Can You Really Self-Heal Back Pain?
As most of your know, I had back surgery when I was 17 in an attempt to control the massive (52 degrees!) lumbar curve and the moderate (26-degree) thoracic curve trying to crush my internal organs. My spinal hardware, consisting of two metal bars screwed together to support newly fused bone, has formed a pretty awesome cage around my would-be curved spine for many years. Only after being sedentary for several months in a row earlier this year (due to extreme fatigue caused by low iron and vitamin D) did my curve begin to shift again and cause me pain for the first time in years. I now see, firsthand, just how much physical damage I have prevented over the past two decades because I engaged in consistent, well-planned strength-training activities to support the muscles of my core and back. Without that training, my structure clearly has a mind of its own. Apparently, it wants to be crooked, and it wants to hurt.
Strength Makes Pain Go Away
But how did I know to engage in strength training all those years ago? By some stroke of insight, I began exercising and, specifically, lifting weights a few months after my surgery. I was never told that I needed to strengthen my muscles and joints—I just somehow knew it would help me. And it did. The pain I experienced after surgery went away almost immediately (after my back healed from the lengthy incision, of course). I was astonished to find that weight lifting and muscle strengthening were the key to resolving my pain. I dedicated myself to physical fitness and then decided to teach others all that I knew about how to take care of these bodies that are inherently designed to disintegrate and fail us over time.
My decision to offer my “secrets” to the world of back-pain sufferers, currently numbering 16 million in America alone, according to a Georgetown University data profile, was inevitable because I felt obligated to share what I knew.
- I knew that spinal fusion failed to relieve pain the majority of the time
- I knew that pain pills and injections were bandaids that would fall off over time, and often leave an addict in their place
- I knew that no one I had encountered knew a thing about their body’s structure or how to maintain it, and that that knowledge deficit was responsible for the vast majority of physical pain one could imagine
The Problem with Chronic Back Pain
But then I noticed something. Actually, lots of things:
- People in chronic pain often suffer from a quasi “learned helplessness”: they no longer believe that anything they do will make a difference in their pain; their “remedy” is in someone else’s hands, not their own. They often become dependent on weekly, sometimes semi-weekly, appointments with questionable practitioners who profit immensely from the learned-helplessness mindset.
- People in chronic pain are often dismissed by physicians and traditional medical practitioners, and these professionals give pain meds, injections, and unnecessary surgeries in an effort to make a patient feel like she’s being cared for, and to make the healthcare system get richer. Sometimes they recommend yoga, with no knowledge whatsoever about what aspects of yoga might help, and which will likely hurt, a person with persistent back pain.
- People in chronic pain don’t have access to well-trained, knowledgeable, well-spoken fitness professionals who have the desire to teach them how to fix their own pain. I seemed to be the only one in Chicago, certainly, and in my 14 years in the business I have been hard-pressed to find another to whom I could refer my clients as I moved about the country.
So I created my online exercise program for back-pain sufferers. I built it using the exact same exercises I have used myself for more than 20 years, and the exact same exercises I have successfully used with clients since 1999. The process works (although I have added a restriction for patients with spondylolisthesis). And now I’m even adding a series of instructions on at-home massage (myofascial release) for members only, so they can dig deep into the common tight areas while they’re “putting themselves back together” the natural way.
But here’s the kicker: It’s like pulling teeth to get most chronic pain sufferers to accept the fact that these specific exercises can make them feel better. Convincing someone who, for 10 years, has hurt when she wakes up and hurts when she goes to bed, that 6 weeks of consistent, low-level, properly-trained and -executed exercises and stretches can make her pain go away—I often feel defeated. I question whether I should even bother. Since the medical establishment doesn’t say, “Oh you have back pain? Go get yourself a well-trained, knowledgeable trainer and do some targeted functional-movement exercises,” I feel like giving up.
Am I really the lone voice of reason in this over-drugged, over-surgeried, over-manipulated world? Are there any other fitness professionals out there—probably NASM-trained, like I am—who can support me here and attest to the fact that targeted muscular strength and endurance, along with proper stretching, can alleviate sometimes debilitating chronic pain?
Please let me know you’re out there by commenting here. I need to know I am not alone.