilitation, I finally was able to return to playing football in a competitive environment in April of this year.

Although I am still able to train and play now, my back still does remind me occasionally of the journey that I have been on. I have modified my gym program and still focus a lot on maintaining the general tightness through my back, glutes and hip flexors. If I start to feel that I can’t manage my own symptoms I will touch base with one of my colleagues for a treatment session.

If I had my time over again I would have sought formal help for my back pain in its early stages and started treatment immediately. I know that if I had done so my story would be far different! Ultimately, my own experiences have given me an insight into what it is like to live with lower back pain and hopefully my story can help others in similar situations better deal with their problem.

Andrew Robertson, Physiotherapist, Evoker.