Yesterday I had my bone scan. It was rather like having a CAT scan or an MRI, with added radioactive goodness. My back was good-and-sore at the time so I am hoping that, if I have a bone-related problem, it will show up (results next week). I am also aware that it might just be soft tissue stuff, or worse: that sort of phantom pain-for-pain’s-sake that has had 30 years to take on its own, horrible life but can’t be detected in the form of any real damage.
I am praying it’s not that. Partly because it is utterly, completely horrible to have something so life-consuming as chronic pain yet never get an actual diagnosis for it. And the world is full of people in exactly that nasty situation. Trust me, it’s life-sapping. The stigma of ‘it’s all in her/his head’ is pervasive and real, and even when professionals take it seriously, it is very hard to treat something that has no actual substance while it can still make your life a misery.
Also, it would be nice to have more treatment options to explore.
My painkillers, all new and shiny and apparently carefully controlled and all, are really only doing a small part of the job. I think they are taking the edge off – but only up to the point that my pain levels get too high, then I might as well be taking nothing. Unfortunately at the moment this happens most days – especially work days.
So I need to have to hand other tricks that are not medications, to manage my daily pain. I thought I’d introduce you to my very, very good friends.
Work is by far the worst thing for my back. This is in spite of having a sit-to-stand adjustable desk which I make the very most of, a desk and chair setup by a professional physiotherapist, moving around every 5-10 minutes, stretching, doing yoga moves, perching on my office Swiss ball, and lunchtime walks. Whatever this back pain is, it does not like me working at a computer. Not at all.
I find it hard to concentrate for any extended period of time, which makes work three times more difficult, and this in turn stresses me out, and then the nerve and muscle pain starts up. I love work, but it hurts far. too. much.
More on my work situation later.
In the meantime, here is my work pain care kit.
My little office buddies.
Along with the aforesaid adjustable desk, these three little devices are vital in my efforts to earn my wedge.
Any time I sit down, I always have my hot water bottle (note the very stylish knitted cosy) in the small of my back. Always. Heat can help to reduce the severity of the pain – or perhaps it just distracts me from it, not certain.
The thing that looks like a giant peanut is actually two tennis balls attached together with surgical tape. What I do is, find a section of blank wall *, lean my back against it, and position the peanut behind my back so there is a ball on either side of my spine in the thoracic region.
Then I roll the ball up and down the wall on my back by bending my knees.
I look just like a cow scratching against a fence. Just like it. It’s actually uncanny. ***
The teapot is my teapot, which is for my herb tea. Which I drink frantically as a form of distraction. It doesn’t really work, but I stay brilliantly hydrated.
Swiss ball, otherwise known as the best seat in my office.
I have a Swiss ball at home, and a Swiss ball at the office. In the attempt to stay mobilised, I often perch on them and swivel my hips around, do stretches on them and even sometimes lie on them (I believe the term is ‘planking’).
They are not too bad, although the thoracic part of the spine is a tricky one to actually get moving. It doesn’t stop the pain but it feels good to have a bit of motion in my spine.
The only problems with them are that the one at home tends to wander by itself around the living room ****, and the one at work is extremely popular, especially with colleagues who pop into our work area and want a ‘go on it’.
Hot water bottle with a fluffy cover, heat pack for necks, and brace thingie.
At home, just as I do at work, I habitually sit with a hot water bottle at my back. (By the way a nice cosy is scientifically proven to improve the effectiveness of the hot water bottle. Actual scientific fact.)
Then I often add a neck wheat-pack, which can help to soothe the TMJ that gives me neck and jaw pain, especially when I am stressed because my back hurts which has set off my nerves and muscle pain. Sigh.
The brace thingie is something I have borrowed from the physio for the weekend. When I return it, I’m buying my own. It is a sort of thingie that has a nice padded support that goes around the back, and then two loops around the knees, so that your knees are actually supporting your back while you sit. Sounds complicated I know.
This is literally the only non-water thing that can temporarily relieve my back pain to date.
The dark side is that it prevents a lot of natural movement so can only really be worn for half an hour or so before I have to get up and stretch. Even so, it is a miracle.
I am cranky about the brand of this one, but I was in a hurry and needed Epsom Salts. That’s how they get you.
The thing that relieves my pain the best is being in a warm pool or bath, and being weightless. It is even better if I pop Epsom Salts into the bath. I have no idea why, or how. I’m certain there are various explanations, and I don’t know which are good and which are woo, and I don’t care if it’s just a big placebo. A bit of lavender oil added makes me pleasantly sleepy.
I now keep a store of these at all times.
If I have to go out somewhere where I’m expected to sit for any amount of time (a cinema, a restaurant) and I can’t bring my hot water bottles, I slap one of these sticky heat patches over the sore part of my back.
I have tried various brands but these are the only ones that stick to my skin well enough that they aren’t likely to make an embarrassing unscheduled reappearance from the bottom of my dress at crucial moments. Sorry, Ms Ambassador!
Fairly simple procedure: stick ’em on, they heat up, it’s kind of like having a hot water bottle only with less lumbar support. They do help, a bit.
My sleepy time friend.
Finally, I slap this on just before bed. This is the brand I prefer because it doesn’t really have a strong smell, and the smell fades quickly.
I have no idea if it works or not, but so many doctors have now asked me if I use it that I have added it to the repertoire just to show some willing.
So these are the little devices that I use to try and keep the spectre of the painstorm at bay. Do you know of any others? Answers on a postcard …
* Not as easy as it sounds. In my office the only place to do this is wedged into a small space between a filing cabinet and my boss’s desk. **
** She is getting used to it.
*** This is true, people have informed me of it on more than one occasion. Indeed, I have been known to make some very moo-like sounds while I do it.
**** Darling Dog loves it because the human sitting on it is thereby at ideal dog-scratching height.