In the previous two posts written in this series, My Bad Back Journey Part 1 and My Bad Back Journey Part 2, I essentially told the story of my journey through 12 years of back pain. Throughout the 12 years, I learned about how to deal with back pain. Hopefully, the things I have learned over the course of 12 years will help you find your way faster than I did.
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Step 1. Change Your Mindset
The first thing you will want to try to do is to change your mindset. I emphasize the word try because this is actually one of the hardest steps in the process of dealing with chronic back pain.
It is so incredibly hard for anyone who has been active their whole lives to all of a sudden be inactive. When you know that just a few weeks or months ago you were able to pick things up, work hard in the yard, or just move all day long. Then, all of a sudden, you are laying on the couch and unable to do the things you have done for years and years.
The mindset that you must have once you have chronic back problems is one that allows for the realization that you may never be the person you were before this happened. Even once you begin to feel better, you may be restricted in the activities you can perform. You may not be able to lift the laundry basket anymore, or mulch your flowerbeds, or even pick up your child. Your mindset must change to one of patience, growth, and hope.
Grieving For Your Past
I actually had to go through the entire grieving process every time I had a setback. I still do. Every time I would start to think things may be normal again, I would be set back and it would hit me hard…mind, body, and soul.
The steps of grief:
Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Testing and Acceptance
But once you make it to the acceptance step, you will be ready to try some of the things listed in the next categories. Although, you have to accept that the same things that worked for me may not work for you. You have to accept that you may have to keep searching for the answers that you seek every day until you find them. And you also must accept that there are answers out there, you just have to be patient and take your setbacks in stride.
Take It Easy
Once that you have accepted that you can do this, but it is going to take some time, make sure your mindset is to go slowly. I tried all of the following things over 12 years. That is a long time. In order to figure out what works and what doesn’t, you will probably have to try just one at a time. And just because something works at first does not mean it will work forever, so don’t give up hope, just try something different.
Also, when you are doing exercises and getting stronger, make sure that you don’t go crazy and decide to run a marathon on a day that you are feeling good. Whether that marathon is cleaning your house or actually running in a race. That is how you re-injure yourself. Make sure you pace yourself. You will get there.
2. Take Notes
As my back got worse, my depression got worse, and then my memory became really bad. The depression and stress of my situation consumed me every day, so it was hard to pay attention to the life that was going on around me. I would have a really hard time remembering where I put my car keys or remembering to pack lunches for my kids. So listening to a doctor or physical therapist talk to me about back treatments and actually remember what they would say was not really plausible. I had to figure out a way to use my focus on my pain to be productive. So I started writing everything down. I think it is beneficial for anyone seeing a doctor for any reason to write things down.
What To Write
Keep a journal of what works and what doesn’t work with your back and your pain. If you have new things happen, write them down. If you have questions that need to be answered, write them in your journal. Then, when it is time to visit the doctor, take that journal with you. Tell them what you have found that works and doesn’t. Ask them your questions, and see if they can narrow down what is happening.
A notepad or journal is also good to take notes while you are at the doctor’s office. Write down any words you do not understand and either ask about them or do some research when you get home. Then you will have a better understanding of your problems.
Write down any tips they give you or any names you should remember for therapists. That way when you get home, you can look back at your notes and remember what was said.
Make sure when you see the physical therapist that you also take notes there too. Make sure they give you printouts of all the exercises you need to do and that they make detailed notes of how to do them. Take your own notes on points you think are important for you to be able to do the exercises correctly because if you do not do the exercises correctly, they will not work for you.
3. Try New Things
Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone. Some people are die-hard holistic, and others would never see anyone without an MD after their name. What I found through my journey is that a mixture of the two is where the answers lie. The doctors can prescribe the medications and exercises that are needed to get stronger and out of pain. But the more holistic approaches can help with pain management without medication and may be able to help you get a better understanding of what is going on with your body. It is very important to get to know your body through this process.
Deep Tissue Massage Therapy
A really good deep tissue massage therapist will be able to find the knots in your muscles and gently release them. Once you know where you are tight and knotted up, you can get a lacrosse ball and press it into the tight spots yourself at home. Learning where your tight areas are will allow you to manage your pain better throughout the day.
Muscle Activation Specialist
Another type of therapist I saw is one certified in Muscle Activation Techniques. She would reactivate my muscles through massage and gentle pressure to stimulate the muscle to work properly again. I would always feel really good for about 3 days after, but things would always revert back.
BUT, I am not saying you shouldn’t try it. It may work better for you. And also, because I tried it, I learn exactly which muscles she would reactivate every …single…time. I learned from her technique which muscles were creating the problems. I asked her a lot of questions and asked for exercises, but that wasn’t really her expertise. So I took this knowledge to my Physical Therapist and got exercises from her. I really started feeling better at this point.
Muscle Stimulation: TENS Unit
I tried a TENS Unit to help with pain. The way a TENS Unit works is to create a very small amount of stimulation in the area where the pain is that keeps the muscles in the area relaxed. If you are having muscle spasms, this could be a great thing.
This never did much for me, but some people swear by it. If it could possibly work for you, I would give it a try. If you don’t know what it is, a trained practitioner sticks really really fine needles into certain areas of your body to try to get the blood flowing back to the right areas of the body and begin the healing process.
Dry Needling is very similar to Acupuncture, but dry needling has more of an exact purpose. A trained practitioner will stick a needle directly into the knots in your muscles and release the knots almost instantly. I have had this done many times, and while it is not pleasant, the outcome is WORTH IT! It helped with so much of my pain and allowed me to continue with my physical therapy exercises to continue getting stronger. There are many doctors that will do this as well as physical therapists and other holistically trained professionals.
Trigger Point Injections
This is just like dry needling, where they put the needle right into a trigger point. The difference is that in the trigger point injections, there is something being injected into the muscle. For instance, sometimes they can inject a muscle with a numbing solution, a steroid, or even botox in order to help control the muscle spasms and keep the trigger points from reforming.
Trigger Point Release
The last thing that I can tell you I tried was trigger point release. This is by far the most painful of all of the things I tried. It was tolerable, but it wasn’t fun. Essentially, a massage therapist finds your trigger points and pushes on them until they release. I had a lot of bruising, so I don’t know that it was worth going to see someone to do it. But I now do this to myself to release my own trigger points with my lacrosse ball, so I guess my pain tolerance has gone up. The trigger point release that I do to myself is effective at helping my pain, and it is free. Two benefits.
4. Front and Back Muscles
Your body is meant to be balanced. Anytime one muscle gets too strong and another too weak, then you have an imbalance. I have found that this knowledge helps me with my pain from time to time.
I am not by any means an expert, but what I have found with my own body, is that a lot of times when I feel the pain in my back it is actually coming from muscles that are in my abdominals. Same for my neck pain. When the pain is in the back of my neck, I can stretch and massage the chest and shoulder muscles on the front of my body to get relief from the pain in the back of my neck.
It is something to think about.
5. Be Consistent
Whether you start a walking routine to get yourself stronger or you start doing physical therapy exercises, make sure to stay consistent. Keep track of what you do each day and make sure you do not do too much.
At the same time, doing too little can make things worse as well. One of the very first doctors I saw for my back told me, “if you miss 1 day of exercises that is fine, but if you miss 2-3 days, you have lost 1 week of what you were building up. And if you miss 4-5 days of your PT exercises, then you have lost a whole month of what you were trying to build.”
Make sure you try to do your physical therapy exercises every day.
6. Home Pain Relief Options
The things I use are Lacrosse Ball, Foam Roller, IB Profen, heating pad, stretching, TENS Unit, massage, Ice, and rest. Most of these things can be found on Amazon and I have linked them for you. The two things that I get the most pain relief out of are my Lacrosse Ball and my heating pads. My Lacrosse Ball is an everyday must. I may decide to make a video of how I use it at some point, but for now, you can watch any of these videos to get the idea of how it works.
I have two heating pads that I love because they do not have that weird hard plastic in them. They are soft and pliable. Because of that, they can go around whatever area is hurting and they kind of “hug” the area for a nice close fit. The closer the heating pad fits the body, the better the heat transfer will be. The ones I use are by Sunbeam and you can get them on Amazon.
My Morning Routine to Stay Pain-Free
My routine in the mornings depends solely on what stage I am at with my recovery. When I am really bad, like I have been laying on the couch for weeks at a time and cannot move, then I do a lot before getting out of bed. You can see all of the products I use and love for easing my back pain here.
I keep my heating pads on the nightstand…yes, I said heating pads(plural), meaning I have 2. I would love to have about 4, but I don’t know where I would plug them all in. Anyhow, I grab my heating pads first thing and turn them on high. After I have laid on them for about 10 minutes in each area that I plan to stretch, I start to stretch.
While I am in bed I stretch my hamstrings, IT bands, glute and piriformis muscles, and hip flexors. I do this all before I even get out of bed because I want to deal with all of my tight muscles before I have to start using them. When your muscles are really tight, they just don’t do what they are supposed to do and they fatigue out quickly. So to start my day better, this is what I started doing.
Also, I will do as many of my Physical Therapy Exercises as I can while still in bed. Because as we all know, when you have kids, once you are out of bed, things don’t stop until you get back in it that night.
If I am really sore or tightened up, I will roll on my foam roller or lacrosse ball to work the muscle out a little bit and then stretch again. Before finishing my PT exercises, I do a short warm-up, then stretch out one last time. After all that, then I can finally start my day.
I know this sounds like a lot, but I did it all, and so can you. My last suggestion to you is to find a support group. Whether it is family, a spouse, a friend, or an actual support group, you need people in your life that can keep you going. And people who will let you cry on their shoulder now and again.
I really truly hope that these tips can help you and that you find some relief from what is ailing you. Please reach out to me if you have any questions about the therapies that I mentioned in this post at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
If you didn’t get a chance to read about my Bad Back Journey, you can start here.
For more information about products I use everyday to help ease my back pain, check out this post:
I am not a doctor, a physical therapist, or any other sort of licensed medical professional. The information I give on my blog is information about methods and therapies that have worked for me and my own back problems. If you wish to try any of the things I mention in my posts, please speak with your doctor first. I am not responsible for anything that happens to you if you try these methods and they do not work for you. I am not responsible for the actions of any affiliates links on my website. If you have a problem with their service, you must take it up with them.