Back in October of last year, I injured my back. I’ve never had a great back after a lumbar puncture at 12 that didn’t go that well. Even in my late teens, I was susceptible to back pain that needed rest and treatment with a heat pad. As I got older, I tried stretches, yoga and pilates. But throw in 3 heavy pregnancies (my heaviest child weight 11lbs/5kg) and my back got worse. At this time I sought help from a chiropractor.
Last year I took part in two Rebel Fit challenges which I really enjoyed and helped me to grow my strength and fitness. We then had the summer holidays and in September we made the decision to say goodbye to our cleaner to save money for refurbishment work we wanted to do in our home. Then one day I was steam cleaning our floor, I did a push and a twist and I knew something wasn’t right with my back and the pain got progressively worse as the day went by.
I started as I usually do when this thing happens with some rest and stretches, but this came with a new pain of radiating sciatic pain down my thigh. The best way I can describe it is a sharp and spiteful pain. After a couple of weeks passed and I didn’t see any improvement, my husband who has BUPA with work suggested that I called and get some physiotherapy authorised.
Physiotherapy & Sciatic Pain
I went into my physiotherapy optimistic, my Dad has a bad back and ended up having surgery and I was absolutely adamant that surgery was not going to be the right choice for me. I am a Mum of 3 children I just didn’t have the time. Life as always has other plans. Unfortunately, the physio made my back worse. I went from being sore, to a little better with gentle walking, which progressed into awful debilitating pain. This is just my experience of course, and physio is the usually the first step for someone with back pain.
I ended up in awful pain. Pain that radiated down my leg, to my toes, that left me with numb toes. Pulsing, sharp, searing pain that radiated from my bottom, to my hip and all the way down my leg. It was a pain that was constant and took a way my ability to function at a normal level. I’m no stranger to pain. I have had 3 children and consequently 3 c-sections, viral arthritis and gallbladder attacks which led to having my gallbladder removed. This pain was up there on a level with those which I class as some of the worst pain I have experienced.
It got to the stage my physio said we should not continue and he referred me to a consultant instead. By this point, I was walking with a stick, struggled to walk even to the end of my drive and had to stop doing the school runs. I couldn’t get my back straight at all and was hunched over. The muscles in my upper back would scream at me after standing for just a short time as they struggled to hold me upright. Walking and standing were the hardest. I was in constant daily pain and as the situation got worse, I also struggled to sleep.
I tried different medications with my GP. Amitriptyline and Gabapentin (I cannot have any anti-inflammatory medication due to a ruptured stomach ulcer 4 years ago). The Gabapentin did not work for me at all and ended up feeling incredibly depressed and tearful, so much so after a discussion with my GP we decided it was best for me to come off of it. After this, the medication I could have was limited and I ended up on codeine daily. I’m not a fan of codeine at all and hate the way it makes me feel, but equally, I could no longer manage with the levels of pain I was in. Even after medication, I felt like half of my life had been stolen from me.
Consultant Referral and MRI
I was referred to a consultant, who then referred me for an MRI to find out what was going on. The MRI concluded that I had an L5/S1 herniation, which was compressing the main S1 nerve. Essentially a slipped disc, but one that compressed my main sciatic nerve. I’ve heard so much about slipped discs but had no idea the levels of pain it could cause. How debilitating it could be and how quickly it would take over my life. From a busy Mum who could easily so 10-15,000 steps a day. To a woman who struggled to walk across the road. Sometimes the only relief I could get was to kneel on the floor and lie across a chair with the top half of my body. I would lie there at night as pain surged down my back and legs knowing there was no way I could get to sleep with the level of pain I was in. Getting up in the dark and doing stretches on the floor. It was quite frankly, no way to live. The pain led to increased heart rate and blood pressure as well the impact on my body of being less active.
I can’t explain to you what it’s like to lose your mobility almost overnight. Walking really is something you take for granted until it’s something you can no longer do. Things I could do with ease, I could no longer do and my world became much smaller. I had to plan things in advance and would know that I would be wiped out for days after in pain. I saw less people, did less things, was able to do less to care for my family and children. As well as having to cope with the pain, I also had to navigate a new world of guilt, frustration and loneliness. I am so very grateful for my friends and family that were there for me.I couldn’t have got through it without them. It also made me realise how ableist I was before. I had no idea and the experience I know has changed me forever.
Since my diagnosis, I have gone on to have spinal, epidural steroid injections and then finally surgery which I will follow up about in separate blog posts. I had my spinal injections 5 months post-injury and surgery 8 months post-injury.