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Back in action – DIY pain relief

Back in action – DIY pain relief
Ella Tan
  • On September 30, 2015


Back and neck pains are so common that all you have to do is mention it and friends will share their experiences with tendonitis, muscle inflammation and slipped disks. In fact, a friend just mentioned that she’s seriously contemplating spinal surgery that might leave her wheelchair bound if it fails. But the alternative is to live with crippling back pain that has robbed her of simple joys like walking, shopping, and standing.

I can empathize because in early July, I suffered  an ache in the back and arm as if I had slept awkwardly. A well-meaning friend took me for tuina (Traditional Chinese Medicine style) massage.

The pain worsened. It got so bad that I had to spend most of the day lying down. I suspect the tuina pummelling exacerbated the problem. Besides excruciating achiness, there was tingling in my forearm all the way down to the fingers. It felt like backache coupled with repetitive stress injury (RSI) as I knew the signs – pain, numbness and weakness.

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But it wasn’t bad enough to alarm the doctor at the polyclinic. An x ray showed bone spurs in the neck but for a look at nerves and muscles, he said I would need an MRI. I left with a bag of painkillers which, by the way, didn’t provide much relief.

Well, here I was unable to sit, stand, or sleep properly and feeling for the most part like a wretched invalid. When I was cheerfully told over the phone that my orthopaedic appointment was in October, I quietly freaked out. Sorry, the voice nonchalantly said. No earlier slot is available. Obviously, Singaporeans are falling apart, so deal with it.


back neck x ray

If something like this befalls you, doing as I did might help. Certainly, it’s better than enduring the agony while contemplating a lifetime of disability.

I immediately looked for a Chinese physician because the next best thing was acupuncture. Friends said I could have a slipped disc and/or a pinched nerve, and many had had spinal troubles. I never realised that back problems were as common as women in heels.

It took three acupuncture + cupping sessions before I felt better. Pain relief was maybe 50 per cent but the tingling remained. If you’ve not tried acupuncture, don’t underrate it. Placing needles in the right spots open the meridians and hasten self-healing. With each needle she tapped in, the physician would ask, “Can you feel it?”

The feeling is a satisfying sharp discomfort translated as various degrees of “ouch!”. “No pain, no gain,” the physician gleefully declared as she twiddled the needles after 10 minutes for more ouch. I like acupuncture but cupping is horrid.


 back acupuncture

After the fifth acupuncture session in three weeks, I knew I had hit a plateau. Plus, it was costing too much, so I decided to find ways to help myself.

The internet to the rescue. I have Gary Crowley – to thank for self-massage so easy I was initially sceptical it would work.

Image: Gary Crowley

 back gary crowley

He has techniques for relieving all joint and muscle pains, so there’ll surely be something you can use. He helps you track the source of your pain. If you can fix the trouble spot, it’s likely the downstream pain will disappear.



For the out-of-reach parts, he suggests using a tennis ball in a sock against a wall. What I found even better was a dog’s ball-on-a-rope. It’s better than the sock which tends to stretch. I even tried the common Asian massage ball on a stick. It provides temporary relief when pounding stiff muscles but for pressure, the rubber ball is too small.

 back aids 1

As October approaches, I am in two minds whether to cancel my orthopaedic appointment. I am mostly better except for the occasional twinge when I overstretch myself. It seems a waste of time to be examined and advised to improve my posture (the real cause of my woes). However, a kiasu friend says I should go in case I have other undiscovered problems (aargh! What a terrifyiing thought).

Image: Dr Jo

 back Doctor Jo

In the meantime, I shall start practising yoga in a chair – and continuing Doctor Jo’s stretches – ht tps://


back chair-yoga-mainback yoga

(first posted in Oh My Papaya)

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