My Personal Experience Healing Back Pain

I am sure my legions of readers have wondered what happened to the critical thinker blog. I have not posted to this blog since September 2013, when we narrowly averted war with Syria.  I would bet Google Analytics is wondering what happened to the 15 hits every month or so that this site typically commands.

Have I run out of hypocrisy to rant about? Did I delete my Facebook account? Did I experience a massive head injury and then subsequently join the Tea Party? Have I given up on my war on fear? Has fixed ideology won out over critical thinking? Make no mistake, I have not run out of things to write about, just time.

Writing a blog about fear and hypocrisy is a good way to help a person deal with their own.  Dealing with your own fear and hypocrisy is a good way to sell your house and a majority of your possessions. Selling your house and a majority of your possessions is a good way to find yourself living in a van down by the river; a prospect I have contemplated a couple of times in this blog. Well, long story short my wife and I did, sort of, decide to buy a van and live down by the river, and like I figured, we are pretty damn lucky and happy about the decision.

Most of my limited writing time has been redirected to our travel blog, Live, Breathe Move, which started about the same time as the last blog I wrote here. Knowing what I know now about repressing emotions, I find it interesting that my ongoing battle with lower back, neck and shoulder pain flared up in severity about the time I quit writing this blog and moved onto the road fulltime. More on that later.

For several years now I have been battling the unfortunately not uncommon affliction of chronic pain. Sometimes flare ups would make it difficult to get out of bed and sometimes it was just literally a pain in the neck. Regardless, like a lot of people, I was in some sort of pain or discomfort all the time. Computer work left knots in my shoulders and even acute sharp pains in various places in my neck. Playing too much golf and sitting were my biggest lower back aggravators and I was also dealing with some plantar fascia in my foot due to too much dog walking on hard surfaces with bad shoe beds. Luckily I have a wife that is a patient and good muscle massager and she has worked quite a few kinks out over the years.

Mattresses were the other bane of my existence. I have probably wasted more money and done more damage to the environment based on my bad back and shoulder than in any other area of my life. We have tried a few different types and only the exact right combination of body pillows, memory foam and strategic propping up could get me through a night without waking up in a knotted up ball of pain in my shoulders, back, hips, legs and neck. I won’t even go into the excruciating details of my first night sleeping on the mattress that came with our new RV but I can tell you that I walked around stiff like a Zombie for about two days. An RV sleep number bed quickly found its way onto our credit card bill and yet another nearly new mattress found itself in a landfill.

To say I am a skeptic of  traditional medicine would be an understatement and I have probably made that clear enough in previous blogs. I don’t have a family doctor, or dentist, I will not take any OTC medication and my general belief is that I am my own best medical coach. I have a fair amount of personal evidence to back up my belief, and unlike most people in this country, I am very happy with my current healthcare plan.  I did not want to go to an MD for my back because I knew I would not be interested in the treatment. I will not take the pharmaceuticals (or even Tylenol) they were likely to suggest and I was not particularly interested in the barrage of radiation I am sure my body would be subjected to as they carefully zero in on what I already know. I have an arthritic back condition and it is exactly what my aunts, uncles and grandparents all struggle with and what essential left my grandfather crippled for a good part of the later years of his life.

When I first started experiencing the pain it was not too bad but I was primarily worried about my future. Like quite a few other things in life, I actually solved my problems with my favorite pass time and life lesson teacher – golf. I probably could have kept sucking it up but unfortunately it was starting to affect not only my ability to play golf well, but my ability to play golf at all.

While attending a local golf expo a couple of years ago, I talked to a chiropractor that had a booth set up. He explained how he specialized in back and neck issues for golfers and that his program was not a quick fix. It was a combination of chiropractic adjustment, soft tissue manipulation, ultrasound stimulation to increase blood flow, and a thorough and specific program of stretching and exercise based on my golf goals, specific weaknesses, and any physical abnormalities that would be revealed during a thorough physical examination. He also assured me that I would not be asked to quit playing golf. That was the crucial piece to me and what convinced me to make an appointment. I had heard chiropractic care was quackery but this sounded legit to me so I thought I would give it a try.

Since I took GW Bush’s suggestion of buying a high deductible, HSA insurance plan, the chiropractor’s quoted out of pocket prices seemed very reasonable compared to the traditional insurance route of going to a family doctor, getting a referral to a specialist and paying for it all out of my high deductible. The Chiropractor also answered my questions and concerns as I explained to him that since this was all out of pocket for me, I was not sure I wanted to start a long term treatment plan. He assured me that his main goal was to teach me how to treat myself through exercise and that once we got rid of some of the persistent pain in a couple of visits, only an occasional office visit for a maintenance adjustment would be required.

During my first office visit I questioned the need for an X Ray primarily because I didn’t want the radiation and because I really didn’t think my pain was that severe yet. He assured me that the X Ray was safe and necessary so that he could have a better idea what he was dealing with physically. So I went along. To be honest, I was stunned when the X Ray, not only showed abnormalities, they were, according to the doctor, fairly extensive for someone my age. He spent a good deal of time showing me my spine, low back and neck compared to someone with a healthy spine. He took notes as I described my family history, and daily computer working position.  He also quizzed me about any accidents I have been in that might explain some of these neck issues he was seeing. I explained about the time I was in a  head on collision unrestrained and how my head broke the car windshield and about all of the times I had tumbled head over heels skiing black diamond terrain while living in Colorado. His eyes got wide as he jotted notes furiously. I decided that it was not necessary to mention all of the other neck injuries I had as a kid from playing sports or even falling out of trees or off of rickety skate board ramps. Although I didn’t mention these in his office that day, I sure did think about them then and in the ensuing days, weeks and months. If I only new how much long term damage I was doing, maybe I would have been more careful?

After the examination, he suggested we get started on treatment right away and that he probably had to back off a little on his prediction of only a few visits for me. He suggested weekly visits for at least 6 weeks. He did a survey and asked me to rank my pain in various places one to ten. He cracked my back and spent a bunch of time on what he explained to me as a new technique that was showing great results. It was basically soft tissue manipulation and it did feel wonderful on my always stiff neck. A lot of days including this day, I could typically only turn a few degrees in either direction, if at all. I also spent some time with the ultrasound machine hooked to my back. That loosened me up and felt great. I set up an appointment for a week later and I left his office with a little spring in my step and the proud new owner of a giant inflatable purple balloon that would become part of a regular exercise routine as well as an eyesore in the floor of my home for a couple of years.

After the first week of chiropractic treatment and before my second appointment, my pain had actually gotten a little worse. My doctor explained that this was because the exercise program almost always causes things to get slightly worse before they get better. He suggested some modifications to my routine that would take some of the pressure off my back and we did another round of ultrasound, adjustment and tissue manipulations.

It was winter so the golf clubs were hung up for a while and after a few weeks of exercise and office visits I was starting to feel a little better. I had completely replaced my office chair with that giant balloon ball and my abs were no doubt getting stronger. My doctor explained that this was in turn relieving the stress on the bad discs in my low back. I did not exactly understand how or why based on the explanation, but like my chiropractor said, he is the one who has a degree in this stuff, not me.

I was feeling so well that I decided to stop my weekly chiropractic visits and make my next visit a month away instead of a week. Denver weather was looking good and I was excited to try out my new strong core on the driving range. For my first time out in quite a while, I was actually hitting the ball pretty well and with little pain. In fact I hit balls at the range several days in a row and I excitedly made a t-time to play a round. Well, it turns out my golf game was a complete disaster and I am not even sure I broke 100. Although I was disappointed in my game, that was not too big of a deal and my back did not hurt too much during the round. Unfortunately, that evening my lower back was throbbing. Maybe worse than ever. I made an appointment with the chiropractor and we both agreed that going a month between visits was probably too long. Since I was now starting to play golf regularly we decided that I should go back to at least weekly treatment. I was disappointed but if that is what it would take to keep me playing golf, then I was up for it.

For the next few weeks, I continued to play and hit balls, get weekly treatments, and do exercises and stretching as prescribed. I by far felt my best the day after my office visit and ultrasound treatment so I started scheduling my golf game for the day after my chiropractic visit. Based on my doctors suggestions, I cut my driving range practice way down, saving what good swings I had for the course.

Unfortunately, things did not seem to be getting better. One day after completing the typical post visit pain survey, my doctor made the suggestion, I had been dreading. “Jeremy, you need to stop playing golf for a few months so that you can focus on the treatments and getting rid of the inflammation that is causing this pain”. I walked out of the office for what would be my last ever chiropractic visit with my head hanging low.  I had been so optimistic about the treatment plan, but ultimately, my physical back problems and my heredity probably meant that golf would not be a part of my long term future. I certainly could not see any swelling in my back but I could sure feel it and I could also almost feel my discs dissolving. Like the doctor said, being able to walk long term needs to be a higher priority than being able to play golf long term.

As I laid in bed wide awake with my back and neck throbbing, I begin to think about my journey with the chiropractic care. Things were becoming pretty clear. I am not saying my chiropractor had any ill intention, but clearly the treatment had actually made me worse overall not better. I called the office and got a copy of all of my records including all of the pain surveys I had taken. My weekly pain surveys proved exactly what I suspected. My pain had indeed gotten worse during the course of treatment not better.

So just that quickly I completely dropped my chiropractor, and devised a new exercise routine of my own. I went immediately back to playing golf and hitting driving range balls pretty much every day. Just as I suspected, my back did not get any worse. In fact, if I were doing day to day pain surveys I was feeling better just playing and using mind over body to fight through my pain. Sure, I still had to get rub downs from my wife and use some heat treatment and stretching but I now knew that the office visits that were explained to me as crucial were really only crucial to the person depending on my repeat business to feed his family. I just needed to play less golf and stop being a baby when I did. Like my grandfather used to always grumble, “growing old isn’t for sissy’s”.

As it turns out, my experience with pain is similar to my experience with various illness. My cure was not found sitting in a doctor’s office, my cure was already sitting on top of my sore neck, back and shoulders. I just didn’t know how to tap into it. But I do now. In typical critical thinker blog style I am now going to write about a thousand more words than should be required explaining how.

I had sworn off  my chiropractic treatment plan and now I was just muddling through dealing with pain and basically accepting the idea that this would be something I would have to live with and accept rather than cure. My time and money with the chiropractor was an expensive lesson that showed me that there was unfortunately no exercise or manipulation cure for my pain.

As I mentioned previously, about four months ago, upon taking off full-time in our new RV, my condition got worse. After our first couple of stressful moving days in the RV, I was bedridden for a good bit of the following day. Between the act of driving a truck long distances and sitting on another new bad office chair and playing a bunch of golf, I was feeling worse than ever and once again trying to figure out what to do about my back and neck.

Then one day, while listening to The Howard Stern Show on the radio Howard mentioned the name John Sarno. He didn’t talk much, but he credited John Sarno for completely curing his chronic back pain years ago. I started to do a little research online and I soon found a bunch of books by this doctor. The most famous of which was the book “Healing Back Pain the Mind-Body Connection”. I read some more about Sarno and his claims that a majority of people that have back pain are primarily experiencing a psychosomatic reaction to repressed emotions like fear and anger. Although I was intrigued I already knew that my back problems were not psychosomatic. Mine were clearly visible physical issues that were obvious on the X Ray and a result of past injuries and heredity. None the less, as someone that is very interested in mind body medicine, I was intrigued and I read some reviews on Amazon. Wow, 6 people out of 7 rated this book four or five stars. That seemed pretty high for a book that claims to “cure” not treat chronic pain. So I started reading the actual reviews to see if this was, as I suspected, primarily just for people that have mental disorders instead of physical ones like mine. I was amazed to see that not only did positive reviewers have X Rays as bad as mine some were on the brink of surgery or post surgery with completely blown discs and herniation and most were claiming to now be pain free!

At this point, I was still skeptical, but intrigued more. I found a past episode of 60 minutes and even a pro-golfer and a bunch of others who swear by Sarno. How had I never heard of this until now? Did my chiropractor know about this?

That was more than enough for me and I bought the Kindle ebook and started reading Healing Back Pain. From the very first few pages I felt that John Sarno was writing directly to me as he explained about Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS). His description of a typical patient of his was me. He further described the typical diagnosis and course of treatment which was exactly what I had incorrectly bought into with the chriopractor.

So much of the book made complete sense and some of the questions I always had were answered. Since I have a disc problem, why would most of my pain be present at night or in the morning, or when just sitting on the couch or even sometimes randomly? Clearly there were some days that I walked 18 holes and I didn’t really have much pain at all. This was very different than the broken bones I had suffered which absolutely had to be kept still. Why not during the day or when I am walking or when the bad discs were receiving the most shock and friction? On days when I could not even move my neck, what was physically happening compared to days that I could? My chiropractor did not have an answer for that one but Sarno did. I devoured each page of the book like a hungry lion but at first, my pain and stiffness was still there.

A day or two later, although I had not even completed reading the entire book, while sitting in the early morning on a cushion on a boat dock on the Island of Cedar Key Florida, my eyes awakened from my meditation and my awareness landed squarely on my normally throbbing lower back. After fifteen minutes or so of straight back meditation, the area of normal biting pain, was actually extremely warm and tingly. I turned my neck side to side and found that I had a full range of motion and no pain. I scanned my body head to toe and realized that for the first time in years I had absolutely no pain anywhere. Although it would be a while before I could explain this to my wife or anyone else, tears welled in my eyes quite a few times during the ensuing days as I began to grasp the enormity of the miracle I was experiencing. I literally walked through the next day or so in a complete daze of bewilderment and gratitude. I thought I knew that there was no quick fix for my condition. How was this working? Was this just a placebo that was going to go away in a couple of days?

Completing and fully digesting the book “Healing Back Pain The Mind-Body Connection” by John E. Sarno has answered my questions and, as advertised, has healed my pain. My own personal experience as well as others that have shared their experience has backed up the info in the book up very well. My own book review is now one of the hundreds of five star reviews on Amazon.

A month or so later, I have remained 100% pain free. I have played golf, done the yoga exercises the doctor told me not to do and I don’t have to sit on a balloon for an office chair. Instead of sitting up straight while watching TV, I now lounge on the couch any damn way I please. I don’t even bend at the knees when picking up something heavy if I don’t feel like. I still don’t have any pain. Let me make this clear, I don’t have less pain, I have no pain.  I do occasionally feel a twinge or tightening in the exact area that used to give me problems. I now simply acknowledge the sensation as a symptom of TMS and I sit back as the pain quickly dissolves into the same warm tingly sensation I felt that day on the dock. More and more though, the conscious process is not required. I could write on and on about the book and what I have learned about repressed emotions and oxygen deprivation and about how the cure is not solving these issues but becoming aware of them.

Appropriate for a blog that self proclaims to “shed light on common misconception” here is a list some things I think are important to understand. When I first started reading about this, I immediately thought I knew what this book was all about and I was skeptical. Here are some things that I think are important to consider and that I did not fully understand before Sarno straightened everything out for me.

1. This Mind-Body technique is not a technique that teaches your mind to overcomes its reaction to a real physical pain. The knowledge eliminates the source of the pain, and the books explains how.

2. My degenerative disc conditions as well as the physical results of past injuries are real and they still exist and can still be seen on an X Ray. They just are not, and never were, the source of my ongoing and at times schizophrenic chronic pain. Numerous studies on patients that have no pain have proven that things like degenerative disk disease, herniated disc, tendonitis, and even damaged ligaments are common for just about everyone of a certain age. In other words if you are over 30 and you show up at the doctor complaining of chronic pain they are not going to have too much trouble find a physical issue or past injury to link it to. Its part of their job, but unfortunately, this is also part of the problem. The book explains how.

3. Just because the pain is not being generated from the physical place that it resides, that does not mean that it is not real pain. My pain was not fake pain and it was due to a real physical condition which was oxygen deprivation. The book explains how.

4. Although this book does theorize that the source my chronic pain is repressed emotions, fully dealing with those repressed emotions was not necessarily a requirement in order for them to stop manifesting as pain in my body. The book explains how.

5. Just because I have repressed emotions that cause back pain, it does not mean I have some sort of psychiatric disorder requiring psychotherapy. The repressed emotions that cause pain can be very simple things and the same sort of everyday anger, fear or frustration that every human experiences to some degree whether they are aware of it in their conscious mind or not. In fact, some of us that outwardly and consciously are very fearless have subconscious fears and emotions that find there way into other areas. For me it was back pain. The book explains how.

6. Not only was exercise, stretching, and medical care not helping, it was actually feeding the flames of my pain by reinforcing to my conscious mind that the source of the pain was physically related when it wasn’t. All physical treatment has to stop in order for this cure to work. The book explains how.

These are just a few thoughts that I think might be useful to someone reading this blog and hearing about John Sarno for the very first time. Ultimately, I hope that people will just read the book like I did. I am not saying that exercise and stretching are bad, but now when I strengthen my core and do yoga to increase my range of motion, I am doing it to get a few extra yards off the tee, not to protect my back.

Although there is no doubt in my mind that the writing and teaching of John E. Sarno could be a fountain of youth for many others, I am also aware of how few will ever be able accept the premises of mind body medicine or the work of this brilliant healer. Simply suggesting that it does work will likely ruffle the feathers of some in the for profit medical field and I can certainly see why.

I am not going to go into a huge political discussion about everything that is wrong with for profit medicine. None the less, it is my opinion that, until we go to a system where healers are compensated based on results they get and not based on the amount of treatment they provide, we are in for a long, expensive, painful, and sickening battle where mind body medicine will remain non-traditional and discredited.

This is not a criticism of any individual doctor or healthcare provider doing their best to make a living within this system, this is a criticism of the system that is fundamentally flawed and that needs to change. If there is a way to change the basic business plan and maintain a capitalistic free market system then I am all ears but you better bring me some critical thinking and not some explanation about how moral people are and how the medical system would never put business profit above the health and wellness of the public or how the issues are all really just a result of Obamacare. I call bullshit on that one.

It is not my intention to convince people that mind body techniques will heal their pain, it is just my intention and hope to make sure people know that the alternative information does exist and that more than a few people are experiencing seemingly unreal “miracles” doing exactly the opposite of everything they were told.

I would also like to make it clear that this is just my personal experience over the last month or so. I fully acknowledge that not all pain has the same source as mine and Sarno also stresses that other serious medical issues may be at work and should be first ruled out.

Sounds funny, but had I been at a doctor’s appointment or anywhere else, instead of listening to Howard Stern that morning I would still be experiencing daily pain. Maybe someone that reads an obnoxious and sometimes offensive blog will stumble upon a cure for their pain the same as someone that listens to an obnoxious and sometimes offensive radio talk show. I have already shared this book with at least two people that I know had the same results I have had. One of which wrote a brave three part blog about her experience. You can read her story here.

I may write more as I have sense devoured two more Sarno books and used the exact principals to eliminate some strange adult onset allergies. Once again, Sarno explained how the allergy was real but how it was generated by my subconscious mind and how it can be cured by my conscious mind. The list of disorders that mind body medicine could be the answer for is staggering and yet still this realm of medicine is largely dismissed in this country where expensive treatments is always favored over the far less costly and more effective wellness and mind/body education.

I do believe that it is up to us “to make the change we want to see in the world” and if just one person finds the relief I have found by reading this blog then the time spent writing is more than justified.

Suggested Reading by John E Sarno:

Healing Back Pain The Mind – Body Connection

The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the

The Divided Mind