In December, 2006, I went through an extremely stressful time at work. One morning, I woke up to discover that I was suddenly suffering from severe upper to mid back pain. I assumed that it had been brought on by the stress, and that it would eventually go away once the stressful situation ended, but that was not the case. The pain was so severe that it would wake me up in the middle of the night, and I could not lie down anymore. For months, I got up between 3:00am and 5:00am and could not go back to sleep.
It was particularly frustrating because many people I knew had lower back pain, but I did not know a single person who had ever experienced powerful upper and mid back pain that was similar to mine. This made me feel very isolated and alone, which made it even more difficult to cope with the pain.
After awhile, I began to wonder if there was something seriously wrong with me. I tried prescription pain medications, which did not have any effect. I also had an MRI, which revealed that I did not have an injury and that there was nothing seriously wrong with me.
So I went back to my original theory that the problem had been caused by stress, and I tried to resolve the problem from there. It took about two and a half years for the pain to go away completely. There were a couple of periods where I almost gave up trying and almost gave into my fear that the pain would always be there, but it finally did go away. I tried multiple treatments during this period of time. Here are some of the courses of treatment that did and did not work for me:
Acupuncture: I had always wanted to try acupuncture, and I had high hopes that it would help me. Unfortunately, this was the least effective modality that I tried. I also took Chinese herbs in addition to doing weekly acupuncture. My acupuncturist told me that I would feel a significant difference in four to six weeks. When I felt absolutely no difference in five weeks, I gave up on it.
Biofreeze/Tiger Balm: I would use these pain-relieving products on days when the pain was particularly bad. I felt that these ointments and gels would bring the pain back down to a more manageable level. Beyond that, I found that the relief provided by these products was limited.
Gratitude: Taking time to be truly grateful for the aspects of my life that were working well helped me to take the focus off of my pain and put it onto something more positive. I recommend closing your eyes and taking just a few minutes a day to envision people, places, and experiences that you appreciate. Really focus in on the details of exactly what it is that you love about these things. This exercise often gives me a “warm and fuzzy” feeling inside, which relaxes me and literally loosens up my muscles.
Herbal Supplements: After doing some research on the internet, I decided to try some herbal supplements that were geared toward treating stress. Unfortunately, the herbs that I tried, including St. John’s Wort, GABA, DLPA, and 5-HTP, either made no difference or had a negative impact on me. When I was taking these supplements, I felt like I “wasn’t myself” but I never could put a finger on exactly why that was the case.
Massage: Getting regular massage had a huge impact on ending my back pain. The choice of a massage therapist is a very personal decision and your results can depend on the techniques that the therapist uses (trigger point, deep tissue, etc.). If you don’t feel any improvement with one therapist, you might want to try some others before giving up on massage. I went to several different therapists before I found one that was a great fit for me.
Meditation: This was another extremely important component in my recovery. There are many different types of meditation that you can try, so you may need to experiment to find the kind that is best for you. I do a very basic meditation which simply involves closing my eyes and focusing on my breath going in and out of my body.
Running: I took up running because I thought that it would help me to lose weight, which I thought would, in turn, potentially lessen my back pain. What I hadn’t expected was that running in and of itself significantly decreased my back pain. Maybe the improvement was due to increased blood flow to the tight muscles, but, in any event, I always felt better for hours after a run. Running was the one thing that I could always do to make my back pain subside, even if it was only for a little while.
Stretching: Stretching has helped me tremendously, and it is still something that I do on almost a daily basis. I recommend getting a copy of the book Stretching by Bob Anderson. This book has numerous stretching routines that you can try depending on what your exact problem area is.
Very hot showers: I truly believe that running the hottest water that I could stand on my back each morning promoted blood circulation in my back and loosened up all of my muscles. If for some reason I could not get the water hot enough in the morning, I would suffer through more pain than usual for the rest of the day.
The bottom line is that not every course of treatment works in the same way for every person. If you are in pain, the worst thing that you can do is to give up. Either try another modality or try another practitioner of the same modality, but, whatever you do, keep trying!
Source: Bob Anderson, Stretching