Living with burns and back pain





The perfect description given to describe pain from a burns survivor with chronic back troubles.

Dating way back to 1997, I never imagined life would pan out the way it has. At the age of 3, I suffered full thickness and partial thickness flame burns to 32% of my body. This is truly where my journey began.

After several years of skin grafts, skin releases and many other surgical procedures, 2010 saw the first ‘fat transfer’ operation take place. I had insufficient fat around my ribcage both back and front to allow me to sit comfortably in a chair amongst other problems.   Even a hug hurt my ribs.    This wasn’t the life for me. I had fat taken from my torso, which was then placed beside my ribs to give me that extra bit of ‘padding.’ Little did I know, this would be the beginning of years of trouble.

The fat migrated to the bottom of my back and attached itself to a muscle in the lumbar part of my back. After two further surgical procedures in an attempt to remove this fat lump, here we are, seven years later with the lump still standing strong!

Back pain has been a constant battle for me and such a setback in life in general, stopping me completing day-to-day tasks and even going out enjoying myself. With my scars creating tight skin around the area, this also appeared an issue. Being under such a fantastic Burns Consultant at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, this saw me take my first step in the right direction, at least I thought so!


After many discussions, I was placed under the care of Pain Management Team in Birmingham. I underwent several examinations, both physically and physiologically to determine what the trigger of this back pain was. The conclusion they came to after an ultrasound and an MRI scan was that in fact, I had scoliosis, nerve damage  and mechanical and chronic back pain. Brilliant!

I was referred for standard physiotherapy. I attended my first appointment feeling hopeful of finding a way of ‘coping.’ How wrong was I.   I was given another ‘diagnosis’ and further told I had one leg shorter than the other and in actual fact, it wasn’t any of the above diagnoses,  it was my sacroiliac joint that was out of place. Many thoughts rushed through my mind, the main being ‘What even is this joint?’  The physio sent me off with a list of exercises which my burn ravaged skin with its tight bands of scarring was having none of !.

Again, after attending several appointments to manipulate a joint that I had no idea where it was in my body or its purpose, I felt this treatment to be of no ease or benefit.   Back to the drawing board!

My Burns Consultant then referred me to the Pain Management Team where I was prescribed several variations of ‘pain relief’, in the form of medications. This saw me go through medicated back patches, several pain killers and also on top of these prescribed medications, over the counter pain killers to take the edge off this severe pain. So much so, I even got prescribed medication to protect my stomach from such harsh medications. We all know what’s coming next don’t we? Yet no cure of course!

As a young female, body shape and fitness in general is such a big thing in my life.   I have always enjoyed the gym as a hobby. I signed up for a personal trainer from the gym which I felt I needed to motivate me that little bit more. Brilliant I thought. Wrong! I was over worked, my body fatigued and still pushed (incorrectly I have since found out by my Personal Trainer) to take part in exercises and stretches that it physically were not good for my body or my medical needs.

My back now felt broken.


After much investigation, I found a new Personal Trainer who specialised in Sports Massage and Physiotherapy and heard my story out before putting me through my paces. Not only does she visually see where my body struggles, she didn’t push my body to limits it would never achieve. I finally started to feel slightly human again, but never did my back pain disappear.

Back to the drawing board yet again, saw the decision of my Consultant deciding to take me down the route of sports physiotherapy, exploring the route of desensitisation of the area. Due to work commitments, Warwickshire would have suited better but due to funding issues and not being allowed to “cross the border” the NHS didn’t allow this. I was referred to a hospital where I met Laura, a burns specialist in physiotherapy.

Attending this appointment in low spirits and feeling a little bit of déjà vu after seven years of constant pain and numerous procedures with no outcomes, I didn’t hold out much hope. How wrong was I……

Laura completed an initial assessment on me, taking pages of notes as I spoke to her about my past. She took one look at me and said the gym at the hospital would be of no benefit to me as my strength and fitness would just see me breeze through all the exercises given to me with no problems. Some positive comments actually came my way!

Picking things up off the floor was not an issue for me, nor bending, even if these were a little off balance. Next came the dreaded request.   She asked me to RELAX!! What is relaxing?! This is some sort of foreign language to me.

Having suffered from anxiety in the past, I have always been an uptight and tense person. This was normal to me. Not to Laura though! She also observed my breathing and soon picked up that this was very shallow and I was breathing from my upper respiratory tract rather than filling my lungs up to their full capacity. I was also observed to be holding my breath. Something people have mentioned to me in the past, but subconsciously, I have never noticed myself doing this. Laura then prodded and poked my abs and told me they were solid. No, I didn’t have a 6 pack unfortunately, but my body was set in constant ‘fight mode’ and this was the way my mind told my body to react to pain.


Having attended Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in the past, I never saw this as being of much benefit and could not get the necessary positive thoughts into my thinking process or apply this to daily life situations. Never did I think that my anxiety could be linked to the pain in my back. Laura discovered and explained this; I actually thought she was a psychologist as well as a physiotherapist, a woman of many talents! This is where my homework was set. She gave me simple tasks of breathing outwards and taking deep breaths. Simple? I said. Breathing is supposed to be second nature, but not for me! I was also given some YouTube channels to listen to, in a bid to ‘relax’ me. Much to my astonishment, I fell asleep whilst listening to this. Magic. I tried my best with the breathing exercises, tricky to begin with, but after time and follow up appointments, it saw me through to being able to breathe ‘normally’ and to become less tense. I had entered ‘flight mode’ and boy did it feel good!

Weeks have passed and I have learnt and trained my mind set to breathe correctly which has enabled me to lie down comfortably, which in the past never seemed possible. This has enabled me to sleep the night through. I have also mastered the art of sitting in a chair with no discomfort at all, enabling me to complete long car journeys. Best of all, people can actually touch my back now and I don’t bite like a fierce lion! It feels so good to actually enter the world of ‘relaxation’.  I know that pain is often triggered by past traumas that our wonderful minds remember and associate with certain situations but I actually almost feel pain free.

This has changed me as a person, physically and personally, receiving many positive comments. Now I feel more relaxed, I feel the hold that the negative anticipation had on my mind and ‘fight mode’ which my body was always operating in has now disappeared.   This could not be possible without Laura and her fantastic expertise and advice. She has supported me along the way with such positive and driven challenges to achieve the best, positive outcome I have been awaiting for seven years. I’m almost cured with no surgical process in sight and you got it, my lump is still a part of me!

Thank-you Laura, heroines really do exist!

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