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Blog of A Physiotherapist’s Backpain in Paradise

Celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary in Mauritius which is a paradise when there are no cyclones (i.e. wind and rain not to be expected on such an idyllic island), last week I experienced a severe bout of sudden onset low back pain. I want to share my story and my helpful hints to future travellers.

Mauritius is a beautiful island with many stunning beaches and lush hotels. However if there is wind and rain the options for activities become more limited and rather than eating and drinking 24/7, I decided to hit the gym daily and try to downsize and tone up my middle aged body.

However going from no exercise to daily exercise is not without its tribulations: sore Achilles tendons and boredom to name a few. As many over forty something ladies my core strength has never recovered from having my children and does not always support me in the ways it should. Can you remember when getting up off the floor was an easy task and there was no grunting involved???? Me neither…

So 5 days ago I hit the gym for the 5th day in a row and had almost completed my full session of running (well jogging), abdominal work on gym ball (only way I can), rowing, squats and lunges (yes mini ones), cycling and finally some arms resistance work. This was where my fitness campaign went wrong……

I am embarrassed to say that with almost 30 years experience as a Physiotherapist Specializing in treating low back pain, written a chapter in a textbook on back pain and even an whole book on the subject I ignored my own advice.

Bending over the weights bench to raise it, my body at a 45 degree angle with a twist to the left I heard and left a sudden crunch in my lower right back just above the buttock. A searing pain with muscle spam prevented me from moving except to fall back onto the bench to sit where I became stuck. I couldn’t move up or down or side to side. Not wanting to make a scene I sat there knowing exactly what had happened and that I needed to try and get some gentle movement going to break up the spasm however it took me 15 minutes to move. The gym was busy but no-one seemed to notice they probably thought I was having a rest…

Once upright (well I looked more like Quasimodo) I hobbled out of the gym and slowly made my way back to the stunning hotel room. Funny how no one asked me if I was OK? Perhaps I always walk like that…..

On reaching the room I lay on my bed and tried to do some gentle movements, but this was not helping as the spasm kept kicking in. As Physiotherapists we call this Hyperacute lumbago (i.e. too much pain and spasm to be able to do much with the patient). What I needed was strong painkillers and an anti muscle spasm medication, but how do you get that in Mauritius….

I stumbled off the bed onto the floor on hands and knees and hit the shower, not without help from my husband because undressing was not a task I was fit for. However the hot water helped and once I got helped into my bikini walking about seemed to be helping reduce the spasms. As an evidenced based practitioner I put a couple of acupuncture needles in my back whilst walking about (as I was unable to lie down). With an ex athlete of a husband acupuncture needles and tape are always in my bag for holiday injuries.

Walking definitely eased the spasm as did the glass of Rose at lunch overlooking the beach. However going from sitting to standing made me look like there was something stuck up my posterior until I had walked 20 metres or so. To all those back pain sufferers out there sometimes even sitting on the loo is a challenge.

Movement was definitely the key though and it certainly helped. We know that spines need movement to get nutrition and your body normally tells you what it likes and doesn’t like when recovering.

The next morning I struggled to get out of bed and was concerned as the following day we had the 16 hour flight back to the UK (my concern was I would be left in a seat on the aeroplane in Dubai airport). Luckily there was a local Pharmacy with a Prescribing GP (much cheaper than the hotel Doctor) who prescribed muscle relaxants for me. Those were a like a gift from a higher place allowing me to move around normally. The flight home was comfortable with the medication and I supported my lower back with one of the wee cushions they give you on long haul flights.

There was no more gym for me but walking on the beach became my new exercise. 5 days on and the pain is almost completely gone and luckily I can treat my patients sore backs again.

I have more empathy with them this week and can say that the majority of back pain like this can settle within 2 weeks with the correct management and medication.

Lessons learnt for me are to take my own advice and look after my back and try to rebuild my core abdominal strength.

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