The unexpected physical consequence of Offa’s Dyke

When you set off on a challenge to walk 177 miles, over 13 days, carrying a 15kg backpack, with a dog, there are a number of things you expect: blisters, sore feet, aching shoulders, bruised hips, and exhaustion, to name but a few.

What I didn’t expect was to end up in hospital……


In April 2006, I started going numb in my lower half, which was progressively getting worse. After a chat with my dad, who is a doctor, I went to see my GP who quickly sent me to A&E. After an MRI scan I was diagnosed as having an inwards slipped disc (which probably has a much better medical name), which was putting pressure on my nerves and ultimately my spinal cord. A week later I had a semi-emergency micro discectomy to prevent “neurological disaster” (according to my consent form).

If you really want to, you can view a video of what they do during a microdiscetomy L5-S1 at

The operation was a success and whilst leaving me with slightly numbness /pins and needles in my toes, and mild back pain (if I don’t sit correctly), left me fit to resume normal life – in fact the surgeon said I would be able to play rugby within 6 weeks (I don’t play rugby, but I got his point).

4 Years On

In the last four years – my back has been fine. It is sometimes a little stiff in the mornings if I have been particularly active, and is a bit painful if I don’t sit properly – but ultimately there was nothing worthy of concern.

During the build up for Offa’s Dyke I was actually quite surprised how well my back coped with walking for long distances – I purposely chose a slightly heavier backpack which offered maximum lumber support (the staff at White and Bishop were very understanding as I tried every single backpack they had in stock several times before settling on the Berghaus C7 65l+10l Bioflex Backpack), and I had no problems on any of the training trips.

During Offa’s Dyke, I experienced a little bit of uncomfort going up hill towards the end – but that disappeared at the top, and each morning my back felt absolutely fine.

After Offa’s Dyke

Four days after returning from Wales however, I started going progressively numb again. My GP, who felt that I had probably slipped a disc again, decided to arrange a MRI scan, but in the meantime I was told to go straight to A&E if symptoms progressed.

Two days later, as symptoms progressed, I was admitted to hospital, after quite a few hours spent in A&E. The MRI scan the following morning revealed that my discs were fine, and that there was “no surgical cause” for my symptoms, and a few days later I was discharged with a view to having an outpatients appointment with a neurologist.

Now What?

As there is no surgical cause, it is quite likely (although I am still waiting for my outpatients appointment with the neurologist) that my symptoms are due to inflammation around the nerves, and should ultimately fade. Until then I can’t walk on uneven ground (there is a high risk of breaking my ankle due to my numb feet) and walking is uncomfortable and tiring.

It is too much of a coincidence that it came just a few days after we finished Offa’s Dyke. Who knows whether it was sleeping on a roll matt for 13 days, walking such long distances with a pulling dog, carrying the heavy weight or a combination of factors, but what I have to accept is that my body couldn’t cope with it.

And that is hard to accept – I really enjoyed walking Offa’s Dyke, and had hoped to do more long distance walks… but at the moment that seems very unlikely.

7 Replies to “The unexpected physical consequence of Offa’s Dyke”

  1. So glad that so far it is not as serious as previously anticipated and I hope you make a swift and total recovery.

    What you did was pretty extreme, there are still many adventures open to you without you having to go ‘all out’ on an epic 13 day expedition. 🙂

    Good luck man.
    .-= Documentally´s last blog ..The iPad – Initial thoughts =-.

  2. Phil, Having sufered interspineous ligament strain in my lower back many years ago, I understand a little of what you are going through. More recently I broke my spine at T6 (between the shoulder blades in a big motorcycle crash in 2006. I’m backpacking again now and though I get some ‘episodes’ which lay me flat for a few days now and then, I’m doing OK.

    I found your site through Phil Turner’s blog, and I’m impressed with your GIS integration work, I’ve been watching google earth develop for a while, and the Colin Ibbotson Montana stuff is great, more power to your elbow.

    Hang in there and believe in your hiking future.

  3. Just one other thing. You mentioned the dog pulling, this is easily sorted out. Get one of those harnesses which attaches the lead to the side of the dog’s muzzle. Then when it pulls, it’s head gets pulled round. They soon give up and life gets easier.

    Good luck.

  4. That’s was an immense challenge you undertook for a great cause. The fact that you completed within in your time scale was great. I hope that you are recovering well and in the future will be able to get back to walking long distances but remember even the most fitest of people would be feeling some pain after what you did.

    Well done and a great achievement.

    P.s. Love the site. I’ve got a few question for a later date. 😀
    .-= tookiebunten´s last blog ..Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-05-02 =-.

  5. Thank you all for your words of support.

    Just an update: Symptoms haven’t faded, and according to experts in Oxford, it is likely that my scan has been misread (apparently scar tissue from the previous operation can make it much harder to identify). I am off to see a neurologist later today, so hopefully I might get some answers

    @Documentally thanks mate! sure there will be plenty I can do!

    @Rog It is great to hear that you are still able to go off backpacking despite your injuries – it makes me hopeful! Glad you like the social hiking app – have you seen the full Offa’s Dyke one: (it is designed to be dead easy to update whilst out hiking!). I do have a halti for the dog, but like an idiot, I only used it for steep downhills (in future it will be used all the time!)

    @tookiebunten thanks! just let me know if you have any questions 🙂

    @alex thanks!

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