Neck pain is a real pain in the neck for Ellen Widdup

Ellen's children attempt to nurse her back to health

Ellen's children attempt to nurse her back to health - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

My life is one big pain in the neck right now.

I can’t really blame the children – although the first week of school holidays has been rather testing at times.

I can’t blame the dog, who is too hot to do anything other than lay about under the tree in the back garden.

And I can’t even blame my husband – despite the fact he is usually prime suspect number one when it comes to my irritation.

No, this time it’s just as it says on the tin – a chronic muscle cramp.

I have suffered on and off with aches and pains in my neck and back for years.

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It started with the pregnancy of my daughter and got subsequently worse after her birth.

I once went to lift her out of her cot and collapsed on the floor of the nursery, howling louder than she was.

On another occasion I had to phone a neighbour from my car because I pulled a muscle while parking and literally couldn’t get out of the driving seat.

I spent a lot of money trying to find a cure. The chiropractors, the osteopaths, rounds of acupuncture, a spot of yoga stretching, a course in the Alexander Technique which saw me walking around with a book on my head to improve my posture, a back brace, a neck support, heat pads, cold compresses... you name it, I’ve tried it.

And it eased up. It became less debilitating.

Until about three months ago, that is.

And now I’m back at square one.

First it was just a bit of neck stiffness. I put it down to sleeping in a funny position, or hunching over my computer at work.

Then the stiffness turned into an ache which meant I could barely turn my head left and right. It radiated down the side of my back, through my arm, down my leg. The muscle pull in my neck got worse and then I started to get a dull pain in my lower back.

For about a week I’ve been hobbling around like an old woman and grunting dramatically like the excessively loud tennis player Maria Sharapova every time I’ve moved.

Mothers are not allowed to be ill, you know. We simply don’t have time for it.

So in between the washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, my work schedule and looking after two kids, I have just had to grin and bear it.

Until yesterday, that is, when I ended up lying sprawled on the living room carpet, wailing.

“What are you doing down there?” my daughter asked, hands on hips, when she discovered me.

I launched into an unnecessarily lengthy description of my ailment.

“I can’t get up,” I ended, pitifully.

She shrugged and stepped over me to reach her backpack.

“But you are still taking me swimming, aren’t you?”

My son was slightly more sympathetic.

“Stay right there,” he ordered me, like I was able to move even if I wanted to. “I know what to do.”

He left the room. I hoped he might bring me a cushion for my head, the lukewarm hot water bottle I had left in my bedroom, a tall glass of cool lemonade with a straw.

But he returned wearing a white coat and holding his plastic doctor’s briefcase in one hand. Then he set about tapping me with a stethoscope, covering me in plasters and sticking a thermometer in my protesting mouth.

“Shall I take you to the hospital?” my husband asked later that evening as I pulled my broken body up off the floor to attempt to make dinner.

“I’ll be fine,” I said through gritted teeth as, wincing, I tried to put together the ingredients for a Nicoise salad.

The thought of sitting in A&E for hours until someone tells me to take some Nurofen and come back if the symptoms don’t improve fills me with dread.

“Well, you need to go to the GP on Monday morning,” my husband tutted impatiently as he watched me painstakingly fill the washing machine.

I gestured hopelessly at the task I was struggling to do.

“I’ll help you,” he offered; but instead of taking over the chores, he handed me some painkillers he had picked up from the chemist.

Useless. Him and the painkillers.

Because a recent report has found that the most popular doctor’s remedy for back pain has no effect whatsoever.

That’s right: a major trial into paracetamol – the most widely recommended treatment – found that it does nothing to help sufferers recover quicker, reduce pain levels or improve quality of life.

The conclusion of the report, released only last week, was that most back pain is caused by bad posture, bending awkwardly or lifting incorrectly, and it gets better only if you solve the mystery of which of these things you are doing wrong.

It can also be exacerbated by stress.

Now, 80% of us suffer back pain in our lifetimes.

One in eight of the unemployed say they are not working because of it and 1.1 million are disabled by it.

It is the curse of the sloucher, the screen-starer, the delivery driver, the gardener, the overweight, the desk-bound, the high-heeled fashion victim, the schoolkid with a backpack full of books and, of course, the harassed mum.

But there is some good news. The majority of back pain gets better all by itself. Eventually.

There’s a reason a sick person is referred to as a “patient”, you see.

You’ve got to give it time, rest, recuperate and relax.

But forgive me if I don’t leap up and punch the air with joy. (I couldn’t even if I wanted to.)

Because smack bang in the middle of the school holidays, which pain-riddled mother has got time for that?

• Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

Ellen will be taking your questions during our live web chat on Monday night - log onto our website at 8pm for #SuffolkWomen’sHour

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