Who’s had the worst lower back pain ever? For many people the answer to this one is going to be “me”! At its worst, lower back pain can be completely disabling, all-encompassing, cause huge anxiety and lead to depression. Because lower back pain is so physically disabling, it limits your ability to get around; at least with a very sore arm you can carry it around and see the world and – to some extent – continue to see the people and do the things you’d normally do.
Lower back pain isolates you doesn’t it? You’re less able to “get on with life” and may even be house-bound, or even bed-bound, seeing no-one from one day to the next. The link between chronic (long lasting) pain and depression and anxiety is well-established in the scientific research. But you may be wary of being labelled “depressed”, because you’re worried the doctor (and everyone else) thinks it’s really depression and not your back pain that’s keeping you captive at home.
Why do we think that ours must be the worst lower back pain ever? Perhaps it’s to justify our response to it? If someone else with lower back pain has managed to get out of the house and gone to work, then his/her pain can’t possibly have been as bad as yours. People claim to have a ‘high pain threshold’ as though it’s a badge of honour; “If I can’t even get to the breakfast table because my back’s so sore, does that mean I have a ‘low pain threshold’? And does that in some way make me a bit of a wimp? I’m not a wimp, so my pain must be worse than his”! So goes my reasoning.
I’ve had times when I couldn’t turn over in bed, but I couldn’t bear to lie still either because the pain gradually built up to screaming level. I remember it as totally dominating my existence; dealing with the pain was a full-time (60 seconds a minute) occupation. Work from home? I couldn’t think of anything other than the pain (bit difficult for an osteopath anyway); necessities like going to the bathroom seemed impossibilities and were certainly nightmarish experiences. So, mine must have been the worst lower back pain ever, right? Well, with the benefit of hindsight (it got better) and perspective (I’ve met many many sufferers), I don’t think mine was so bad.
My Mum used to say “Comparisons are odious”. When it comes to lower back pain (or any suffering), I think she’s spot-on. And yet it’s human nature to compare too, isn’t it? We do it all the time; he’s got a bigger house / better car / smaller waist line / fewer friends than me. And yet perspective can be useful; if I’d known how bad others have it I might have realised I wasn’t in such a bad place (my worst lower back pain was only at its peak for 2 days). Websites like patientslikeme.com enable sufferers to gain support from one another, and believe me – there’s always someone worse off than you, which personally I find encourages me to pick myself up and “deal with it”.
But remember, each of us is unique; our physical make-up and life experience dictate how we will experience pain. Because pain is immensely complicated; it’s not just ‘push a button in your body and the pain bell rings in your head’. Being battered to the ground on a rugby field is nothing compared to being battered to the ground in Sainsbury’s car park. And being tattooed against your will is agony compared with going to the tattooist voluntarily. Pain is complex! So, do you have the worst lower back pain ever? Maybe, but one day you won’t.
If you know someone who’s struggling with lower back pain or sciatica, ask them to give me a ring or drop me an email – I’d love to help.
To allow you to compare with others I’m going to publish a series of video interviews with lower back pain sufferers – the first one will be published very soon. We’ll also be giving you access to our “backscoring” tool which enables comparison with others, but more importantly, enables you to track your own lower back pain/sciatica over time so that you can chart your progress – in this way I hope it’ll keep you engaged with your exercises, postural change, treatment etc.