Pragmatic Back Pain

The no bullshit guide to recovering from a sudden backpain surprise

Is This Real?

It hurts so much to get up that you'll tell yourself that it's not possible: "My body can't do this just like my my body can't autofelate itself. Not through a lack of trying or the occasional peculiar dream, but through the realities of tendons and bi-directional joints. The engine I ride around the world in is seized up; I’m frail, on the scrap heap."

When the injury occurred that cursed you, you may not have realized the damage that had been done, but now it is obvious and getting worse. But the impossible has to be done, because you need to get home and get to bed so you can recover and keep getting paid.

Painful Step One: The Recovery

Start by rolling onto your side and grabbing your way up a table or a helpful friend's leg. It really is just a gradual puzzle like blindly walking around a strange house in the middle of the night looking for the toilet. Eventually you will figure out the combination lock that lets you get on your feet, and then the adrenaline or something joyous about being a bipedal ape will let you stay there with less effort. Soon you’re a pot boiling away, but in the initial stages it's not wise to stay up too long or you could boil over. With your precious hobbling time gather around your bed a 24 hour supply of comforts and medications.

The Comforts

First you need a modest amount of water, which you should only drink as much as needed so you don't have to move. Don't get a cup of water like an idiot; water bottles are for the backpain pros.


You may be tempted to get waste bottles (just in case), but from painful experience those do not work when lying down. The last thing you want to be doing with your precious hobbling time is the laundry. It’s time to make your bladder suck it up for the recovery effort. Also stow high quality entertainment near at hand; it's time to whip out a highly recommended podcast, movie trilogy or television show of at least HBO quality.

Having a phone nearby in the recovery cave is also important; from there you can line up what you're needing to do to get upright again and also finally catch up with neglected relatives for comfort during your selfish time needing emotional support. If you're lucky, you have health care and booking an appointment with a medical professional for the next day can make you feel better and ensure you aren't sitting in a waiting room. The other thing you can do to make yourself feel better is set a recurring calendar reminder to exercise for half an hour starting in two days so you don't have to suffer through this again or as often.

The Meds

Have near at hand 3000mg of acetaminophen (not to be taken at once) and some ibuprofen. Don't take more than the recommended dosage. You're not going to totally remove the pain and you're not supposed to. It's time to lie down and rest; the pain sucks but it is reminding you how important that is. Ideally you are immobile for the next 24-36 hours, allowing the actual damage to heal. Don't get undressed when you get into bed: Wearing a robe with underwear is the best idea but spare yourself the agony of putting on a tshirt every time someone comes to visit or having people coming in before you can hide your shame. When people show up with chicken soup they weren't looking for a rooster.

Ticking Away Time

Now you have to wait which can be nice but often leads to a pretty heavy personal crisis thinking about your life. Of course at the time the pain is so bad that it seems like a fact of life that you're now a horizontal and sad creature. Lying there your mental world is totally engulfed in flames from the brutalness of life's curveball. Just a day ago you were a normal person with a yoga mat tucked under your arm and a latte in your hand off to move up another rung on the social mobility ladder, and now you're here in bed where simply hobbling is an achievement. You feel like a person twice your age, apart from the painful sobs and pathetic existential crisis. Remember those hunch backed senior citizen with their zimmer frames shouldering some immense physical burden as they slowly shuffle one painful step at a time? That's you now and sometimes it feels like it's you forever. But it's not.Though the perspective is interesting and often a timely reminder you have to put that noose away, you couldn't get into it anyway loser!

Your natural tendency is going to be to try to do something, but what you need is to do nothing for the next day so try to enjoy a season of Breaking Bad free from judgement. Yes, you'll be skipping credits with incredible precision by the end of the day. Stay off social media, those depressing images of able bodied people taking pictures of their food at restaurants aren't what you need when you're struggling to get into the shower. Let the actual injury have a chance to heal, 99% of your back is fine but 1% of it is ruined and needs some rest to heal. Do as the junkie and piss the day away as motionless as possible. This next day is going to suck, but sucking it up is the best choice you can make.

Well Wishers and Doctors

Because you're in such a sad-bastard state well meaning people may start to recommend various professionals and unprofessionals to you. People go to a chiropractor, osteopath or a doctor and feel better in a day or two, but they probably would've anyway. 

Chiropractors and acupuncturists come from a totally bogus magical background akin to homeopathy and totally outside of proven medical science, the doctrine for chiropractors is based around spinal alignment and energy flows. Some of what they now do has a scientific basis but a therapeutic massage or joint stimulation isn't a good choice for you right now anyway and you'd be better off getting that from a physiotherapist. Acupuncturists are probably worse because they've stuck to the traditional doctrine even more, I don't know why people are disappointed that they don't have to have needles stuck in their back but that's human beings for you.

Although it seems like a hospitalization worthy issue going to a doctor means you're stressing out your injury in a waiting room when the best thing for the first day really is to just rest it. Acetaminophen, 500mg, every 5 hours and if you're a lucky bastard with codeine or another opioid that a friend has you should take that shit if you've had it in the past. 

Plodding Step Two: The Repair

Waking up on your second day you may feel worse and if you do it's a good idea to take this day off too, but only ever spend 24-48 hours in bed. If at the end of 48 hours you still can't uncomfortably walk down the street it's time to see a doctor. If you can get up it's time to start taking ibuprofen with you meals and moving that stiff and swollen back. You're basically wanting to tense the muscles on your back, starting with the lowests impact exercises first. The first time I had a back pain experience I laid in bed for two weeks which was totally the wrong thing to do, you have to get up and push the pain when it becomes modest. Don't go back to work and sit down, but do push yourself into doing progressively more exercise with each passing day.

Here are a few that are good for the first week. With all of these do them until you feel the muscle burn, if you don't feel that after 5 minutes you probably need a more intense exercise.

Leg Lifts

Lying on your front, back and sides lift one leg into the air and lower it. This one is kind of good because you can do it a lot while watching TV and it's one you can usually do on day two or three.

Doggy Style

First close your windows and lock your door because this one looks a bit weird, but it works when you're really seized up. Stay on all fours and then curve your back down and then up. As you curve down say "Oh yeah" and "Just like that".

The more intense version of this involves extending your opposing arm and leg, but this isn't usually possible in the first couple of days.


Sore Superman

Lie on you stomach and alternate between lifting your opposing arms and legs. Eventually you can graduate the Sad Superman to the more physically demanding 2009 fad that took the world by storm, planking. Plank off your bed, plank on a chair, plank at the bank, plank like a skank.



Preventative Step Three: The Maintenance

Do you have to keep doing these exercises? No. But you have to do something. I've found the best thing is biking, and not just because biking is good for a city but it also keeps your body maintained without having to think about it. The bike ride to and from work or school each day lets you sleep easy at night knowing that you have got the situation pretty permanently under control. Other things that are good to do are getting a sit/stand workstation. They cost $1000 but think of all that time you lost lying in bed and it's quickly worth it. If you have the means buy one and spend half your day standing and half sitting. No-one is going to feel good sitting for 12 hours at work and home. It's not that hard to game your life so you're not.

In Conclusion

Pain is above all depressing, being unable to be yourself and punished for your every movement is indescribably miserable. But for many things like back pain it can be relived and permanently fixed, or at least fixed until you're a hunchbacked old bastard. If grandpa can put tennis balls on his zimmer frame than you can work yourself back to health.