My Adventures with Lower Back Pain

Apr 11, 2019

By Jason Meagrow DPT, Robinet PT Rockford Clinic

Lower back pain

44% will experience the return of their back pain in the first year and up to 85% will have their pain return sometime in their lifetime

As a physical therapist, lower back pain is one of the most common symptoms I treat. Studies suggest up to 80% of people will experience some form of lower back pain in their lifetime. For those with back pain that are employed, up to 44% will experience the return of their back pain in the first year and up 85% will have their pain return sometime in their lifetime. Even though I am a physical therapist, I am not immune to back injury and pain. Here is my story.

Constant irritation

My lower back pain story is not that different from many of my patients’ stories. My first occurrence happened as a result of a lifting injury in my 20’s. With rest, I was able to recover but my back occasionally gave me gentle reminders of the injury. Even so, I returned to the physical activities I enjoyed before the injury and without any limitations.

It wasn’t until after the birth of my first daughter that back pain became a daily part of my life. As the primary stay–at–home parent, childcare took its toll on my back. Prolonged leaning forward during diaper changes, lifting into and out of the crib, carrying on one side of the hip, and standing up from a low couch while holding a sleeping baby all took my back pain to a level of constant irritation.

Ignoring the symptoms

as I sneezed it felt like I had been shot in the back.

While I was able to manage, hide, and ignore the pain the “pile of straw” was slowly building on my lower back. The final straw? One day I was sitting at my work desk and had to sneeze. I didn’t want to sneeze on the desk so I turned my head and body to the right. As soon as I sneezed, I felt I had been shot in the back. When I attempted to move I felt the change in pain with any small movement or weight shift of my spine. Knowing that lumbar disc injuries occur when the spine is bent, twisted, and compressed (even the compression of a sneeze), I realized I had probably injured a disc in my lower back.

The camel’s back

Looking like a camel, bent forward at the waist and back humped, I made my way over to a treatment table to lay down. I suspected I had injured my disc I just didn’t know how bad.

I tested my suspicion by performing a McKenzie exercise, an effective treatment technique for diagnosing and treating disc injuries. After doing the exercises, my pain reduced enough to allow me to drive myself home. With every little bump of the road I felt my back becoming worse. When I tried to get out of the car it was hard to walk. It took all my effort in my arms to hold myself up, grabbing anything the would support my weight.

It felt like I was carrying hundreds of extra pounds and my legs would not hold me up. My lower back was ripping apart at every little movement. Once inside the house, I laid down on the couch to relieve the weight.

Pain and the body’s response to it

with all my effort, I told my body to stand. I couldn’t do it!

After a while, I sat up slowly on the edge of the couch. The pain was barely tolerable. Rather than stand, I thought crawling to my destination would be easiest.

I slowly lowered myself to the ground (it was also painful to be on all fours) and laid flat on my belly. Grabbing the carpet to pull my body forward and using all the movement my legs and the lower back pain allowed, I traveled five exhausting feet in ten minutes. Only 30 more feet to go.

After recovering for a few minutes I thought it might be better to force myself to stand up and walk. I slowly transitioned onto my side. With the help of an arm chair I was able get myself up on one knee, my other foot out in front, and my hand on my thigh. I attempted to stand but the pain increased. After running through my options I told myself to ignore the pain and just stand up. Blocking out the pain, and with all my effort, I told my body to stand up. I was amazed to discover I couldn’t do it!

We are not always in control of our body’s movements.

I experienced an amazing truth about pain that I explain to my patients on a daily basis. We are not always in complete control of our body’s movements. There are times when our pain serves as a warning signal to us. If we don’t listen to these warnings and stop what we are doing, our brains can take control of our bodies. It was not intensity of the pain that stopped me from being able to stand up. No matter how hard I tried, my body would not let me move into an upright position. 

I believe it is possible my body knew I had injured my back in such a way that it didn’t want me to cause myself further injury by standing up. So I had no choice but to crawl on my belly to the restroom. I never knew how difficult it is to remain flat while trying to crawl, but I learned that lesson too.

Treatment and care

Now, fast forward 6 years and many other lessons learned about my lower back pain. I am a better physical therapist for going through these experiences. I have learned many different treatments and exercises to improve my condition. These treatments and knowledge keep me pain free, despite a MRI confirming moderate disc herniation with nerve impingement. Initially, recommendation was made for me to have surgery but I have been able to recover and now manage my symptoms without having surgery, injections, or regular medication. I teach these exercises and techniques to my patients and, on some level, relate to their stories.

Physical therapists are prone to injury, just like you. At Robinet Physical Therapy, we feel your pain, literally, and we are all walking testimonies to the improvement physical therapy brings. Our injuries increase our compassion for our patients and help us to relate to their conditions. Come share your story with us and see how we can improve the way you tell the ending.