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I Overcame My Back Pain

By Marcia

I began suffering from lower back pain in my early 30s. A friend recommended trying yoga, so I did, but the pain kept getting worse and my back started ‘going out’ more frequently until it got to the point where it was happening every few months. The pain would be so debilitating that I could hardly move or even get out of bed. Painkillers didn’t seem to make much difference, nor did acupuncture, which I tried for over a year.

All my friends go to chiropractors so I thought I may as well try that. I was getting desperate. My first chiropractic experience was wonderful – I felt so much better, more relaxed, almost high. I couldn’t believe it! Immediate relief!

But after a few years I was still getting frequent back pain, so switched to another chiropractor, this one as highly recommended as the first – then a third, also highly recommended. All of them had impeccable credentials. Sometimes they would vaguely recommend exercise in addition to their adjustments, but nothing specific. Sometimes I’d get adjustments two to three times a week when it was really bad.

A turning point came when my back ‘went out’ just a few days after a regular maintenance adjustment. So I went back, got another series of adjustments and the same thing happened again. This time I asked why this was happening right after a series of adjustments. My chiropractor said my back was just ‘ready to go out’ and that it was just a coincidence. But by now my ‘faith’ in chiropractic had been shaken.

A friend recommended that I read Dr. Hamilton Hall’s book The New Back Doctor. At first I resisted because he was an orthopedic surgeon who, I was sure, would recommend surgery. And I still was holding on to remnants of my belief in chiropractic.

To my surprise he wrote that back pain has been over-medicalized, with the resulting expectation from sufferers that a simple cure is possible. Instead, he said that pain can be controlled, that it’s important to first understand the problem, and that the basic responsibility of care for our backs rests with us, the patients. He said that purely passive treatments (therapies provided by someone else without the sufferer’s participation) rarely have any lasting effect. With regard to chiropractic specifically, he provided a convincing logic – that the spine could not be manipulated more than a minuscule amount, not enough to have any effect.

The book also discusses four main types of back pain. You can figure out if you have one of the two most common types simply by testing whether it hurts more to bend forward or bend backward when you are in pain. You can then do exercises for your type. Of course, he did not recommend self- diagnosis but I was already feeling empowered.

I got a referral to the physiotherapy institute he founded and began a course of physiotherapy. It started with an exercise called ‘sloppy pushups’ that was specifically for my type of injury – the kind that hurts more when you bend forward than when you bend backwards. I did this 10 times an hour for weeks, as I recall, then gradually progressed on to other exercises to strengthen my core muscles (both abdomen and back.) All of them were carefully planned and sequenced so I wouldn’t re-injure myself.

It wasn’t easy and it took time and money – and, most of all, effort – but it was worth it. Eventually I joined a gym and started aerobic exercises and weight training (including core strength).

Since then I’ve had injuries to other parts of my body, and have always gone to physiotherapists. Not only do they give you a graduated series of safe exercises, they can give you other treatments such as electric stimulation or other manipulations and modalities to aid healing.

I’d like to say that I’m now a firm ‘believer’ in physiotherapy, but I’m not. There is nothing to ‘believe’ in. As far as I’m concerned it’s a conservative treatment based on solid science. And it works.  I’ve only injured my back once in 15 years since then – that’s much better than every few months!

Note:  Since the publication of this book in 1995, Dr. Hall published a new book in 2004: A Consultation With the Back Doctor. In this new book he revised some of his earlier opinions.

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