Taking Responsibility as a Patient


back painThe curse of the digital age office has got to be lower back pain.

Many jobs today involve sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time, and it’s affecting our health. Don’t misunderstand me. I love my work. And it’s the perfect workstyle (is that a new word?) for lots of people, for lots of reasons. Different levels of ability and disability of movement can restrict the type of work that you can do, and – you’ve guessed it – most people can sit in front of a computer.

Perhaps the industry you work in dictates that you sit in front of a computer – that’s your job. And sometimes, like me, it’s just through sheer preference because we love using technology and the world it opens up to us. Personally, I’d hate to give it up and do another type of job, but I also have to recognize that this ‘workstyle’ may also be doing me harm. I am a freelance medical writer, and I work in front of a computer for several hours every day.

Expertise – A Learned or A Personal Experience?

I’ve read that, as a medical writer, you shouldn’t market yourself in several areas of medicine, but should limit your expertise to a few key research fields. Well, this morning during an exercise session that I forced myself to keep, I had a revelation. I am an expert in lower back pain! Yes, I have a Ph.D. and an in-depth knowledge of drug design and infectious disease. Yes, I have a broad knowledge of diabetes, neurology, dermatology, to name a few specialties. But this knowledge is learned. The real expertise comes from my experience as a patient.

As a patient, you have a comprehensive understanding of your particular medical problem. Why? Simple – because you live with it every single day. That’s why patients need to be at the center of medical education training.

Is There a Cure for Chronic Back Pain?

So what goes wrong with the back, the vertebrae, the spine? And is there an optimized treatment package for managing an individual’s pain? There is no cure for back pain. There is no magic fix in the doctor’s drawer, or on the prescription pad, nor does the physician know how best to treat you as an individual.

My experience over the years has been a mixture of prescription writing coupled with the odd sympathetic look, or in the case of my new doctor – a shrug of the shoulders. She did refer me for physiotherapy, although I knew I was already doing all the known exercises considered beneficial.

I was already trying different things to relieve pain and stiffness, some of which worked, some of which were less successful, leading me to a question. “If something benefits me and I tell a medical professional about it, what do they do with this information?”

Teach Them What They Need to Know

If something works for you, pass on that knowledge to healthcare professionals. This information is valuable and could help someone else. It’s not all about miracle drugs and cures. The healthcare worker you are in contact with may not be aware of what you have found. Hydrospin anyone? Aqua jogging?

I told my physiotherapist what I had been doing with water-based exercise which, for me, has given some relief. Sometimes a lot, sometimes not so much. I do wonder, though, was that piece of information lost to the wind or did another patient somewhere benefit from my little nugget? It’s only taken me 30 years to find it.

Long-term treatment of any condition is no longer the responsibility of just the person who writes the prescription. It’s a team effort with you, the patient, at the center. The medical education industry needs to hear your voice so that long-term treatment management practices can change.

What works for you when you take responsibility for your health? I’ll guarantee it won’t be the same as what works for me. Letting others know how you get relief from pain might help someone else identify what works for them. So let’s take responsibility as patients and help ourselves as much as is realistically possible.

How do you deal with long-standing pain? Please feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss anything about chronic pain. I’m interested in hearing from patients and professionals and perhaps we can work together to make sure the information gets to the right people. I’d like to write more on pain management and would welcome any suggestions for topics to cover.

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