My Back Pain Helped Me Get Healthy

Was this helpful?
Elizabeth Beasley Author Headshot
I’m a marketing copywriter who loves exploring new paths to wellness. I’m currently checking out the healing powers of essential oils, energy medicine, and trigger point massage. I’m also learning to play the ukulele, which is my new favorite happiness booster!

My experience with back pain was life-changing, in a good way. Granted, it was a painful lesson to learn. But I’m a healthier, happier person because of it. And like all good stories, it started with “an incident.”

The Incident

Severe back pain usually involves a big memorable, moment when the pain is too intense to ignore any more. If you’ve ever thrown your back out, you know what I mean. I had been having some sharp pain in my right buttock for several months, but it was mostly an annoying distraction. Then one morning while I was getting out of bed for work, “the incident” happened.

I felt an intense pain in my lower back and then my right leg seized up. My right quadriceps contracted and pulled my whole body down so I was hunched over my leg. I looked like Elle Wood doing the bend and snap in Legally Blonde. So, there I am in my pajamas and I can’t stand up straight and my leg is killing me. Before I subjected myself to an awkward moment with a paramedic, I called my dear friend Ashley to see if she’d take me to the ER. She picked me up and helped me hobble to the car.

By the time we got to the hospital my muscles were relaxing a bit. But now I couldn’t feel my right shin. It was totally numb! This was getting scary. The ER doctors were very nice and gave me an injection in my right bun to relax my muscles. After my leg calmed down, I was able to walk to the car and go home. But I was completely baffled by what had happened and quickly made an appointment to see my primary care physician.

The Diagnosis

My primary care physician knew something was up with my back and leg, possibly sciatica. She got me a referral for an MRI. Lucky for me, my insurance was with what was then Crawford Long (now Emory University Hospital Midtown) and their care system was robust. It was easy for my care providers to share my records and refer me to the specialists I needed. When I got my MRI results, they showed I had a slight herniation in my L4 disc. I didn’t know what that meant, except that it still hurt. I looked to my doctors for advice on what to do next to alleviate this pain (which was starting to make me pretty cranky!).

The Treatments

Personally, I think messing around with your spine is kind of scary. That’s why I wanted to start with the least invasive treatment first. Again, my primary care physician at Crawford Long was able to refer me to a fantastic physical therapist who hooked me up to electrodes every week and worked out my back and leg muscles. He also gave me exercises to do at home. I did them religiously every morning before work. I continued physical therapy for a few months and felt slightly better, but not enough. I was still experiencing sciatic pain in my leg and my numb shin persisted.

I finally went back to my primary care doctor to talk about other options. The next step was a lumbar epidural steroid injection. Yikes! But I was tired of dealing with chronic back pain and thought I’d give it a try—even though the thought of sometime sticking a needle in my spine terrified me. Again, I got an awesome referral from my doctor and the spine center team put me at ease immediately. They were pros at this and procedure didn’t even really hurt. It helped reduce my pain for maybe a week, but then my sciatica symptoms came back in full force. Ugh. Now I was really frustrated, because I had been in pain for nearly six months.

The Turning Point

This is where it starts to get good. My primary care physician had run out of non- or slightly-invasive options. Her next step was to send me to a neurosurgeon in the same care system who could quickly access my MRI records and give me a recommendation. He was very knowledgeable and did a great job of explaining what he saw in my MRI. He agreed that he saw a slight disc herniation, but he didn’t think it was necessarily bad enough to warrant back surgery.

I am so grateful that he had a conservative approach. His hesitancy made me take a step back and continue to try alternative therapies to see if I could resolve my lower back pain without surgery. For the next few months I dove back-first into reiki, acupuncture, kinesiology and even more lower back exercises. Over time, my patience paid off and my pain went away. I even got 90% of the feeling back in my shin!

The Lessons

Today, I am so happy I was open-minded enough to explore alternative therapies instead of jumping into surgery right away. My persistence paid off and my back pain got better. And I got healthier! In the process of doing back exercise every morning, I lost 20 pounds and kept it off. I also learned that exercising in the morning works best for me. Exploring alternative wellness taught me that acupuncture, massage and energy work can boost your immune system, and I swear it keeps me from catching colds. I still get treatments to this day to keep my body in tip-top shape. Finally, the experience gave me a new appreciation for my mobility. Not a day goes by where I don’t feel grateful for being able to stand and walk and move about in this world.

What would I recommend to someone who’s experiencing back pain? Listen to your doctor’s advice carefully, because they know what they’re doing. But remember you are a unique patient and you need to find what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try alternative therapies. Listen to your body and be patient. Dig a little deeper to find the root of your pain. I learned from my research that sometimes there are true physical causes, but there are often emotional causes like stress. It’s worth doing your homework to uncover what’s really causing your issues before jumping into an invasive treatment. And at the very least, try to feel grateful for what doesn’t hurt right this minute.

Was this helpful?
THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.
Explore Back Pain
  • Back pain has many forms, with symptoms including mild to severe muscle pain, leg numbness & spasms. Find out how to manage back pain at home and when to seek treatment.
    April 4, 2018
  • Back pain can range from a minor, temporary backache to chronic sharp pain in your back. Many conditions can cause back pain, including sciatica (inflammation or compression of the sciatic nerve) and herniated disc. Find out when back pain symptoms mean it's time to see an orthopedic specialist.
    March 29, 2018
  • People with back pain may struggle with it every day or occasionally. If you have a bad back or back pain symptoms, avoiding these common mistakes will help. 

    July 26, 2017
  • Back pain is common, but the causes can vary widely from patient to patient.
    June 10, 2016
Recommended Reading
Next Up
  • If you do just 15 minutes of back exercises three times a week, you’ll go a long way toward strengthening your back, neck, and shoulder muscles. The exercises in the following slides are intended specifically to prevent back pain.
  • Along with your doctor's treatment plan, these items can help provide daily relief for back pain.
  • Many people forget to ask important questions at their doctor's appointments. You may want to print or write these questions down before your appointment so you remember to get the answers you need.
  • Back burning sensations are sensations anywhere on the back that give a feeling of heat or warmth and may or may not be accompanied by pain.
  • In order to treat your back pain, your doctor will want as much information as possible. Here are some tips on the best ways to describe your symptoms.
  • Many people start with their PCP, but view this slideshow for other specialists who treat back pain.
  • Get an overview of symptoms and possible causes of back pain.
  • Do you have a sore back? Low back pain can range from mild, dull, and annoying to persistent, severe, and disabling. It can restrict mobility and interfere with a person's daily activities.
Answers to Your Health Questions
Trending Videos