Back pain is the worst pain in the world. I’m really confident that childbirth can’t be worse. When my back has been at its worst in the past, I haven’t been able to move for days at a time without being reduced to tears of agony – it’s utterly debilitating. And as carrying the weight of a baby around is not exactly the best thing for bad backs, I was really determined to improve my situation before getting pregnant. As a result, I’m pretty much an encyclopedia of ways to improve a lifelong back problem.
First of all, it’s important that you ignore everything I’m about to say until you’ve been to a doctor. I’ve always suffered from back pain in a particular area on the left side of of my lower back, but I don’t have anything skeletal causing it, like curvature of the spine. It’s just muscular, and is probably caused by an old injury or trauma that I don’t even remember. Yours might be something more serious, so if you haven’t been to the doctor, go right now.
That’s how I started too – the first time my back got really bad, I was referred by the doctor to a physiotherapist. Their treatment made absolutely no difference at all, and nor did the treatment of a very expensive sports massage specialist that I saw afterwards a few times. However, the one wondrous things that the physio did do for me was to recommend that I try pilates.
I’ve already written about pilates and how wonderful it is, and how it will help when I’m actually pregnant. But it really has changed my life, firstly in the sense that my back and core muscles are much stronger which should make me less likely to get injured, but more importantly because it gives me a set of exercises to follow which really help to loosen my back when it’s bad.
I had a perfect test for this on holiday in Canada last winter – I had a bad fall skiing, and, aside from brusing my coccyx, I also jarred my back badly. At first I could barely stand up, but after doing lots of pilates that evening and the following day, I recovered really quickly. It was just tiny movements – that was all I could do – but they kept the muscles from seizing up, and gradually I could increase them until I got back to normal movement.
It’s really important, though, to find a good pilates teacher. Mine (www.pilates4life.co.uk) follows the Menezes method, which is based on a really solid understanding of anatomy and physiology. This is really important if you have an injury as otherwise you can hurt yourself more. Plus some pilates is just like a relaxation class – that can be valuable, but for me it’s not a good use of my time.
The second best thing I did was visit a chiropractor (www.ruislipchiropractor.co.uk). I’m really not a fan of some things that chiropractors do – it can be a bit New Age. But I can’t deny that mine has made a decisive difference to my back. His treatment has been based on the fact that my pelvis tends to slip out of alignment – and that’s something I can see with my own eyes, because when my back hurts my waist isn’t level (ie. the bit that curves in is at a different height on each side). He fixed this by cracking something in my back, and since then the standard everyday stiffness has hugely decreased and I haven’t had a serious episode of back pain (touch wood). I visit him every couple of months to maintain my good alignment.
My chiropractor also prescribed me custom insoles called orthotics which I wear in my shoes – I love wearing these, and find them immensely comfortable. I have fallen arches and a condition in my hips which makes my feet turn inwards, so my walking posture has been hugely improved by the insoles. This is a long term investment – I paid £200, but the insoles are guaranteed for life.
So, my pilates teacher and my chiropractor have been the biggest miracle workers in fixing my back, along with one very good physiotherapist (an NHS one, ironically, rather than any of the expensive private ones I saw initially !) who taught me some stretches to try and lengthen my hamstrings. I try to do them often, and it defiintely helps – tight hamstrings are one of the main causes of back pain, and sitting at a desk all day as I do really shortens them.
Aside from that, I’ve made lifestyle changes like not doing any activity crouched over the floor, like playing board games or wrapping presents. I got a new chair at work, and I try to stand up very often instead of sitting down for long periods. I wouldn’t say that I’m completely pain free, but at my best I’m 90% instead of 70%, and the bad times are few and far between.
It’s been a multi-pronged attack, and I think I’ve won! It’s one most important ways in which I’ve got ready for having a baby, and I’m proud of the changes I’ve made to feel better, healthier and more mobile, and consequently happier!