Two weeks ago, I was at the Six to Start offices discussing the cost of shipping packages internationally for our next Virtual Race. I bent over to pick up something on the floor and felt an intense stabbing pain in my lower right back. I attempted to straighten up, but it hurt to much that I dropped to my knees and, on the advice of Matt, lay down on the floor for a few minutes.
This alleviated the pain somewhat, but I was still barely able to walk. Even sitting down didn’t help. That morning, I’d packed my running gear to use on the way back, but it was obvious nothing of the sort was on the cards. Still, I was determined to hobble back home that night, which I successfully did.
Things hadn’t improved the next day, or the day after that. I’d evidently strained or pulled a muscle in my back, and it wasn’t going to clear up quickly.
What struck me in those days was how difficult it was to do anything. Getting up from a sofa or from bed, putting on trousers, tying shoelaces, even brushing my teeth – all these activities caused pain, to the extent that something which would normally take 10 seconds and no thought at all instead could take a few minutes each. Everyone was very helpful during this time, particularly my girlfriend, but my back pain still caused real problems. I worried about how long it would last for – would I need to figure out some new way of exercising other than running? How might this affect my work? If it lasted much longer, it would certainly have worsened my health in other ways.
Thankfully, after a week, I was back to 90% and able to start running again, and now I’m pretty much at 100%. Part of the reason for the quick recovery, I think, is because I was already very healthy and had a habit of walking a lot; I’m told that back pain is worsened by not moving, and in my experience, that’s definitely the case.
However briefly, I gained a new understanding of what it means to have back pain. More broadly, I realised the kind of difficulties people have when it’s just hard or tiring or painful to move in general. It’s not news to me that many, many people have these problems, and I never doubted that walking or stretching or so on was genuinely difficult – but it’s one thing to believe it, and another thing to experience it. It’s actually astonishing to me how hard it was to do everyday tasks.
I don’t have any bright ideas about how to treat or combat back pain; I’m not about to suggest that an app* would solve it, or that we should all get exoskeletons (although that would be pretty cool). It’s just clear to me that it’s a problem that, while seemingly invisible, is bound to seriously reduce a person’s quality of life and exacerbate or create new ailments.
*If you could measure posture in real time using wearable devices, you could create an app or chatbot or game that might gently encourage people to move and stretch in a sensible way. But that’s a) obvious and, more importantly, b) rather far off given the NHS’ (in)ability to deploy that kind of technology to patients.