Review: Back Sufferers’ Bible, Sarah Key

Discussion about back problems crops up on these pages quite regularly, and not just because of my recent back problems. Over the years the issue of back pain has come up in discussions about walking poles, in posts and threads that look at the Alexander Technique and so on. The threads on these posts are usually quite lengthy. As TGO vetter Pete Goddard said to me recently there are few of us hikers that don’t have back problems from time to time as we get older.

In one recent thread Colin Griffiths recommended Sarah Keay’s Back Sufferers’ Bible and encouraged me to go and buy it off Amazon. After a couple of weeks reading I can see why Colin thinks so highly of this book. Look at the reviews on Amazon (and there are a lot of them) you can see that Colin is not alone in thinking a great deal of this book.

Getting your first really bad back is not just painful, it’s quite a perplexing and confusing experience. One of the problems is that most people you talk to have had back problems, or have a family member who has. You hear all kinds of different ‘expert views’ about how back pain is caused and even more views on how to combat it. We’re often into real urban myth territory here.

Finding a knowledgable source of information is quite hard, not to say pretty expensive at times. The first time this happened to me I realised that I needed to find a new GP — mine had recently died. I decided to register with a practice nearer to where I now lived. They insisted that I had a full medical before they admitted me onto the books. By the time they got around to realising I wasn’t going to be too much trouble and arranging an appointment the back was on the mend. So I never went. Subsequent bouts of back problems were milder and I kind of knew then how it worked. I know a lot of people who have had similar experiences. There is just a lot we don’t know.

Take exercise. It’s pretty obvious that exercise is important, especially after the back has seized up and you’re trying to get some movement back into it. But which exercises? Is there a problem in over-doing it? Could you create more damage this way?

Sarah Key takes a very practical approach to the whole problem. the book looks at different kinds of back problem and explains clearly and simply what is going on, where the problems may have come from and how you can combat them. Her message is that even where there is degeneration of the back sensible care and exercise can regenerate bad backs. When you read the text it is quite obvious which bit applies to you. The pain she describes, and the phases that you go through, are so obviously the ones you have experienced yourself that it gives you confidence in the text.

There is a lot of technical stuff here but it is presented clearly and without too much drama or padding. It is a book that I find myself dipping in and out of. Each time I do this I learn a lot.

The focus here is on self treatment, the book is sub-titled ‘How you CAN treat your own back!’ I’m not normally a fan of self help guides, often finding them verging on mumbo jumbo; but there’s no such problem here. If your looking for a detailed explanation of what is going on with your back you’ll probably find it here.

I’ve not spent hours (yet) reading the more medical bits. I’ve been more interested in the exercises that are provided in the book. Key features specific exercises in each section that deals with a specific complaint; she tells you which are the best techniques to use. However, at the rear of the book all of the exercises are bought together. It is quite easy to experiment with the different exercises that are laid out here.

More specifically, Key talks about the problems with exercise as well as the benefits. However, there is encouragement to be bolder than you might otherwise. Take really serious bending like touching the toes and to- swing exercises. Key recognises that many people worry about these but she makes it clear that these exercises have really great benefits if you can deal with them.

To cut a long story short I’ve settled on four or five exercises over the last couple of weeks, including some of the more drastic stretching exercises that I’d been worrying about. I find just a short time with these every morning — and I mean no more than 10 minutes — makes a really big difference. I don’t start the day stiff but with more mobility in my back than I’ve often had when I’ve been OK! Now I find myself quickly running through some of them during the day whenever I feel a little stiffer.

This book has genuinely made a difference to me and I’ve hardly begun to explore the vast part of its content. If you’re struggling with occasional or regular back problems then it’s going to worth your while shelling out the £6 for this. And despite the forward from Prince Charles this really is a no nonsense and straightforward volume.

Thanks Colin!

Four stars!