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Back pain – when panic sets in

On Tuesday, I got up in the dark, pulled on my warmest togs and went out for a walk in the forest before sunrise. Enjoyed a little Yoga down by the lake as normal and watched the New Forest ponies nuzzling gorse, their warm breath misting the frosted chill. All was well…

An hour or so later, out of the blue, my back “went” – literally. I couldn’t stand up, sit down, bend over or move in any way without a sharp pinching pain right in the middle of my low back… My spine had become ME and I felt like a twig that would snap in half with one false move.

It’s not surprising how quickly the panic wanted to set in. Fortunately, I’ve got a lot of know-how and tools to hand.

Knowledge alone is empowering – when we don’t have a strategy for coping with a crisis, it is perfectly normal for us to spiral into panic.

Here’s what I did (physician, heal thyself!):

  • STOOD STILL – not difficult because I couldn’t move anywhere, any way but also not easy because the pain caught me in a half-bend/twist kinda shape!
  • HAD A CHAT WITH MYSELF – it went along the lines of… “Huh, why now, why today, what did I do, what thoughts did I have? Curiosity is an emotion that, like kindness and care, is associated with that part of our brain that counters stress responses like panic… So far so good…
  • TOOK FIVE WITH THE BUTTAFLY – I was as apprehensive as anyone trying this out. Every individual, every episode of back pain is unique and as an experienced physiotherapist I cannot all in honesty declare that any ONE healing modality will fit all… Having said that, MANY of my customers have told me it works for them so here was my chance to try it out. Gingerly, I moved onto the floor, just managing to lift my hips high enough to place the Buttafly under my pelvis….So far so good…
  • BREATHED – Once settled in position I brought my attention to the breath and began to breathe consciously, slow inhale, slow exhale, counting along the way to equalise their length. Five minutes in… So far so good…
  • EXPLORED PAINFREE MOVEMENT – In an acute episode like this, any movement that is pain free is therapeutic. Even moving the arms, good yes, I can slide them along the floor like making angels in the sand safely and without pain. Breathe. OK… Now the toes, yes a wiggle is fine. You get the picture. So far so good…

Ten minutes or so later, I removed the Buttafly and laid flat. Hmmm. Slightly easier to move, certainly no worse. Rolled over onto my side and got up like an old woman, heavily pregnant woman or good Yogi – take your pick! Stood up all the while reminding myself to breathe. OK, all in all a bit better…

Three days later, I’m relatively pain free and been out walking – yesterday even managed to stomp my feet on the forest floor without pain. I’m a bit sore sitting at my desk today but panic over… I will work another day!

Human beings tend to react to pain with aversion – that’s how we are wired up – we don’t like pain or even discomfort and we spend much of our time trying to rid ourselves of it. To this end we often adopt unconscious strategies  such as:

  • We might catastrophise – “Oh my goodness, I will never be able to walk/work/run again!”
  • We might go on the attack, looking for something or someone to blame – “I knew I shouldn’t have done this/gone there yesterday!”
  • We might look for a quick fix to take the pain away NOW – painkillers, smoke, drink etc.

If you don’t have a Buttafly to use, get into any comfortable position, keep yourself warm, well-hydrated and use conscious breathing and exploratory movements as best you can.

Don’t panic, be well

TillyLou

 

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