I remember the date my LBP began. It was the 20th of February, 2016. That date is significant to me because it was the day after my sister’s 30th birthday. Being a Saturday, she had organised a breakfast at a café, followed by some games (and cake!) in the park.
I woke up that morning like any other, and as I hopped out of bed, I noticed a tingling sensation along the outside part of my leg (shin), and slightly in the top of my foot. I figured I must have slept in a ‘funny’ position and casually ignored it. However, it soon become apparent that this wasn’t normal. Each time I put weight through my R leg, the neural sensation intensified (it almost felt like a strong charge of static electricity). At this stage I had no pain (or stiffness) in my back whatsoever.
I tried a few stretches and moving my foot/leg/thigh/pelvis and back around, but nothing seemed to help. I even massaged parts of my leg and performed a lower limb nerve ‘flossing’ technique. Still no difference. Working as a clinician, I was familiar with numbness and tingling, however, these cases were more uncommon in the lower limbs, and even more so without a history of LBP. Furthermore, these lower limb sensory phenomena were usually associated with more severe LBP cases (e.g. disc pathology). And even though I had seen plenty of examples where people had hurt their lower back with little to no trauma per se, in my mind I was convinced that the problem lay in my leg, rather than in my lower back. This was because: 1) I hadn’t had any LBP 2) The only symptoms I had were in my leg and foot and could be explained by a problem in the leg (common fibular nerve) and 3) The atypical presentation, in particular the fact that it was aggravated by weightbearing. (In hindsight I suspect it was also just wishful thinking!) Therefore, while I knew sensory changes weren’t ideal, in my mind I wasn’t too concerned. I had even briefly considered multiple sclerosis (I have a strong family history of this condition), however, I shook that off as again it seemed too mechanical and also because I hadn’t experienced any other symptoms, like fatigue.
So, I went to breakfast and afterwards we walked up the hill to find a suitable place to have a picnic and play some games. I remember noticing some soreness in my leg by this stage (deep ache in my calf and the back of my thigh). This is when I knew that the problem was almost certainly coming from my lower back. A short time later, some of the men and children decided to play cricket. I’m a pretty competitive person and I love playing sports too, so I wasn’t going to let a bit of discomfort stop me. However, after 25 minutes of running around and bending over to pick up the tennis ball (etc.), I knew I had aggravated it further. My lower back on the right-hand side began feeling uncomfortable, along with my entire right leg (ache). Not bad, but enough to know it was there. I still had the neural sensation too, although from memory at least it wasn’t as bad as before.
As my sister drove me home I started to think that my LBP must have had something to do with the week I’d had at work. While working as an osteopath isn’t the most physical job, when you’re treating back to back patients for long periods of the day, it can certainly take its toll. It had also been an especially hectic week as I’d just returned from two weeks off after having a tonsillectomy. It’s possible I was out of condition which contributed to this episode. However, at no point during the week had I noticed any LBP, or anything unusual for that matter. Weird.
By the time we got home the pain had increased in my lower back to the point where I could trace a distinct line of pain from my lower back all the way to my right foot. It was definitely difficult to get comfortable. And while I don’t remember everything that happened that afternoon, I can tell you what didn’t happen. I didn’t just choose to see this as a growth experience, and then get on with my life. Far from it! In truth, the rest of the day was filled with a mixture of frustration, stoicism, denial, fear, gentle stretching, and a healthy measure of watching movies while I ate yummy snacks and wallowed in self-pity! Was I in that much pain!? No! I would hazard a guess that it never went past 5/10 on the pain scale. I know I had it easy compared to a lot of the people I treat. Heck, I even knew it at the time! But just as painful as the physical pain (in my case) was the perceived threat of this injury (which usually doesn’t help the physical pain either!). It’s easy to look back and think oh I could have handled that so much better. However, you can’t spend your life looking in the rear-view mirror. Sure, if it happens again I will do things differently, but that’s because of the knowledge I’ve acquired since that day.
In my next blog post I’ll share the next chapter of this story.