What I Have Learned From 20 Years of Back Problems

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I have been dealing with chronic back problems, mainly sciatic nerve pain for about 20 years.  I know all too well, the tingling and burning feeling that radiates down my right leg and into my toes.  I can’t necessarily tell you how to get rid of sciatic nerve pain, but I can tell you about the modifications I have made in my life that seem to help.

I had back surgery in 1999 and I was not educated on what to do or, more importantly, what not to do afterward.  I continued with all of the activities I loved with complete disregard for my body.  I was still playing golf, snow skiing, lifting heavy weight and other objects.  I once put a dryer on my back and carried it by myself, and this was a few years after my back surgery!

My doctors didn’t tell me to modify my lifestyle.  I was only in my late 20’s when I had back surgery so I thought I was pretty much invincible.

Admittedly I was pain-free for about 8 years after back surgery, well at least only minor aches and pains that would be normal for a pretty active guy.  I was running about 4-5 days per week, something I hated doing, but it helped to keep me in shape.  I was carrying dryers on my back LOL.  You know all the things people normally do.  Okay, I am joking of course.

I want to take some time today to reflect on what I have learned (and things I wish I had done much differently) with a life of back problems. If you are in a similar position, maybe you can benefit from the lessons I have learned.

Knowing and setting limits

I have never been a guy who wanted any limitations on what I could do physically.  To put it mildly, I don’t like to compromise.  Even if I had no intention of taking part in a certain activity, I still wanted to be able to do it if the opportunity presented itself.

I always felt like this was a weakness and limiting myself was not really an option.  I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.  Setting physical limits has been a huge challenge for me.  But you know what?  I have come to grips with it.  I now understand that my back is much more important than my ego.

Sometimes I just have to take a break

This too has been hard for me.  I am not one to really take breaks when I have my mind set on accomplishing stuff; I just tend to get it done.

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

After a tough day of yard work, chores around the house, or a long day on my feet hiking with my wife sometimes I just have to lay down for a bit and take a break. Often times I will chill out with an ice pack under my lower back and that is a great way for me to relax and get some much-needed relief.

Ask for help

I probably sound like a broken record, but this is me we are talking about.  I tend to learn things one way, the hard way.  I have always done the heavy lifting in my family, and not because my wife is unwilling or unable to help.  I used to feel like it was my duty, to impress, or show off or whatever.  Over the years, I have learned that my back is more important than that stuff.  Oh, and my wife still loves me.

Listen to your body

I never thought that I would say anything like this, in my lifetime but it’s true.  I have gotten pretty good at this in recent years, especially after I spent about six months recovering from spinal stenosis in 2016.  I have learned that my body is pretty smart and knows when it’s time to take a break or call it quits from whatever I happen to be doing.  Whether I am driving long distance, working out at the gym, or doing chores around the house, when my sciatic nerve starts to twinge, I stop.

Be aware

I have to be very aware of the movements I perform during the day.  Reaching across my desk for a pen, bending over to pick something up off the floor, all of these motions have consequences for me.  I just have to remind myself to be aware of what I am doing, so that I maintain proper posture and don’t get lazy.

If it hurts don’t do it

If an activity or a motion gives you back pain, try not to do it, or put yourself in that situation.  This goes back to some of the other items on the list, ask for help, etc.  Sometimes the activities, or movements, you don’t do are just as important as the ones you do.


This whole life in moderation mentality has been a hard pill for me to swallow.  My back problems have definitely gotten in the way of my ego at times and the back usually ends up winning!

The lessons I have learned have mostly come in the past few years, I suppose age has something to do with this, but my most recent injury was a real eye-opener.  This has not been an easy transition, but I have learned it is also not the end of the world.

I know there are a lot of people who are in a lot worse shape than I am.  I am very thankful each and every day that I am in decent shape as far as my back is concerned.  I just take each day as it comes and I really think about the consequences of my physical actions.

I hope to have added some value to your day, and I certainly appreciate you stopping by. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Feel free to contact me directly anytime.






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