How to live with chronic back pain

Do you have chronic back pain?

I have to live with pain every day as do 20% of people. I have disc degeneration in my L3 and L4 vertebrae. I will share my journey with you on this and then how I felt and how I dealt with those feelings. Hopefully, I can help some of you who have to deal with this on a daily basis.

I often had several thoughts that made me feel worse:

What a rubbish Dad I'm going to be!
Why doesn't anyone seem to take me seriously?
Am I going to be in a wheelchair in the future?
If I am, will my wife still want to be with me?
I wouldn't blame her if she did?
I feel like I'm letting everyone down!
It would be better if I was dead!

All these thoughts went through my mind on several occasions, some of them I realise now were brought on by the medication I was taking. Below is the story of my pain and how I am today:

This started around 7 and a half years ago. I haven't had any trauma or anything to pinpoint the reason for my pain. Once the I realised the pain wasn't going to just go away after a few paracetamol and with a little push from my wife I decided to go and see my GP. I was prescribed some co-codamol and sent on my way. Over the course of several months, I visited the doctors several times as the tablets were not making any difference.

I was sent to physio, after the first visit I was given some exercises to do and advised that losing weight and exercise will help. Off I went back to the gym as instructed. I did the exercises at home every morning and evening for 1 whole day. after the exercise I bent down about to pick up my son when I felt something go in my back, I could hardly move and I had pain down my legs. It seemed that I had trapped a nerve and these exercises had caused this to happen. Needless to say, I didn't do them again. I informed the physio about this and he said, "yeah they can make it worse!". Brilliant, thanks for informing me of this before I did them.

Back to the GP I went, stronger anti-inflammatory tablets and co-codamol this time. No change after a few weeks, more tablets, including tablets that when laid in bed awake, but with my eyes closed, I saw sharks coming for me and it all felt very real. That was after one day taking them! I didn't take them anymore and went back to the docs the next day for something else.

After a year of this I went to my doctors and told him I wanted an MRI as I was 26 years old, I shouldn't be in this much pain. I got my MRI and was told I had disc degeneration as I mentioned above. I was told I would be referred to the pain clinic who then told me that I would start with treatment of acupuncture. This went on 3 times, I was told it should feel better and after each session, I should feel less pain. The opposite was the case for me. I felt worse the day after and for a few more days after that. On the fourth and final session, I told them how it had made me feel and they didn't complete that session as they said I should have seen a change for the better. They gave me the sympathetic face I'd being seeing quite a bit and sent me on my way.

Next, I was sent to doctors for 3 injections in my lower back to stop the pain. I was sore for the rest of the day. The next morning I got up (now you need to block out this image) I went to sit on the toilet, as daft as it seems being in this position and the strain on my back let me know how much pain I was going to be in throughout the day. I felt no pain! Brilliant, finally after around 1 and a half years, something has worked!

This was short lived, by the end of that day I was in agony again. I was pain-free for 8 hours. I told the pain clinic this, and the next step was to see an osteopath. He checked my posture, taught me to stand slightly better, then laid me on a table and practically bent my arms around the top of my back and then jumped on me. All my bones in my back cracked which after the initial shock felt kinda nice, but still no change in my pain even after a day. Another visit to him and the same thing again. He couldn't understand why I was in so much pain for what I had been diagnosed with. Thanks, big help.

The next step and what felt like the final step was to go to Hospital and have 6 injections close to my spine to block the pain. This was coming close to 2 and a half years now, and I still felt hopeful this would work. I went to Hospital and there was another patient there who went every year to get these done but he told me they did work. Excellent. I had my injections and they hurt like hell but it was nothing compared to the pain I was feeling day in day out. he told me I would be very sore for up to 48 hours, which I was. This pain was worse than what I had but I still had hope. After the pain of the injections had gone I was pain-free for a whole 24 hours! then back to normal (sad face). I had to go back to Hospital several weeks after the injections for a review with a consultant. I had to basically tell him everything that had happened etc. He sat there and said that only having 24 hours free of pain meant that there would be no point in doing the injections again. He then took a minute to think and turned to me and said "There is nothing more we can do now, you need to be prepared to live with this for the rest of your life".

WOW! Thanks!

He sent me off with some more medication. I was basically told that what I was diagnosed wasn't severe enough to warrant anything else. If the pain then goes to my nerves they may be able to do something.

I took this to mean, thanks for giving us a large portion of your monthly wages each and every month in tax etc but were not prepared to spend any more money helping you with your chronic pain.

All in all, it took 3 years of my life to get to the position of "close the door on your way out".

Now to how I felt and how I overcame this.

Chronic pain gets you down big time. I started to feel really useless, we had just had our first child about a year and a half after I had first gone to the doctors. I hated myself as I couldn't do most things to help, even washing the pots caused me to be in agony due to how I was bent over slightly as I'm so tall. I would be in agony just holding my newborn for a long period of time. this really got me down. Being with the pain clinic they sent me for CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) as it was new and they feel it helps with people who suffer with long term pain. I thought OK, why not? Anything is worth a try.

In my first session, I totally broke down, I couldn't even get my words out. I think I even took the therapist by surprise. She had asked me to explain how I felt about the pain I was in and that was it. I never cry, ever. Yet here I am balling like a baby in front of someone. Everything came out, how I felt about not being a good enough husband, father etc and my worries about being in a wheelchair for most of my life. I wanted to be a good husband and father, I wanted to provide for my family and not be a burden because "my back hurt". After that first session, I felt better being able to talk to someone who didn't know me in any way. I'm not the type of person who talks about their feelings, I much prefer to keep them to myself and deal with it in my own head. Other people don't need to hear my shit, they have enough going on, but this therapist was paid to hear them, so she did.

I had around 5 sessions all in all and after the final one, I felt better (in my head anyway). I learnt to deal with things in small chunks and also (something that I still struggle with but do try) to keep thinking that when something makes you angry, "does it really matter? Is this going to matter in 10 minutes?"

During these sessions I was taking the medication TramIdol, I had been taking it for several months beforehand. My pain wasn't easing with the tablets andIi was still feeling quite bad about things, my wife wanted me off tramadol as it was affecting my moods. I agreed to come off it as I was seeing no benefit in regards to pain relief. My advice if you get offered this drug, DO NOT take it. Now it does say if you come off it, to come off it slowly. I didn't take this advice as I'm not a massive believer in being addicted to things, I believe if you truly want to stop something, then you will just stop. So I did. I stopped taken them.

I didn't sleep for 3 nights straight, I came down to the living room so I didn't wake my wife and child up. At that point, I realised why so many people on drugs go back to them quickly. It would have been so easy to go back onto them to stop this feeling. I needed sleep! I was also shivering constantly even though I was boiling. I persevered, and after three days I didn't have that feeling anymore. It was from that point on that I made the decision to stop taking medication. Yes, I was in agony, yes the medication dulled the pain ever so slightly. It wasn't enough, what was I going to do, take these tablets for the rest of my life, not knowing what there doing to my body, to my head?

I was never diagnosed with depression throughout all of this but at times it felt like I was, I have never in my life before or since had thoughts of wanting to be dead. I didn't see an end to my pain and just didn't want to be a burden. I never acted on these thoughts in any way and never intended to, sometimes you just can't stop your brain from thinking. Thankfully after stopping the medication those feelings disappeared and I got a handle on my thoughts. I had my head back.

Now in the present day, I am still in pain each and every day, some days are worse than others. It all depends on what I do, I find that I need a mixture of walking, standing and sitting to help keep the pain manageable. Too much of either means that come nightfall I'm in a lot of pain again. I can't do all the normal things Dads do such as run around with my son or pick him up and throw him around play fighting etc, well I can but I feel the pain for days after. It doesn't stop me doing this when I can because he's my son and I'd rather be in agony constantly than miss out on the things a Dad should do. Now with a second child into the mix, it's even more important that I don't miss out on these amazing things. I go to the gym as often as I can to keep my back as strong as I can. I have some bad days mentally but I think about how I had felt. I think about the beautiful wife I have at home and my two amazing children that I will see grow up to become amazing human beings. Whatever happens with my back will happen, I just have more precious things to think about, and I know that.

If you do suffer with chronic pain of any sort, remember, you are not alone in any way. Many people suffer with it and can help you. Talk to people about how your feeling, it will help to get it off your chest and in my opinion only, if your medication doesn't work, don't take it. Challenge yourself mentally to deal with the pain. It's better than what the drugs will do to you mentally if they aren't working to ease your pain.

Do you suffer with chronic pain? How do you deal with it?

Thanks for reading

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  1. First of all thank you for sharing. Its hard as a dad to show a weakness.
    I will first say mybwife deals with the exact same thing as you but with hers she also has siatic problems too. Her degeneration has causes her discs to slip but inward right aganst her nerves. Same outcome too nothing they can do. Wait till a certain age for surgury.
    For me I have back problems but not as severe. But I do have shoulder and neck problems. Frozen shoulder with a pinched nerve in my neck. I too am on tramadol which really doesnt do much. Now as of last friday I got a drug called Gabapentin. It was releaced as an anti-siezure med but found out to help with nerve pain. They found it took away ghost pains for missing limbs. So far I'm on 1 pill a day but will be upping it soon. When it kickes in at night it takes away all pain. Its the only thing that has helped me including the shots that didnt work. I could sleep on my arm with zero pain although I still dont. It might help for you Im not sure.
    Its a tough road dealing with cronic pain. Kids are active and you want nothing moren then to join in until bam pain takes over. Stay strong my fellow dad. It will get better.

    1. Hi Jeff, thans for taking the time to read this and sharing on Twitter. I have been on Gabapentin before and other than making me feel spaced out it didnt seem to work. I think it would if i had nerve issues but i dont, at the minute anyway. I hope the pain stays away for you and your wife as much as possible. Rich

  2. Hey Rich!! It's breako!! Never in a million years would i ever read this from you!! So deep and meaningful! I never realised it got so bad for you but a huge congratulations on fighting your way through it and facing it head on doing things that your not used to!! Fingers crossed it will get better one day and to know we're all here for you!! A text, call or in the pub!! Love you all x

    1. Hey cheers mate! Well i am deep and meaningful guy lol. Not sure if it will get better but i can hope. Pub always sounds good!


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