Roxie knew the impact her pain medications were having on her life and was desperate to keep the doses to a minimum.

Physio taught her about the psychology of pain, and a chiropractor helped her to build her strength and mobility.

I’m 35 years old and have been married to my very supportive husband for 11 years. We have a beautiful son together who has just turned 3. Around 6 years ago, I woke up one morning to find myself experiencing a bit of pain and stiffness in my back. I thought nothing of it and just carried on about my normal day. Within a week the pain had progressively got worse. I found it difficult to walk and was not able to stand up straight. On my initial visit to the GP I was prescribed a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and advised to take over the counter pain relief. It soon became apparent that the pain I was experiencing was not just muscular. I was then commenced on higher strength co-codamol along with diazepam and amitriptyline.  

Four months later I had an MRI that confirmed I had 3 herniated ‘slipped’ discs in my lower back. This was causing severe sciatic pain and cramping down my right leg.

As my symptoms worsened, my medications to manage the pain increased. Within 6 months of the initial onset of pain I was taking a combination of co-codamol tablets, gabapentin capsules, amitriptyline tablets, and morphine tablets.

I also had morphine oral solution for breakthrough pain. Despite the pain meds I was only able to mobilise around my house on crutches and had to rely on a wheelchair when going out anywhere. I became isolated and noticed a decline in my cognitive abilities, I spent a lot of the time feeling drowsy and spaced out.

Since the initial episode 6 years ago I have had a further two flare ups which have resulted in me needing crutches, however these have not been as severe and I have been able to manage them much better without the need for strong painkillers.

At my worst point I was taking the maximum dose of co-codamol 30mg/500mg, two tablets four times a day, along with morphine sulphate tablets 20mg twice a day and then morphine sulphate oral solution 5ml when I needed between doses of medications to manage any breakthrough pain. I was also on other medications Gabapentin, Amitriptyline and Diazepam to manage the pain.

For someone who was always very organised and held a complex and demanding job, I found this increasingly frustrating and became very low in mood. I was aware of how much of an impact these medications were having and was desperate to keep the doses to a minimum and wanted to reduce them. The side effects from this concoction of medications were really difficult and meant taking more medications to manage the side effects. I was drowsy and sleeping on and off most of the day. I became clumsy and forgetful.

Despite the medications the pain at times was excruciating. 

There were occasions when I went to A&E as the medications were not enough and the pain I was experiencing was frightening and traumatic to go through, when it flared up and my muscles would go into spasm and I would be crying in pain on the floor unable to move. When I went to services, I felt like I was being treated like an addict and had to really fight to be taken seriously. I would be in tears with how debilitating the pain was and how little I was able to do. I felt like a failure and became scared my life would never be the same again. I was desperate for help. It took over a year to get seen by the right people – but I’m so glad I persevered. 

In my most recent flare up about, two years ago, I became very depressed as at this point my son was only a year old. I couldn’t take him out on my own, I was unable to carry/lift him properly and it really affected our quality of life at that time.

I was adamant I would not take medication as I knew how drowsy it would make me and I did not feel safe to look after my son on my own while taking high-dose pain medications.

I made some significant changes to my lifestyle following an appointment with a consultant surgeon in which the process of discectomy was discussed and how major this surgery would be. Walking out from that appointment I was determined to not go down the route of surgery. From that day I joined a local weight loss group, and each day set myself a goal to walk a small distance out of my house. Initially this was just a few metres with the use of crutches, and gradually I was able to increase the distance and build up my strength. I was offered intense physio at the hospital and had fortnightly appointments to check my progress. Physio also taught me about the psychology of pain, and I started on a small exercise to desensitise my back to touch, as I had become so acutely conscious that anything touching my back would cause me pain. However, this was not caused by the slipped discs but by me associating that area of my body with intense pain.  I also found a chiropractor and started a programme to help build my strength and mobility. The chiropractor also offered acupuncture, massage, and a light treatment to help build and repair damaged muscles. 

With the support of my husband and family, I slowly noticed I began to improve my mobility and strength again. My mindset changed as I became more and more determined to regain my life back. With the help of my colleague, a Pharmacist, I was able to gradually reduce all my medications and come off them completely. I now only on occasion need paracetamol or ibuprofen for back pain, usually when I’ve overdone it a bit and had long days out and walked a lot. 

My life is so far from what it was when the back issue started. I still see the chiropractor every month, I have Pilates lessons which have helped me further strengthen my core and protect my back. I’m able to stand and perform again to play my Saxophone. Most recently I have joined a fitness program which involves strength training – something I never imagined I would be able to do.

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