A Dozen Tips to Endure Back Pain

I am up before dawn to see my chiropractor for the early bird special. With a 7 a.m. appointment, there is no wait; we beat the city traffic, and best of all Le Frenchman can chauffeur me there. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from chronic back pain. The decline began in college when a Big Mama landed on my back on a rebound in a basketball game. After that I walked so crooked that my college roomies tilted the pictures in our apartment to make me feel better. I have tried every treatment that exists, except surgery, and have become resigned to the fact that, okay, my back hurts, but life goes on.

Take one spine; add two herniated lumbar disks, three compressed dorsal vertebrae, four whiplashes and five concussions, and what do you get? One heck of a backache! My bod has undergone a lifetime of trauma. Bad back is an understatement. Yet if you look at me, you’d never know, because I keep on keeping on.

Here is how I cope with a full-time job, cross Atlantic travel and a semi active life.

laying down in Central Park, 1980s

laying down in Central Park, 1980s

  1. Take mini breaks. I have a yoga mat in my office at school; I lay down and stretch in the middle of the day.
  2. Wear tennis shoes with orthopedic soles. If your feet are imbalanced, your spine will misalign. Heels are a big no-no !
  3. Use both sides of the body equally especially when lifting.
  4. Invest in a good recliner and firm mattress to sleep on and a great pillow.
  5. Alternate heat and cold. Sometimes only an anti inflammatory medicine can help the healing process begin as the muscles will become inflamed to protect the injured area.
  6. Find a good chiropractor!
  7. Try a combination of alternative medicine – physical therapy, massage, relaxation and meditation techniques.
  8. Maintain mobility by staying fit – sometimes it is too painful to sit, but usually I can walk without too much discomfort.
  9. If you have acute pain, limit riding in a car. If you do have to travel, stop, get out, and stretch every half hour.
  10. If it hurts to sit, stand, or walk–then crawl. My Swiss chiropractor recommends getting down on « quatre pattes » as the crawling movement is natural before we became upright, back breaking bipeds.
  11. Swim – there is no pressure on the joints and the water soothes the soul.
  12. Find a good partner even if it means going halfway across the world.

    ... and above Mürren, Switzerland, 2012

    … and above Mürren, Switzerland, 2012

When I get discouraged from the pain, I try to focus on someone else’s troubles. There is always a student, a colleague or a friend that is facing challenges far greater than a bad back. Anyway, I won’t be upright forever in my next life, I’ll be a fish.

Posted in health, humor, travel.


  1. Ah, Sis, I can relate to the back woes, although I haven’t been plagued as many years as you have. Great reminders of how to ease the pain. I loved the photo from the 80’s- and wow! -you had some basketball quads!I believe I was the photographer for the Murren pic….that trip will remain a special memory for us. Thanks for sharing your positive outlook. As always,you manage to put life’s challenges into perspective.

  2. Oh man Patti. I can’t imagine. I’ve been having minor back pain for the last year and I thought that was awful. Your advice is good and I know that the only thing that’s going to eventually help me, is to get back to the gym and strengthen my core muscles. Just waiting for the doc’s okay. And Sue was right! Man are those a set of legs!

    • Delana is it your low back, mid back or neck that bothers you? Let me know and I can give you specific exercises for that part of the back. Unfortunately I lost the basketball quads along with my game! ha

  3. Thanks for the tips, Pat. I am joining the club –Quattre pattes en francais- “Vierfüßler” in German a position I’ve learned to appreciate a lot over the last months…
    Congratulations on the first place with you gutsy living story! Can’t wait to read your book!

    • Oh no Bette…I am so sorry to hear that you joined the “Vierfussler mannschaft!” What happened? Did you injure it somehow or has all the traveling caught up with you? Thanks for your support and vote. I’ll let you know when the book comes out!

  4. Oh my, Pat. Chronic back pain was definitely one of the top diagnoses for the patients I cared for in my Primary Care practice as a nurse practitioner. These are excellent tips and I must add, you balance the drama and comedy very well 🙂 Keep on keeping on, my friend.

  5. Thanks for the tips, and reminders. I’ve been telling myself I need to get back into yoga. I have scoliosis and, while I’ve been blessed to have been pain free for many years, pain seems to be a frequent companion.

    • Oh yes, Linda, yoga should help or any kind of gentle stretching. Be sure to take frequent breaks from writing. Sometimes I set an old kitchen timer to remind me to stop writing and move around. Thanks for stopping by. Glad we connected via GIP!

    • Thanks for the tips Kate. I will check into it although it may be difficult to find a practitioner here. So much of medicine is different here. Hope you are doing okay?

    • Oh yes, Carol, the “Swiss balls” are highly recommended here. When my son was at the local school, they took turns sitting at the table on an exercise ball to help develop good posture. Some of my colleagues at work sit on them at their desks. I use one for stretching exercises. I think it would be well worth it to give it a try. You can find specific exercise DVDs that show you how to strengthen different muscles. Developing those core muscles is the key. Glad we connected through GIP!

  6. I should stop whining and do as you say. It’s hard to overcome the idea that exercising, which hurts, is a good thing to do. It feels like it will create further injury. Too much time at the computer isn’t good, either.

    • Lee Isbell, try not thinking of it as exercise and add various movements to different parts of your day. Stretch shoulders out when you walk through doorways. Reach up and touch the top of doorways. Do a couple toe raises or steps ups on the stairs. And go on walks to formulate ideas that you are working on writing. Hope it helps!

  7. Pat,
    I had surgery 3 years ago. At first, I wouldn’t have ever have recommended it, but I have recently been able to get through a day without thinking about my back, even being back on my feet in the classroom. Weirdly, things got better after I started running (I figured it couldn’t hurt–I had tried everything else), but I also balance that with lots of core strengthening exercises. Of course, the long trips in the car to see Devon play basketball are over, so that may help this winter! Take care! Love to read your posts!

    • Wow Laura, this is amazing. What kind of surgery did you have and for which part of your back? Maybe I should look into it. Long car rides are a curse but bet you miss following Devon’s team, but now you can follow the teams she coaches! Thanks for your support!

  8. OMG sis~
    You hit a chord with your followers talking about “back pain”. Great advice and humor to get you thru the painful days know matter where you feel it. Keep taking of yourself to be able to inspire others! This summer you will be taking long walks with our 4 legged friend, Kizzie!

  9. A lot of us back pain suffers can learn a lot from you! Thanks for helping to keep us up to date and in alignment.


    • Clara- I hope you aren’t one of us back pain suffers too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you are because a nursing career can take a toll on the spine.

  10. Oh Pat, you are such a wise woman. Love the tips, and I also have to stretch every day even without your back injuries… every five years makes a difference to your body they say. A dancer’s body keeps lithe and strong only if it keeps moving. Each year I feel as though I lose a little something physically speaking, but you make me thankful for the relatively injury-free lifetime that I have had so far…. hugs to you dear Pat, miss ya xx

    • Oh Rach, I was so much more flexible when you were living here and I tried to mimic your dancer’s grace and flexibility. You are so right, though, move it or lose it especially when it comes to fitness.

  11. These are the root causes, if people pay heed then most of them would be free of any pain especially back pain. The back pain is often the result of wrong postures while standing, sitting on the chair and sleeping.

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