Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tried and tested cure for back pain

The past few days, my back has been aching. It's no mystery why - my back aches when I'm under a lot of stress and the past two weeks have been unusually stressful for me, for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, I always know what to do when my back aches, thanks to the book Back RX by Dr Vijay Vad.

Just some background - I first encountered back pain about five years ago - I was in the gym at my condominium estate and was trying out some machines without guidance (this is a lesson - never try out gym machines on your own especially if you don't know the right techniques!) Obviously I did something wrong as I felt a sudden jolt of pain in my lower back. It was crippling, I could hardly stand up and I made it home (barely) by hobbling. Kenneth brought me to the GP and I survived on painkillers for the next few days.

Let me try to explain what happened: basically, our spinal discs are encased in this jelly-like substance fluid. When we overstrain our back, either via strenuous activity or consistent bad posture over the long-term, sometimes the jelly part protrudes out of the disc. When it makes contact with a nerve, pain occurs. The good part was that it's not as serious as the pain suggests. The bad part is... the PAIN. It is excruciating. For those who've never had lower back pain, I sincerely wish you will never encounter it. It completely delibitates you - you experience blinding pain when you sit, stand, walk, get out of bed, go to the loo, sneeze, cough... that's right, practically everything.

That was the first episode. Eventually, after lots of rest (and tears), the pain slowly subsided after a few months. Then two years ago, I had another attack. This time, it wasn't the gym, it just came on suddenly. One day, I just felt stiff in my back, then as the day went on, it got progressively worse. I went to bed and the next day, I couldn't get up. This time, the recovery was even slower. I went to see a specialist at Changi General Hospital, I went for physiotherapy. They told me the same thing - 80% of lower back pain is brought on by years of bad posture. Just because it came on maybe when you were at the gym or you were lifting something heavy, that was not the real cause of the back pain - it's just the straw that broke the camel's (or rather, your) back.

That's why I decided to write this post. Lower back pain is extremely common. Every other adult I've met has experienced back pain at some point. Parents of young children are especially vulnerable because they are always hauling their heavy toddlers around. And if you're reading my blog, chances are you are a fellow IA (Internet Addict), meaning you spend hours at a time hunched over your computer. (You know you do!!)

My recovery after the second episode was frustratingly slow. Physiotherapy only took away the pain temporarily but once I stopped, the pain returned. So I read up on the subject, trying to find an effective cure. I came across Back RX at the library. It's written by Dr Vijay Vad, a doctor who specialises in treating professional athletes and a yoga practitioner. The book gives a good overview of back pain and what to do once it occurs. It then gives three series of exercises in increasing difficulty, designed to restore long-term flexibility and heal the back.

Well, I had nothing to lose, so I tried them out. I am not exaggerating when I say this book is a life-saver for me. I had gone on pain killers, muscle relaxants, physiotheraphy and nothing worked like the exercises in this book. One set takes just 15 minutes - I religiously did them everyday. After I complete a set, my back immediately feels less stiff. Later in the day, it would stiffen up again, upon which I would repeat the exercises. Within two months of starting the exercises, the pain was completely gone. Soon after, I could even go for step aerobics and kick-boxing classes - high impact sports that back pain sufferers would usually never dream of doing - without experiencing pain. I've not had another attack since (and please God, make that never!)

I have since recommended the book to any back pain sufferer I meet (even the Singtel guy who came to repair my MIO box!!) I often encounter skepticism, it's like people only believe you if you tell them you spent thousands of dollars on a chiropracter or on physiotherapy. Even Kenneth was half-hearted when he had backaches and I told him to try the book. He was sold after the exercises completely eradicated the aches. A friend of mine had suffered back pain almost throughout her adulthood. After she tried out the exercises, she became pain-free even during her pregnancy. But there is a caveat: you have to do the exercises judiciously (especially in the beginning) and at the pace the book recommends, in order to see results.

The exercises look deceptively simple. Many of them are stretches you would have done previously in school or during exercise classes. The difference is that these are ordered in such a way to heal the back and they're done in ultra slow speed (most of them ask you to hold the stretch for 10 slow breaths). These exercises are adapted from yoga and pilates, but they are NOT entirely yoga and pilates moves. If you have back pain, please don't go for yoga and pilates classes just yet because the turns and twists can actually hurt your back further, not heal it.

After a while, I realised that from doing the exercises repeatedly, I found which ones worked best for me so I focused on those. Once your back is more or less healed, you can choose a few to keep doing, to keep the pain from returning and when you have slight backaches. (Yes, the aches can still occasionally return. You're still going to slouch over your computer, right?) Even more important, I became so in tune with my back that whenever I get an ache, I usually know which exercise to do to make it go away.

For me, these two exercises are the most effective. If you do the exercises right, you will feel your lower back aching but in a good way, like the muscle is being stretched.

Please do note I'm just sharing which exercises work for me. Depending on the specific area and reason for your back pain, different stretches will work for you.

The specialist at CGH advised that the best long-term solution to back pain is strengthening via exercise or sports. The problem is that when you're having back pain, you are just not capable of doing sports. So this book is a terrific way to eliminate your back pain so that you can go on to do the physical activity that helps your body (and your back) stay in shape.


Windy said...

ooooooohhhh orrrrrighttttt... i will go get the bookkkk... couldn't sleep last night. needless to say why lor.... ouch.

Alcovelet said...

Hi Monica, really so good? I better get. I have a problem with my sciatica - it's the nerve that gets pinned when you sit down too much, like on long flights. It's terrible - just kills your entire leg. I remember having to drag my left leg around Taiwan like it was a dead horse that was attached to me!! The physio cured me twice, I have to say, and it was terrific in that it only took 2 or 3 visits each time. Still, I'd like to prevent it cos it's just so much pain.

monlim said...

Windy: Great to see you here!! Get the book, it's great. I'm not sure if they stock it at the bookstores, if not you can try the library, I know they have quite a number of copies.

Ad: I have sciatica too! Mine was the right leg - after too long in one position, it would go numb, exactly like a dead horse you describe! Once it hits, I'm almost immobile, it's so delibitating.

Lilian said...

Eddie had back pain when we were in London, we now think it was because of the swivel chair in the house then. He's okay now.

I don't have back pain, but more like shoulder ache, will this help?

monlim said...

Lilian: The book is more for back pain although it does address the impact of the modern lifestyle on our aches and pains, and gives a holistic view towards staying pain-free. I think shoulder aches, like most body aches, can also be attributed to things like bad posture and stress.

Alcovelet said...

Whoa, the amount of suffering you've unleashed on your blog, hehe!!

monlim said...

Ad: I hope you don't mean I'm the cause of the suffering!! But nebber mind, at least I give the solution, right??

breve1970 said...

Thanks for sharing, Monica. KC has a very bad lower bad pain that he needs to consult a Chiropractor at least once a week whenever he is in town.

As for me, I have a perpetual shoulder ache that never seems to go away but really never bothered about it which is BAD.

Will go get the book:).

bACk in GERMANY said...

I got two problem areas. One @ C5 & C6, and another @ the last lumbar and septum. Disc protrusions! Can I apply for a handicap label?

And yes... the prolonged at the desk in front of laptop for my c5&6 is a huge pain... my shoulder pain is always there... pain level at 7, i feel. I have forgotten how life was without pain.
The orthopedist thinks it's the series of "minor" accidents I have had that have led to this problem.

monlim said...

Ann: I'm convinced a lot of back pain is aggravated by stress - I notive my back only acts up when I'm stressed. The book says this too, so the breathing techniques are great.

Cindy: Wah, you have my sympathies! I don't know how you can tahan the constant pain, I'm such a baby, I will moan and cry. Do try out the exercises, even if it does reduce the pain level a little, I'm sure that's welcome.

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