Tuesday, 31 May 2016

How do the back people do it?

Without a word of warning, my back seizes up and goes into spasm. It is as if a furious giant has put his hand around my pelvis and is squeezing. Everything that was easy and free is now tight and crushed.

I had forgotten about this. I put my back out once every ten years and then I forget, like my mother always said one forgot about the pain of childbirth until it was too late. The last time I was with my sister and she made me drink vodka for three days which did, I must admit, work quite well. We had to do emergency measures because I was on the island of Colonsay and at one point I could not drive, so the journey home was starting to look perilous.

I think: yes, I remember now. This is what this country looks like. I think of all the Ordinary Decent Britons, with their backs. Back pain is practically the most common ailment in this country. Millions of people have it. How is the populace walking about the streets, taking the underground railway and complaining about the weather without shouting out loud? Because it is shouty pain. It lies like a tiger in its lair. If you are in a certain position, it is not actual agony, just a horrid, lurking tightness, waiting to pounce. You move an inch and then – it springs. And you go, if you are me: AH, AH, AH, AH. (I am not having a butch day.)

Everything takes hours. Everything is a strategy. I can get my sock on if I go on all fours like this, and then roll over like this, and then reach down like.....AH AH AH AH. It took me an hour to get dressed this morning. This is very humbling and good for character-building. I thought of all the people who live in constant pain. But it’s a fucking bore. I can’t drive, I can’t feed the horses, I can barely type this, because I have to keep levering myself up and walking round the house or I seize up and am frozen in place and may never move again. I can walk, thank goodness, and go at funereal pace to take the dogs out. How do the back people do it?

I feel very peculiar and entirely battered. All the things I take for granted, I think, ruefully. I pretend that I don’t take things for granted. I pretend that I do think about the people who can’t put on their socks. I sort of do, but not, I realise now, in any meaningful way. Not like this.

I thought I would be riding horses into my old age. What if this is a portent? My father had to stop riding in his sixties, when all the broken bones caught up with him. He was never quite the same again. He did not yelp and exclaim about his love for thoroughbreds like I do, but he loved them, all the same. They had been with him for so long. I saw him weep once, for a brave steeplechaser, as if that horse had been a child. I think those mornings riding out two lots set him right for the day just as my red mare sets me right. Once you’ve been on a thoroughbred, nothing else will do. They combine all the greatest elements of the equine pantheon: speed, power, kindness, athleticism, lightness, strength. They are brave, with fine, fighting hearts. Once you’ve sat on all that power and glory, walking on your own puny human feet is very dull work.

I squint and pull myself together. It’s just a thing. It will pass. I was stupidly hefting hay bales as if I were a teenager instead of a woman of fifty, and I must have wrenched something without knowing it. I’ll be more careful in future. My poor body will surely mend itself. Won’t it? But oh, oh, I do think of the back people. And I marvel at their stoicism and their ability to go on.


  1. In a word: Arnica. Salve applied externally to painful area. Pills taken internally. (Avoid caffeine and mint for about a half hour after taking because these interfere with the arnica absorption.)
    This is NOT simply hippie dippy BS. Dancers, athletes, people who think all this herbal stuff is nonsense also swear by arnica.
    It's not a cure-all, however, it certainly helps!

    Just finished a slow but steady recovery from a stupid tripped over my own feet on a flat surface flat on my back fall. Back fine, left knee still tender.


  2. How well you describe it. This has happened to me twice as well--oddly, on the only two days my favorites have run one-two in a big race (Dubai World Cup, 2013 and 2016). No reason to think those two facts are connected, but from now on, if two of "my" horses are running in the WC, I'm going to be extremely careful, since of course my stupidity led to the trouble each time. Your Ah Ah Ah Ah: exactly. Good luck.

    And like you, I was so conscious of -- and almost breathtakingly sympathetic to -- all people who live with chronic pain like this. At least in my case, and yours it appears, the pain is temporary.

    Pat: thank you; if it happens again, I'm going for Arnica.

  3. Also Pilates for core strength, if I may weigh in at this point. I injured my back in a trampolining accident many years ago and the child-bearing years did nothing to improve upon the resultant weakness. Chiropractors and osteopaths made very little difference except to my bank balance. Pilates has given me real stability and the strength to lift and carry my quite hefty little grand-daughter around.

  4. Valium. Wish you better ASAP.

  5. Poor you! It's a horrible feeling.. what helped me when I went into spasm like that is one nurofen and two paracetemol taken together with food every four hours for three days (It sounds heavy but the advice was given to me by an NHS physio on the basis that it's better to take painkillers in a controlled dose than randomly and also that the sooner you get out of spasm the better (for lots of reasons, one of which is that you can't do any core exercises until you are free of the acute phase) I am sure you know all the stuff about core so won't bore you...If the spasm is really bad, you can get tamazapam on prescription and add it to the mix and/or swap on-prescription naproxen for the nurofen ... good luck... you will ride into your 80s for sure, if you keep your core strong, and those spasms will get less acute too though they may always come and go... your writing is always a joy even when written through gritted teeth, thanks as always, Rachel


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