Backpacking and a Bad Back – Not an Ideal Combo

Backpacking and a Bad Back - Not an Ideal Combo 2

Shooting, crippling pain like I have never felt before ran down my back and to the tips of my toes. I made it as far as my bed and collapsed. My left leg started to spasm then I started to shake. I could not stop shaking. “What the hell is wrong with me?” is all I could think as I laid still for what felt like 10 hours – too afraid to move thinking the pain would return. I awkwardly crawled to the end of the bed and onto the floor in an attempt to get off my stomach and onto my back. That’s when my leg went numb.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with me??

It was the numbness that prompted a late-night trip to the ER. After uncomfortably sitting for a couple of hours I was attended to by a doctor that reminded me of my brother. He was professional, to the point, and very matter-of-fact. I decided I liked him and immediately felt at ease. That is until he examined me in the most uncomfortable way. All of a sudden those comforting thoughts turned creepy and beyond weird.

The Diagnosis

In the end (pun intended) the doctor confirmed what I have been fearing for over a month… I had a slipped disc in my lower back. To be fair it could’ve been much worse. This painful episode could have occurred while travelling in the middle of nowhere – miles from the comforts of a Doctor that looked like my brother. That said, the timing is not great. Backpacking and a bad back is not an ideal combo. With under three weeks to my around the world trip, I thought, “how the f@ck do you travel with back pain?” Especially since this was before I knew about natural remedies like those found on

I was broken.

Mentally and physically. This trip was the only thing I was looking forward to and now, in my mind, it wasn’t happening. My day job has been causing me stress for months – not because of the work, the exact opposite. There are uncertainty and unrest at my job and I was at the point where I had told myself I just need to make it to February. I just need to go on this trip. And now this…

Backpacking with a bad back may feel like this.
Backpacking and a bad back may feel like this.

It could’ve been avoided…couldn’t it?

As mentioned, I’ve been dealing with a nagging back since early December. Some days have been worse than others. The bad days included lying on the floor or walking up the slight hill to my house backwards ( backwards! ) to relieve the pain. It was at that point I went to my doctor who shrugged it off as muscle pain. “You are young and healthy,” he said and sent me on my way. I sure didn’t feel young and healthy and now tell that to the lumbar vertebra pinching my S1 nerve root.

In all fairness it is not my misdiagnosing doctor’s fault nor is it the inexperienced basketball player that got under my legs the day my symptoms began. This is on me. You see I have had a leg injury that has never healed and it’s my fault for not dealing with it sooner.

Or maybe it’s Taj Johnson’s fault.

Jokes. Sorry. I mean it did feel like he pushed me when I went to dunk on him (almost 20 years ago!) but that’s debatable – and constantly is. The truth is I’ve been living with this injury for longer than I haven’t so it is on me 100%. My neglecting it for so long has led to constant knee pain and overcompensating to the point that my hips, calves, and ankles are all being overworked. And now this.

It stops now

For the sake of this trip and future ones, I’m committing to making this right. 2014 is about writing the wrongdoings to my body, starting with my back. My excitement for this trip has been replaced with anxiety. How could I go on and enjoy myself if my leg is dead? I can’t sit for more than two minutes without feeling discomfort. How am I going to fly across the Atlantic let alone the 12 other flights I have coming up? SCUBA diving? Snowmobiling on a glacier? Riding an elephant? Shit.

My life of laying and standing for the past couple weeks.
My life of laying and standing for the past couple of weeks.

 Cheer up Eeyore

Almost 3 weeks have passed since that horrible night and I have made some serious progress. The pain is gone as is my bad attitude. In the end “it is what it is.” Shit happens, and so does life. And life goes on. I decided to go through with this trip, even if it means taking it slow and missing out on a few activities. Sure there are concerns – What if I have a relapse? What if I can’t walk? – but what is more concerning to me is:

What if I don’t go?

That question outweighs all the concerns. I will be careful, I will be cautious, I will be fine.

With the help of a great physiotherapist, a back whisper, a new bed, a personal Sherpa (Erin), medication, and not sitting for the last two+ weeks I’ve been able to turn things around. I can walk (slowly) and am going to make the absolute most of this trip and opportunity – backpacking and a bad back and all. My non-pessimistic self wouldn’t want it any other way.

Cover photo via Flickr CC – JDHancock

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14 replies on “Backpacking and a Bad Back – Not an Ideal Combo”
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  2. Avatarsays: Alex McMorris

    A slipped disc can be pretty serious. Take it easy on your trip and do remain positive!

  3. Avatarsays: Pat White

    Sorry to hear about your luck Shaun. I took a cruise once with a bad back because it was non-refundable. Turned out to be fine and very relaxing. All the best.


    1. Avatarsays: shaun_robertson

      Thanks Pat. I hope to relax as much as possible with our busy route. First stop is geothermal spas in Iceland so that should help!

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