Back Pain

(Originally written as a Quora post.)

I’m no stranger to back pain.

My father was born with acute scoliosis. At the age of 18 he underwent spinal fusion surgery, which essentially fused together vertebrae & a titanium rod in order to prevent further curvature to his spine. Just a few years ago (~age 50) he went through a second fusion surgery as it again became necessary. The sheer amount of blood he needed to store for that surgery was mindblowing to me. Recovery took ages.

It had always been a bit difficult to comprehend what he meant when my father said he was in pain. His pain varied with time and with whether he found a good way to sleep that night. Every night was and continues to be a struggle for a comfortable resting position. He would tell me one day that the pain was in his neck; another day he would say it’s in his lower back.

This weekend I pinched a muscle in my upper left shoulder and it put me out of commission for days. I was prescribed cyclobenzaprine to help combat the muscle spasms along with painkillers. Now I know what he meant — even lying down there wasn’t a good way to make my upper back comfortable. I would slip in and out of sleep because of the pain (which compared to my father’s is considerably less, no doubt).

It strikes me as amazing that despite incredible medical advancements in certain fronts, we continue to be helpless in the face of back pain. NSAIDs and stronger painkillers are staples of those who face chronic back pain — only now do I understand the gravity of that. NSAIDs cause deterioration in the stomach lining, but they’re a necessity. For sanity.

It’s humbling to realize that a few hundred years from now, problems like will likely not exist thanks to science, and that people will look back and say “man that would have sucked to have ______.” We can send people to the moon but we can’t fix people suffering biomechanically-induced pain. I guess it’s not fair to say this, as if medical technology is advancing slower than other technologies, but it definitely seems that way to me.

Not sure if it’s naivety or if my feelings have any actual merit.