Dear son, how to treat back pain

In the month of his birth, another “letter to Louis” (my baby son); this time to advise him what to do if his back does become sore…

Dear Louis

Dont panic!  Getting back pain is normal.   Your Dad and your Mum have had sore backs; so have both your Grandmas and Grandpas.  So, the first piece of advice is…

Don’t worry about it

It’s just part of being human.  80% of adults get a sore back at some stage, so I think that could be considered normal.  But, if you worry about your back and try not to move it incase it hurts, guess what?  It’s more likely to hurt.  The people most likely to be disabled by back pain (you might overhear some wrinkly people saying “I’m just nae able”), are the people who take to their beds or take pills and hope that it’s going to get better.  Hoping might make you feel a bit better about the future, but “planning and doing” gets better results (in all areas of life).  If you find you’re worrying about other things as well as your back, try some mindfulness meditation or talk to someone who can help you look at things in a different way so that you are less likely to feel pain (adults call this “cognitive behavioural therapy”).  Even people with terrible pain can live a fairly active life when they accept that pain is part of their lives; Mummy and I will help as much as we can to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you.

Don’t focus on the “last straw”

Whatever pushed you over the edge and into back pain probably isn’t the only cause (unless you were knocked off your bike – try not to let this happend as Mummy gets upset enough at the thought of me getting knocked off my bike…).  Mostly, when people have a sudden onset of back pain, the trigger isn’t the real cause – it’s just the “last straw”.  You’ll here this phrase quite a lot – usually in relation to leaving too many clothes lying around your room, or generally not doing what you know you’re meant to do; take it from your Dad – I should know.  (If you want to know more about this saying Louis, check out the straw that broke the camel’s back on wikipaedia.)

Find out what all the other straws are

There are quite a lot of risk factors that can come together to cause back pain.  These “early straws” are the ones you want to concentrate on.  Here’s a list of proven early straws (all that time Daddy spends reading in the evenings and at weekends helps him to know this stuff, so listen up!)

  • Staying in one position for a long time
  • Doing heavy lifting/bending work
  • Doing a lot of repetitive movements
  • Worrying about stuff
  • Not being happy at school (work when you’re older)
  • Being really overweight
  • Smoking (let’s just not go there please?)
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Being unfit

So, if you avoid as many of these as you can, you\’re less likely to experience the “last straw”.  If you’d like me to talk more about any of these, just let me know.

Be aware of past “last straws”

If putting your socks away in your bottom drawer has been the last straw before, be aware of how you do this.  Don’t avoid doing it, but find a way that’s less likely to trigger an episode.  Last straws can be quite stressful to confront, but it’s better you find a way to do these things, otherwise there’s a risk that you become more fearful, more guarded in your movements, and therefore actually more likely to have a spasm.

Don’t let other people freak you out

Remember, back pain is normal, so don’t let someone in a white coat (doctor, physio, chiropractor, osteopath or anyone else) tell you that your back is a mess, and you’re doomed to months/years of suffering unless you pay him/her a large sum of money.  This kind of advice will make you worry more, feel more pain and be poorer.  A good clinician will explain what’s wrong and how to help yourself, as well as speeding up your recovery rate.  If you’re not getting good advice on how to get better and stay better, then stop wasting your time/money!

Don’t rely on drugs and surgery alone

(I’m just talking about medical drugs here.)  Taking pills may help to dull your pain, and if that helps you to sleep initially then that can be useful.  But pills don’t help with the “early straws” I mentioned earlier.  Surgery can be useful (even essential), but what you do as well as surgery is equally important.

Get active

This is one of the most important things you can do to get over back pain, and decrease the risk of it happening again.  However, not all activities are equal.  Start with the ones that hurt the least, and as everything becomes easier, move to harder activities.  Your body responds to the stresses you place on it.  If you want a strong back you have to make it work hard (in a controlled way) – I can give you exercises for this.

Learn from pain

What life lessons can you learn from your back pain experience?  What are you doing too much of, or too little of?  Pain is there to warn you that something isn’t right – what is it telling you?  For some people they take pain to be a signal that it’s time to have more pills – this is not what your Mum and I want for you.  Learn early and learn fast.

Finally, call Dad

If all else fails, give me a ring.  I’ll always be here for you, and having just finished my MSc in The Clinical Management of Pain (with a focus on back pain), I like to think I know a thing or two about pain 😉

0131 221 1415

Love you forever

Your Dad





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