Living with Spinal Injuries and Back Problems

Spinal injuries can happen at anytime, anywhere and at any age and can vary from soft tissue damage to total paralysis.

Whatever the severity of the injury, individuals can cope with their condition, it simply means a slight change to their lifestyle. If the spinal injury is quite severe they will need physical help with hygiene, mobility and cleaning their accommodation. If they are to stay in their own home, some adaptations may be needed to the property, such as:

  • Handrails in the bathroom;
  • A stairlift;
  • Access ramps
  • Wider doorways

Whatever needs to be done, the home will need to be accessible before the person returns home from hospital or from a care facility.

Depending in the severity of the injury and/or disability, treatment will vary. At one time complete bedrest was the course of action for soft tissue damage or a ‘slipped disc’. The treatment for most people now, after a brief spell of bedrest, is to resume normal physical activity as soon as possible.

The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. It also has a spinal cord and nerve roots within the vertebrae. It is divided into three sections, neck (cervical), chest (thoracic) and lower back (lumbar). In between the vertebrae is cartilage (disc). The disc is made up of connective tissue, with a gel-like centre core. The discs act as a ‘buffer’ to try and protect the spine, spinal cord and nerve root from getting damaged.

One of the most common causes of a back injury is a ‘slipped disc’. This is where the soft gel-like central core is pushed through the connective tissue. Sometimes the gel is pushed so far through the connective tissue that it can cause what is known as a prolapse. Some people are unaware they have a slipped disc, as they are not in pain. It is only when the prolapse is touching the nerve roots, causing pain, that they become aware of their condition. ‘Slipped discs’ usually affect the lower back (lumbar region) and it is mainly caused by heavy, physical work involving a lot of bending. Poor posturing when doing this kind of work is the most probable cause. Slipped discs can also occur following an accident or fall. Very rarely will a ‘slipped disc’ appear in the neck but is more common in the elderly.

As was mentioned earlier, brief bedrest is recommended and if the pain becomes too severe, various pain relief options will be advised. Sometimes surgical intervention will be performed to relieve the pressure from the root nerves. Living with ‘slipped discs’ that are touching the nerve root can lead to some other problems such as slight numbness, especially down the side of the legs, or total paralysis.

As a person living with a ‘slipped disc’ for over thirty years, I have had to adapt my life slightly. My injury was caused by landing on my back, whilst roller-skating. It is not a case of, “what can I not do?” It’s a case of “what can I do?” I was very active person, walking, running, swimming, cycling, dancing etc, which formed a big part of my life. I still take part in sport but instead of taking part in high-impact sports I mostly concentrate on swimming. The buoyancy of the water helps support my body so I can still use my back muscles without too much pain. I can do small amounts of shopping, but unfortunately pushing a shopping trolley puts too much pressure on my back.

I take anti-inflammatory tablets and strong painkillers and until I take my medication I can be quite stiff in the mornings.

I have certain adaptations in my home which are mostly in the bathroom. I have a handrail near the toilet and adaptations in the bath. I also have hand rails going up both sides of the stairway. Because I drive, I have a support cushion on my seat, as long car journeys can be uncomfortable for me. I also have a neck support cushion for my bed.

As I have suffered ‘slipped discs’ for a long time, it has caused other health issues including arthritis.

When a person is diagnosed with a back or spinal injury, one of their initial feelings is fear, especially if it is a severe injury. Fear off how they will cope with their injury and/or disability. Let people be assured that in England there is a lot of help for them to lead as normal life as possible. They will still be able to live a good standard and quality of life with the right help.

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