11 October 2018

Back in action: Why Simona Halep can recover from a slipped disc

World No.1, Simona Halep has just revealed she has been diagnosed with a slipped disc but despite this says she will compete in the WTA finals in Singapore in just over a week. Hopefully she has found a way to manage the pain says LTL's co-founder, Sally Kinnes

You learn a lot when you have a slipped disc. The doctor, for example, will tell you a huge number of people walk around with one without realising it; you find out that it is agonisingly painful and also that, extraordinarily enough, it will get better on its own.

Discs don’t slip so much as squidge out from between the vertebrae they are designed to cushion. It’s rather like the way butter cream will ooze from between the layers of a sponge cake if you apply pressure to the top. This presumably is why sitting down is so bad for your back – constantly compressing the discs can force them out of place. But if the disc that has bulged beyond its moorings does not press on the nerve, you won’t know you have a problem. It is only when it does that the pain starts.

 Sally back in action

Above, Sally back in action.

When it happened to me, I quickly learned that pain is a lonely business. What do you do with yourself when it’s too painful to stand long enough to make a cup of coffee but you are waiting to get better on your own? I said no to surgery (too invasive), no to cortisone injections (too many possible side effects) and no to the painkiller co-codamol (it made me feel sick). But for one wonderful week I was prescribed Valium and I limped round to my then-neighbour who was an osteopath and acupuncturist. I also learned the joy of being able to combine paracetamol and ibuprofen at the same time

Eventually what worked for me was Pilates, first on the NHS, then when that ran out, a private recommendation to someone who passionately believed in its power to cure back problems. Strengthen the muscles around your core, he argued, and your spine will be supported and under less duress. I have been doing it every since.

Ten years on, I am almost as good as new, though there is the occasional flare up (why on earth did I dig up two shrubs in the garden?)

The last time it happened, a fellow tennis player recommend a new osteopath and a few sessions settled it down. He recommended regular ongoing sessions and while I have not ruled out return visits the final thing you learn is that everyone disagrees about what to do and that can be debilitating in itself.  The osteopath didn’t agree with the Pilates teachers, the Pilates teachers do not necessarily agree with each other and everyone who has had the problem says something different. Halep, will no doubt, find what works for her and the one thing everyone does agree on is that, when you are up to it, exercise helps. Just don’t sit down too much in between or dig up too many shrubs.