Severe Back Pain and the Struggle for a Diagnosis

This week we have our first guest post by Evelyn. Enjoy!

The Backstory:

I was in my fourth year at university when I began to notice some back pain while sitting for long periods, such as when I was driving or writing essays. While irritating at times, I’d had this pain before, and assumed it would go away as it had in the past.


Fast forward six months, and sitting of any kind had become absolute agony for me. This led to essay extensions, getting permission to leave exam rooms and be watched by confused invigilators as I lay on the floor and tried desperately to stretch out my back, unable to relax unless I was lying horizontally.

By the summer of 2015, I had seen multiple doctors and physiotherapists, all of whom had told me that my pain was “mechanical” (i.e. muscular; a pull or a strain), and as long as I kept stretching and exercising, it would eventually go away. “How much longer?” I would say through gritted teeth, trying hard not to cry, as I often did during these visits where it seemed nobody was listening to me. I was sick and tired, literally and metaphorically, of being treated as if I was simply being hysterical about common back pain. I have had common back pain before, it is horrible and I do not wish it upon anyone, but this was worse.

Prescription drugs everywhere but not an answer in sight:

I was taking up to 240 milligrams of prescribed codeine every day, for weeks upon weeks (to put this into perspective, if you get codeine over the counter, the most you are recommended to take is half that amount, for a maximum of three days). When I challenged my doctor about my painkillers, he simply said if I needed it, I should keep taking it. I was also given Naproxen, a strong anti-inflammatory, and copious amounts of tramadol and diazepam, which would make any normal person feel completely off their face. For me? It gave me around 10% pain relief, which was barely taking the edge off. A bonus side effect of the pain combined with all these drugs was that I was fatigued all the time and would fall asleep at the drop of a hat, which meant my partner was essentially dating a narcoleptic.


A brief history of doctors’ and physiotherapists’ analyses:

I have been told throughout the past two years that:

– I am too young to have anything other than mechanical pain, and therefore do not need further tests, such as scans or X-rays.

– I just need to be patient and my back will heal.

– I should try yoga. When I informed her that I did try and it caused me excruciating pain, she said “Well don’t do it if it hurts, silly!”.

– My pain came about due to inactivity. When I started getting the pain, I was the most fit I’d ever been, exercising 5-6 times per week.

– An emergency GP I was sent to from A&E told me my pain might be in my head, with no offer of any tests to either prove or disprove this theory.

Over the course of 18 months, not a single medical professional had deemed my condition serious enough to warrant further exploration. No X-rays, no MRIs, nothing.

One doctor, a referral, and the road to recovery:

Then one day at work in my office job, sat in a desk chair for hours at a time, the pain got too much. My computer screen was swimming in front of my eyes, and I had to ask my boss if I could go home to see a doctor. I was given an emergency appointment, and the GP said these magic words:

“I believe you, and you’re too young to be in this sort of pain. Let’s make you better.”

He didn’t examine me, he said he didn’t need to as he could see how much I was suffering. He referred me for an MRI, and I went home and burst into tears. I had been in so much pain for so long, being told I wasn’t being patient, I wasn’t doing enough physio, that it was in my head, and now someone believed me. It was so huge for me, all I could do was cry.

My MRI showed that I have a severely protruding (slipped) disc, and another bulging one. These discs were pressing on my spinal cord and causing the pain I had been describing to doctor after doctor for almost two years.

I’m now awaiting a consultation with a neurosurgeon, and my pain is easier to manage knowing that I’m getting somewhere with it. Hey, I might even be able to do this dance soon rather than just feel like doing it:


Final Advice:

If you have any form of back pain, you’re likely to be told it will go away on its own. While this is true for a lot of cases, it is not always true for everyone, and you do not deserve to live in agony because the chances of it being a serious problem are slim.

Many times I was told of miracle cures which “would definitely work on you too” from other ex-sufferers, none of which did anything except disappoint and frustrate me. Find your own remedy – mine is gentle swimming, it may not be yours.

You are the person who knows your body best. Do not give up until you get the answers you need to live your life without the cloud of worry that comes with living with un-diagnosed pain.


2 thoughts on “Severe Back Pain and the Struggle for a Diagnosis

  1. Katherine Lindqvist Jones says:

    I have been researching a mechanical repair for prolapsed disc’s with the university of Birmingham as currently, other than pain management and physio, the surgery is often considered too extreme to perform!

    I also have a colleagues who has the same severe pain and expressed the exact same issue! “You’re too young to have a slipped disc” and no MRI for YEARS! Good luck with everything and her best bit of advice is to get the government occupational health team to purchase you a mega chair! She said it is the only chair she can comfortably sit in to work at! I can get the brand name for you and I know they came in to adjust it for her (it has like a 9 different adjustment areas)


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