In an ideal world, physical niggles would be the result of a singular incident. A doctor would assign a cause to pain and prescribe a remedy in ten minutes. ‘That pain in your shoulders,’ he’d say ‘is just the result of heavy lifting. Ease off that and you’ll be fine.’
But that’s not the case, is it? Our back pain is the combination of many things and a cocktail of stress, poor posture, lack of exercise, pregnancy/excess weight and carrying heavy bags all contribute. In some cases, a back weakened by any number of these lifestyle factors will suddenly reach breaking – or cracking – point seemingly randomly (mine took a turn for the worse when at the prosaic task of tidying up a cupboard).
Additionally, it is frustrating that it seems to be accepted among doctors that back pain is something to either medicate or live with. Case in point: on asking my GP about my pain I was told that I needed to take painkillers when it hurt too much to bear but otherwise just accept that my job is the cause of my pain and that I ought to consider spending less time at the computer.
While ready to admit that my work day is largely – and unavoidably – spent plonked in front of a computer and that this is probably not good for my back, I felt his answer was reductive at best. Surely most jobs now entail sitting slavishly in front of a computer? Don’t most of us struggle to remember to take breaks, sit up straight and stretch hourly? I wondered how the medical profession could so roundly dismiss the 10 million UK Britons who suffer from back pain on a daily basis.
I took the alternative route: I stretched daily (a wonderful habit to get into but unfortunately not a panacea for back pain); I practised yoga (again, helpful, not remedial), and I even positioned myself nightly on a contraption entitled BackMagic (back magic requires some athleticism to mount – ask a loved one for help. Once on, it does go some way to attenuate pain temporarily). While these combined helped, I still felt there was a knot of pain that lived right at the core of me. I rarely spent a day free of it.
It was by sheer chance while browsing some alternative therapies online that I came across Amberin Fur. Her osteopathic consultancy, housed in 58 South Molton Street, seemed to approach the back in a balanced way – the blurb on the website mentions her integrated and multifaceted approach, while Amberin’s impressive CV (Amberin is part of the British Gymnastics medical team and worked with athletes at the Olympic Games) spoke for itself. I booked in.
Amberin started with a conversation. She didn’t want to examine my back until she’d examined how I felt about my back pain, which seemed to me a little unconventional. It was, in my case, an effective approach. Once I’d finished describing the location of the pain I started talking more specifically about my emotions towards it, and this turned out to be key to my treatment.
After an extremely thorough physical examination – Amberin looks at alignment, the way your body is weighted and myriad other things – I lay on the bed and let her work her magic. For me, this involved a rather expert placing of Amberin’s knuckles that allowed the tension that rested around my spine to release in one almighty crack.
Once free of pain, I felt the rather confusing and disconcerting urge to cry. The shift in my body had unsettled me, despite it making me more comfortable. This was, according to Amberin, normal. She told me that the body and mind are inextricably linked and the treatment of one without the other is foolish.
As she kneaded, we discussed the different times at which I’d felt back pain in my life and the emotions I’d been feeling during those periods. I then started to see a pattern emerge. Amberin, again, remained unsurprised – this is something she often sees and is quite used to the dawning of this understanding of the holistic nature of pain in her patients’ eyes. My understanding of my back pain is this: while my lifestyle contributes and can perhaps relieve symptoms, I need to keep an eye on harbouring negative emotions in my body.
My appointment with Amberin was a year ago. Have I since had back pain? Of course I have. But it has, and I have been, different. While muscular tensions come and go, the pain at my core hasn’t returned, I believe due to the fact that I have made an effort to stay calm, focussed and, most importantly, not panic when facing times of difficulty. But, rather like the back pain it was treating, my session was completely and utterly tailored to me. It is for this reason that if you are spurred on by reading this to go and do something about your back pain, I’d thoroughly recommend Amberin. There’ll be no one painkiller fits all answer from her lips.