Ten Tips for Survival When Sidelined by Back Pain

DSC00183I am back. I missed my friends out in the global blogosphere. When I logged out before the holidays, I did not intend to be away so long, but s*** happens.

Especially when you have a bad back. I am only a sneeze away from a catastrophe. Some people who have never suffered from back pain, poo poo the idea that back pain can be so incapacitating, but once it happens to you, you know.

Was it one too many cross Atlantic flights, too many basketball road trips, too many holiday cookies, who knows? But due to a major flare up, I was out of commission. I struggled to endure my school day. Every free minute I wasn’t preparing lesson plans or school reports, I spent lying flat or in therapy – deep tissue massage, spinal adjustments, thermal baths.

Stretch, walk, teach, rest, repeat.

Take one crooked old spine and an arthritic neck, add two herniated lumbar disks, three compressed dorsal vertebrae, and what do you get? One heck of a backache! My body has undergone a lifetime of trauma. Bad back is an understatement. Yet if you look at me, except for the basketball player slouch, from ducking through too many low French doorways, you’d never know, how I struggle to remain upright and shuffling forward. For any of you who suffer from chronic back pain or an occasional flare up, I put together a few tried and true tips.

  1. Never jump out of bed – flop on the floor first and roll like a ball
  1. Stretch – at regular intervals. Legs against wall, arms stretched overhead in L shape for a full body stretch.
  1. Exercise – walk, swim, bike but avoid high impact sports.
  1. Avoid sitting
  1. Limit computer time – strains your neck, shoulders, and wristsDSC00182_copy
  1. Take rest breaks flat out – stash a yoga matt under the couch, in the kitchen, at the office
  1. When it hurts too much to stand upright, crawl (preferably on carpet,) to loosen the SI joint and hips
  1. Use heating pads, thermal baths, body pillows, heat lamps, cold packs
  1. Do whatever you can to keep mobile
  1. Then ice baby ice!

A lifetime of hard hits, accidents, and high intensity competitive sports has left me fragile, but I am not broken. As long as this ol’ heart keeps ticking, I will fight to put one foot in front of other. I have tried every alternate therapy out there to avoid undergoing the knife.

Why not opt for surgery? I have too many weak links. Do you know anyone moving around with a total spinal fusion?

Nooo, give me my chiropractors, masseurs, physical therapists. From all my research and experience this is one area where integrative medicine and non-surgical intervention have the best long-term results.DSC00178_copy

That said I am always looking for the newest, non-invasive cure all. Next summer, if I can save enough money, I may head back to Wisconsin to my all time favorite chiropractor to try deep tissue, heat laser therapy. He and his brother use this to treat elite athletes including those giant cheese heads in the green and yellow jerseys. Hey, if it is good enough for the Greenbay Packers, it may work for this crazy, headstrong gal who got sacked one too many times in the game of life.

What is your best trick for coping with a bad back?

Posted in education, family, health, social view, sport.


  1. Oh , Pat, I have missed you! It is wonderful to see you back. Saturday mornings just haven’t been the same without your witty, engaging stories. I am so sorry about all your back problems. I know your fighting spirit ..”as long as this ol’ heart keeps ticking..put one foot in front of the other”..will get you through. You continue to be an inspiration. Your tips are spot on. Though I do not suffer from back pain , I know many people do and they will benefit from your wise and practical advice. Welcome back and keep getting better, my friend.

    • Thanks Kathy. I have especially missed you too. Writers understand intuitively the comforting value of the sharing the right word, at the right time to help carry someone across those rough waters. You, my friend, have done this for me time and again. Thank you for always being there. I am sending you extra special cyber hugs and inspiring thoughts as you embrace this next challenging chapter of your own life.

  2. Everything Kathy said and also, what a relief to hear the positive notes in your voice. You’re an inspiration. I’ve been reading Presence by Amy Cuddy, and she makes the case that good posture increases the brain chemicals leading to a feeling of wellbeing and confidence. She has a chapter with the subhead, “Sit up straight. (signed) Your Grandmother.” Thanks for the reminder, and very very best wishes Sis.

    • Thanks Lynne. Most days, I don’t feel too inspirational, but what helps is trying not to focus on self and my own pain but reaching out to others and embracing their suffering. Sounds like Cuddy is spot on. I have no doubt that posture and breathing increase the positive brain chemicals, so I will keep reaching and stretching and thinking of you as we go forward, sitting up straight and taking life head on with shoulders back and chin up.

  3. Here’s an 11th tip: But the best mattress you can afford! If you can’t afford a $2,000 luxury brand, buy the firmest mattress within your budget with a 2″ Memory Foam Firm Topper (available on Amazon). You’ll get the same support and comfort at a fraction of the price.

    • Oh yes, Stacia. Great tip. I should have mentioned that. A good bed is worth every penny and memory foam toppers really help too. I also have 1 expensive reclining chair that the hubby and I often fight over. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. My best way of coping is deep tissue massage. Using the “handicapped” bathroom stalls – sometimes-helps, too. And, I was fortunate enough to have management at work (many of them with back issues) that bought us desks that can move up and down. They are blessings, especially when my sciatica flares up. You are so right – you don’t know until you’ve been there. I was one of the poo-pooer’s. My undiagnosed scoliosis and years of sedentary jobs finally caught up with me about seven years ago.

    • Alana, I agree. The deep tissue massage really helps. I feel self indulgent but have found that it is worth every cent and it is a necessary part of my survival. Don’t you wish you knew what set off those sciatica flares so you could avoid them? Like I tell everyone, when that back pain raises its ugly head, don’t beat yourself up trying to figure out what you did wrong, just concentrate of regaining mobility.

  5. Thanks for the tips, Pat. I don’t tend to suffer from back pain, but my husband does (an old injury from a bad motorcycle years ago). And welcome back to the blogosphere!

    • Oh yes, Valerie, those all accidents can wreak havoc on the back. I still suffer from my bicycle and car accident that happened over 3 decades ago. Be sure to pass on these tips to your hubby. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. You are so strong and resilient with all that your body puts you through! Make my lil Osteoporosis of the spine tame in comparison. I usually do the alternate heat/cool hydrotherapy to loosen and tame the inflammation. And of course, I’m forced to take meds during those times when the stiff joints laugh in my face:)
    Thanks for these evergreen tips, Pat. You are a pro, anyway you look at it!

    • Oh Clara, osteoporosis of the spine is no picnic either. Do you find that working on a computer? It does for me, but the pain of not writing is worse, so I have to learn to pace myself better. I also take meds, vitamina, and herbal supplements, but that is whole another blog. Now on my worst days I will think of what you told me and rise to my new calling as the pain pro. ha

  7. When I was 21, like an idiot, I drug a sofa up three flights of stairs. L5 and S1 haven’t been the same since, and like you, the least little thing is prone to blow it out, again. I exercise and stretch, but the thing that’s helped me keep a healthy back is laying flat on my back, knees bent, feet on the floor with a 8-10″ ball between my knees. Squeeze hard for a count of 10. Repeat 10 times. Brenda Coffee

    • Thanks for the tip. I sure appreciate you taking time to share. L4, L5 and S1 are my weak links too. Low back pain is so common, we really should consider ways to live all on fours again. I will definitely be adding the ball squeezing to my list of daily exercises.

    • Oh Carol so sorry to hear about your back troubles. Is it with your low back, mid back or neck? It can be so unbelievably frustrating and discouraging and yes, patience is a virtue. Do you find working at the computer makes it worse? If so I have some tips for you. Hope you are on the mend and back to your regular routine.

  8. Pat, it’s soo good to see you back here — I’ve missed our connection! That said, I understand about the back problems (maybe one of these days, I’ll blog about mine, but not right now). Ever since my fall on the uneven sidewalk, I’ve had one thing after another. The latest was sciatica (excruciating!). Since I don’t do well on meds, I opted for a chiropractor and religious exercise — and it seems to be working. I know mine could go out at any time, though, so I’m super-cautious. Hamstring stretches and working with an enormous exercise ball have done wonders for me. As has icing. My big question — how is one supposed to write a novel when one can’t sit for long stretches at a time??! Take care, my friend, and thanks for your tips!

    • Oh Debbie, so sorry to hear this. It all sounds so, so familiar. One of the biggest things to cope with is knowing it could happen again at any time. It makes one anxious about too much travel, too much sitting, too much writing, too much work, too much anything. Balance is the key, but we all know how life’s demands don’t always wait for our pain to subside. For me, working on the computer creates pain, but to stop writing is even more painful. After my car accident in the early 80s, I taught myself to type with the ol’ type writer on the floor and my arms dangling over the end of the couch. I also type while sitting in a reclining chair. When I am at school, I try to remember not to sit too long. I hop up and walk around a lot. I found walking helps, so you can thank dear Dallas for taking you out daily.

  9. Pat. Look at Kansas Regenerative Medicine Center in Manhattan, Kansas. John and Pat Farley are 2/3 owners. It is worth a look.

  10. So very sorry to hear about this, Pat. As a fellow bad back sufferer (not nearly as bad as yours, however) I can totally empathize with the agony. These tips will help me as I search for relief myself! Best to you and your recovery, Pat.

    • Thanks Helene. I forgot to mention that a good bed and a great recliner helps too. Keep a watchful eye out also for those cute dogs that can get underfoot and trip you up. ha

  11. Poor Pat… your body has taken a beating… 🙁 Healing hugs are coming your way xx I HAVE to do gentle stretches (sometimes just ‘bed yoga’ if busy – gentle stretches in bed first thing in the morning) every day as an ex-dancer. My body tightens up when I sit at a computer too long and my shoulders become painful very quickly too after suffering tendinitis in them for two plus years (wear and tear injuries). However, like you, I manage things by keeping moving and being aware of the need to be kind to my body and listen to its aches and pains. Having turned 50 last year, I treat my body with a completely different attitude now than when you and I taught together back in the 1990s 🙂 My favourite back stretch is ‘cat’ and my favourite ever shoulder stretch is ‘eagle’ (I do this sitting at my office desk regularly). Add these in to your yoga repertoire if they are not there already xxx

    • Thanks for your healing hugs. Sure glad you taught me yoga back in the old days. I do that “bed yoga” gentle stretch everyday before I can even move. Cat stretch is also a fav and I will add the eagle. Thanks for all your insights. Makes me feel better knowing that even a flexible, yoga master, ballerina like yourself has work a tad to stay limber.

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