I’m a physio and I did my back. How’s that for ironic?


I’m a physio and I did my back. How’s that for ironic?

Anyone who has ever suffered a back injury (work related or not) will surely agree with me that the experience is so damn painful, frustrating and depressing.

It happened a few weeks ago when I picking up a table tennis ball. No, not the table…. The table tennis ball! I mean I don’t think there is anything lighter on this earth than a table tennis ball! I immediately felt an explosion of sharp pain that ran from my back down my leg and into my foot. Unable to move I hit the floor and lay there in a frozen state of agony and embarrassment.

The MRI showed I had bulged the disc sitting between L4 and L5 in my lumber spine. I’ll spare readers the drawn-out gory details, but I ended up spending a few days in hospital to manage my pain and had the pleasure of a cortisone injection into my L4 nerve root.

Two weeks later and I am now back at work, attending regular manual therapy treatment sessions with an allied health professional and doing some functional rehab training. Yes, it is still painful every day. Yes, it is still somewhat debilitating (I feel like I walk in slow motion and don’t even get started on the stairs). Yes, it definitely interferes with the daily enjoyment of my life – from being unable to play soccer in the back yard with my kids, to not being able to exercise the way I used to (I was 3 months out of competing in a half ironman) to not even be able to concentrate at work thanks to some of the pain medication I’ve been prescribed. And yes, while she is no doubt worried about me, my wife is definitely over hearing me complain about it.

But do you want to know the worst part of it all? It’s that this whole episode was entirely preventable.

In my experience as a physio, most lower back issues do not happen from one instance. Usually, injuries like this begin insidiously. There are often warning signs that most of us are either not aware of, or in my case, prepared to ignore and push through. I felt the aches and pains whilst cycling and running and decided to self-manage with the odd massage and some anti-inflammatory tablets. I didn’t seek out help from the appropriate physio/chrio/osteo early enough, and I didn’t stop to try and change the activities that were aggravating my body.

Some would say that I had it coming, right?

Well, in my reduced capacity, it’s got me thinking a lot more about how an injury like this can happen to just about anyone and how the impact of it can significantly affect a person’s physical and mental health.

So, what have I learned from this experience?

Lesson 1:

At the first sign of a niggle or an ache, be proactive and seek help from an accredited, experienced physio/chrio/osteo with a good reputation. Their treatment and their advice may save you untold amounts of pain and money. (Side note – as you are no doubt aware I am a partner in a business that specialises in the delivery of injury prevention services to large workforces through the deployment of a team of experienced occupational physiotherapists. This experience is especially embarrassing for me and my partners).

Lesson 2:

Make the necessary adjustments to your training equipment/workstation/home furniture to cease or modify the activity that is aggravating your body. At the time I should have fixed my bike set up so that I was cycling in the correct position. Since returning to work I have found that using a stand-up desk periodically (10-15 mins per hour) to be a fantastic way to keep my back from stiffening up and aching.

Lesson 3:

Serious injuries don’t just affect you physically, they can also distress your mental and emotional state too. There are countless evidence-based research papers and articles that have been published about the negative impact that a back injury can have on a person’s outlook and enjoyment of life and sometimes these issues continue well on after the physical injury has healed. Taking the time to talk to a psychologist or a councillor can help to manage the anxiety and subsequent depression associated with recovering from a back injury. In my case, I have had to deal with the feelings that I have let down so many people in my family or at work as a result of my own injury.

So, in conclusion, I hope that at the very least anyone reading this article is able to be more proactive than I was and can learn from my experience to prevent sustaining an injury, lest you find yourself writhing in agony on the floor next to the table tennis table.



Rod Hampel
Partner at Bodycare Workplace Solutions