The moral of the story is: don’t ignore your body’s signals.
I’ve had chronic lower back pain for about 12 years now. When I was 17, I totaled my first car (RIP, my beloved little Neon). No one else was hurt, but my back was seizing up, badly. At the ER they gave me an X-ray, found nothing, gave me a strong NSAID and called it a day.
(To reassure my friends who ride in my car, that’s the only accident I’ve ever been involved in. I haven’t even had so much as a ticket since. I’m annoyingly cautious now.)
I worked at Chick-fil-A at the time and noticed my lower back would start hurting when lifting or bending more. But the doctors had found nothing wrong, so I chalked it up to a combination of bad form and sitting a lot outside of my job. I knew the pain was sciatica, but everyone I talked to seemed to think sciatica was, well, just sciatica. Just a pinched nerve. I told my doctor at the time and he said it was normal for a desk job and didn’t look into it.
It’s been like that ever since. I’d have mild back pain, sometimes no pain, sometimes big flare ups. The flare ups tended to come when I’d spend long periods sitting, or try to do certain workout moves (deadlifts are my enemies).
I noticed more of an uptick in pain the last 2-3 years, which coincides with me running more often. Going forward I’m going to try and continue my run/walk intervals, but only so long as I’m not pushing too hard.
Then, two Mondays ago, I tried deadlifts again. I focused on form and used a whopping two 5lb dumbbells. My back hurt afterward. And continued to do so for almost a week.
Sunday rolled around and something was WRONG. I don’t know what I did wrong to upgrade the pain scale, but it was bad. I went to Senses Spa at the Grand Floridian with Mom for a mani/pedi date, which was lovely (though my back could’ve used a massage, ha!). When we were walking from the spa to the Grand Floridian Café, I had to stop walking abruptly. I haltingly told Mom that I couldn’t walk – the pain was so bad down both my legs, and my back muscles were spasming. After that passed I could slowly walk, but it was beyond strange.
Monday at work I had to leave – the pain was so bad a couple hours in that I was in tears at my desk. Sitting was awful, and walking was a bizarre limp. I spent the day on the couch with a heating pad and cooling pad. Tuesday I managed through the whole day, but it was painful.
I think Wednesday was the worst because I was sitting at work all day Tuesday. I couldn’t stand up straight, my spine was tilting me toward the right. I could barely walk, and my friend & coworker Marlowe walked with me to the restroom and again I had to stop when I realized I couldn’t walk again.
I didn’t want to take another day off work (I don’t have PTO), so I was determined to make it through the day. A bit later though, as I was walking solo to the restroom, my legs froze up again. I remember realizing that a) I couldn’t walk and b) I was about to fall over, and I knew that would be incredibly painful on my back. I lurched forward to a seat in the hallway and fell onto it, and my back couldn’t hold my upper body up so I was slumped awkwardly backward against the wall.
(At this point a random coworker walked by and looked at me Very Confused. I’m still mortified.)
At that point, I was DONE. Any coworker of mine knows I tend to be an idiot and stay longer than I need to or come in when I don’t feel well because I have a huge insecurity of feeling like I’m letting down the team if I don’t. But I had now, three times, not been able to walk and now couldn’t even stand. I called Geoff who works at the same place, and asked him to come down and help me. He had to support me as I shuffled to my coworkers, crying (SO MORTIFYING) in pain to explain the situation, and shuffled away home.
That night I was convinced to go to the urgent care, and I am SO GLAD I did. I went over my backstory with the doctor and she was fuming that they only did an X-ray, since MRIs are more needed for disc injuries, and that my old doctor had dismissed my sciatic pain as just normal. She poked around a bit (the UC didn’t have an MRI machine), asked questions, and figured out a plan. I got a steroid shot and a regimen of steroid/anti inflammatory/pain relief/muscle relaxer pills. If the pain is still there after said regimen, I need to get an MRI ASAP. If not, she still wants me to get an MRI but more at my convenience, and in the meantime I have to be very careful of what exercises I do, etc. She’s thinking that I potentially have a bulging disc, possibly even from my car accident, and that it’s having a particularly bad flare up or has herniated. The MRI will hopefully see if either are the case, and if more treatments (shots or, only as a last resort, surgery). I also gave the poor receptionist a scare, because as I went to sign out, my back spasmed and my legs gave out again and I had to hold onto the counter to remain standing. I went so white the poor woman thought I was about to pass out, and Geoff had to loop his arms under my underarms to hold all my body weight before I could start moving. (Can we give him an award for awesome husband?)
So yeah. My poor discs! This is all her theory of course, and the MRI will show more. But I wanted to give the cautionary tale since I know a lot of people just accept back pain as normal – I had no idea what all could be involved with what I thought was “just” back pain. I’m slowly easing into yoga tomorrow (being careful with my poses etc). The following week if I feel up to it I may add in some weights (no moves that strain the lower back), and maybe elliptical since it won’t be compressing my spine. I’m HOPING to be able to at least walk the Princess 10k at Disney in a couple weeks, but we’ll see how my back is. I’ve learned that I need to prioritize my back – I never want that feeling of “I can’t walk” again!
So don’t be silly like me. If your back hurts, get it checked out before you fall over at work. And at the Urgent Care. And almost at Disney. 😀 Now that the craziness is (hopefully) over I’ll be back to updating more regularly!