Am I the only one?
As a previously very active 19-year-old forced to pull out of all forms of sport, and physical activity as a way to fix my back pain, I felt like I was the only one. No-one else understood the level to which this back pain hit me, more than just a physical injury but something that was completely taking over my life and forcing me to stop the only things I loved, sport.
Chronic pain is common
It wasn’t until I was well through my Clinical Exercise Physiology Masters degree that I learnt how big problem chronic pain is to society as a whole. 1 in 5 Australians including adolescents and children experience chronic pain and 1 in 5 GP consults is someone presenting with pain. I’d often get told I was too young to have a bad back or chronic pain, but this insight made me realise that it wasn’t just me and this got me thinking.
You could say the ongoing and unpredictable nature of my pain was one of my biggest frustrations but to be honest that hardest part of having chronic pain was trying to explain to friends and family and teammates why I had to say no to things. If you haven't experienced ongoing pain before that has forced you to make changes to your life, then, of course, it would be difficult to understand. But trying to give an answer to ‘What’s wrong with your back?” or “Why can’t you fill in for netball tonight?” or “Do you want to sign up to this run in 6 months?” these are the questions that got me deep. Of course, I wanted to do those things and no I didn't officially have a reason for my back being sore but I would say no, hold my tongue and walk off so that person couldn't see the emotion building up inside of me because every part of me wanted to say yes.
Nine years on from my first official back injury and I’ve never felt better. Do I still have back pain? Sure do. But I’ve learnt how to manage the pain, I know what makes it worse/better and understand the number of factors that contribute to my pain and when I have a flare-up (if I even call it that) I know it will pass and no longer freak out. This did not happen overnight and I do catch myself out every now and then thinking in my old ways. I have gone from believing I will never be able to run ever again to now where I lead a weekly run group and compete in race walks of distances up to 20km’s.
Where to from here?
The worst part of my back pain was feeling alone and that not one person understood what I was going through. As an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, I feel I’m in the perfect position to make an impact. This is why, just over 12 months ago, I created We’ve Got Your Back, the first support group for women experiencing persistent pain. The power this group brings is incredible. The more stories and experiences group members share the more I realise, I am not alone and we are not alone. Isolation and withdrawal from social situations is a huge issue for anyone experiencing chronic illness. The power of We’ve Got Your Back and all its group members completely removes these helpless feelings with a podcast, monthly events and a Facebook community to stay connected between events. The added bonus is the chance to learn the latest in pain science innovation and how we can best apply this to our own lives and manage our pain.
What's next for We’ve Got Your Back?
We’ve created something pretty cool here, but reaching women with chronic pain is difficult for a number of reasons. This is why we have teamed up with Pain Revolution; a fantastic organisation spreading the message of the latest pain science to rural communities and upskilling local health care workers. We want to help more women experiencing chronic pain as no one should feel alone, not when there is a way out.
What can you do TODAY?
Claire Samanna, Accredited Exercise Physiologist
Tailored Health, Ashwood, Victoria.
* We've Got Your Back are donating 10% of their membership fee to Pain revolution.
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