It was October 1999, I was preparing to go under the knife for back surgery. How did I get here? What happened to me? I was a healthy, active 27-year-old man. I wasn’t supposed to be having back surgery. I played sports all my life, had never experienced any pain other than sore muscles. How did I get here?
I have been dealing with back problems since 1999. I have tried so many different things, surgery, injections, physical therapy, products on late-night infomercials (yes really). One of the biggest problems I had was a lack of education on the subject.
I am not trying to place blame, but now that I know more, I can’t believe no one ever gave me instruction on how to care for my back. I had surgery and there was very little follow up. I was back to playing golf, and just going about my life as if nothing had ever happened.
I had tried cortisone shots, physical therapy, nothing was working. At 27 years old I walked like I was a very old man. To this day, I don’t know what happened to me. No singular event where I doubled over in pain, nothing popped, nothing.
The Pain Begins
In March of 1999, I noticed some discomfort in my right leg. It was like a tingling sensation that went through my right calf into my lower calf area. I went to the doctor’s office. I was told, even at 26 years old that I was getting older and I had probably tweaked something, bent the wrong way and it was no big deal.
The PA at the doctor’s office basically told me to do some stretching exercises, take ibuprofen and sent me on my way. A couple of weeks passed and I was not getting any better. I went back to see the same PA, and this time he decided it was time for physical therapy.
So, off I went to physical therapy. I had never really been one to stretch, I was young and fairly limber, what was the point. The first thing the physical therapist had me do was sit and reach, to help loosen up my tight hamstrings. We went over a couple of other stretches as well. He told me to come back in 2 weeks.
Well, two weeks passed and at this point, I just about couldn’t walk. I had continued doing the exercises that I was told to do. When the physical therapist saw me hobble into the office, he immediately told me to stop doing the stretching exercises he had “prescribed”. The physical therapist sent me back to the doctor. They told me to stop all physical activity.
6 Months, No Progress
From there, the timeline gets a little fuzzy. At some point, I had an MRI and it was discovered that I had a herniated disk. We tried different things, more physical therapy, but different this time. Still no improvement.
I went in for Cortisone shots, hoping that would help to alleviate the pain. The pain was now intense, from my butt to my toes. I was really having a hard time walking, sleeping, or just getting up from a seated position. I spent a lot of time sitting upright in a wooden chair as that was honestly about the most comfortable position I could find.
The doctor told me that sometimes these things would fix themselves, but it could take time. I had never been injured before, so this was completely uncharted territory for me. I couldn’t bend over. The really interesting thing was that this made me be a lot more conscious of my posture. I had to keep my torso straight when I would kneel down to pick something up.
About 6 months of no progress, I discussed surgery with the doctor. They sent me to see the surgeon and I remember him telling me again, that these things can heal themselves, but it might take 3-5 years. Well, I didn’t want to wait that long and decided to go with surgery.
Surgery Worked…For Now
Surgery was successful. When I woke up, I immediately knew that my pain was gone. This was certainly a relief. They sent me home with some instructions and pain meds. I would be off work for about one month. I slowly began to heal, and get back to doing normal things again. I had some good days and bad days. I was cleared for work and that was that.
There was not really any follow-up, no tutoring on how to get back in shape, or how to prepare my body to hopefully prevent this from happening again. I didn’t know any better at the time. I went back to my normal way of life. Lifting things when it was required, playing golf, doing whatever I wanted, just like I never had back surgery.
Here We Go Again…
Fast forward to 2007. We had recently moved. I had been running as my chosen form of exercise. I would often run, not because I enjoy running, but more because it was a good way to get my heart rate up. I was just trying to stay in shape. With a two and a four-year-old, I needed all the energy I could muster.
I noticed some dull pain in my tailbone. I was on a slide with my kids, acting like the big kid that I am, and every time I would go down the slide, my tailbone would hurt. This went on for some time, and I finally decided to see a doctor. I explained my medical history and that I had back surgery in 1999. The doctor suspected inflammation, so he had me take a lot of ibuprofen to reduce the swelling and the pressure on my sciatic nerve. He also told me to stop running.
I did as instructed, took the Ibuprofen regimen and within a month, the swelling was gone and I felt pretty good again. This is the first time I really understood that I might be dealing with some discomfort going forward. Again, I returned to my “normal” routine. I didn’t really quit doing anything that I was used to doing. Still picking up heavy objects and not asking for help, just being a guy I guess.
In the spring of 2009, this was about the time the high-intensity workout programs were starting to gather steam. I was working out with a trainer and had explained to him my history. Looking back I don’t really think he was qualified to be working me out the way that I was, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was just interested in killer workouts, pushing myself to limits I didn’t know I could. It was really a lot of fun.
We were doing squats, deadlift, kettlebell swings. I didn’t pay much attention to form, just lifting heavy weights, doing circuits and trying not to puke. I had never worked out like this before. Total disregard for my body.
Then I started to have the sciatic nerve pain in my right leg again. This time I saw a back specialist. We did some of the same stuff, pain meds, injections, physical therapy nothing seemed to work. The difference with this guy was his suggestion to use an inversion table. So I found an inversion table on craigslist, brought it home and started to use it. It took about 4 months of hobbling around, but I started to feel better. Then finally I didn’t have any pain. It was wonderful. Again, I didn’t stop doing anything that I loved doing, golf, working out, lifting weights, life was good again.
What Was That?
In January 2011 I was working on a project at home. My daughter needed something, she was 5 at the time. I bent over to one side to pick her up.
That was the first time in my life I had ever felt, or heard anything in my back go “pop”. This time I thought I had it all figured out. I dusted off my inversion table and started using it right away. Since it worked for me the last time I had a herniated disc, surely it would work again this time.
Well, after about 3 weeks, and no relief, I finally went to see the back pain doctor. He prescribed some pain meds (once again) and told me I should have come in sooner. Basically, to make a long story, short, we tried injections a couple of different times and nothing worked. After about 3-4 months of pain, my doctor told me the next step would be surgery.
I did not want to have surgery again. I was pretty much on my own at this point. I hobbled around for a good 16 months, sometimes barely able to make it from the parking lot at work, to my desk. I had trouble dressing myself. My wife had to put my socks on for me. I didn’t know what to do. Finally one day I woke up, and that was it, the pain was gone. That really makes me wonder if I needed to have surgery the first time around and I have been kicking myself ever since.
Okay, so that’s it right, all better? Well, I still didn’t learn my lesson. Again, I still hadn’t had any coaching on how to prevent this from happening again. So, I started doing all the weights I was doing before, bound and determined to get stronger. I was doing deadlifts because I thought those were helping my glutes, hamstrings, etc which would be helping my back. I went on like this for about 3 years, doing higher weight, higher intensity stuff.
The Final Straw
December 17, 2015…I remember the day. I went to the gym. The thing I remember most about this day was running lines in the gym, on the basketball court. Trying to get my heart rate up. I had a pretty tough workout that day. I got up the next day and felt “off”. This time I was really sore in my pelvis/hip flexor area. I waited a few days to see if it would go away. It didn’t, it got worse. I couldn’t stand up straight anymore. I was bent over at the waist about 30 degrees. It was super painful to try to walk upright.
Just what the doctor ordered
By this time, I had the name of a highly recommended chiropractor. I had always been wary of chiropractic care because honestly, I didn’t know that much about it. All I had heard from doctors was they put too much pressure on your joints when they adjust you and beware. All the doctors told me to beware. I was pretty much down to my last option at this point.
My first visit he knew what the problem was. I had sprained sacroiliac (SI) joint and had spinal stenosis. So, my disc was now pushing up against my spinal cord…uh oh. I explained my history to the chiropractor and he could tell that my back was a mess. He said I had never been fixed properly or educated on how to train with a bad back. This had led to my current situation. My back was really messed up. I was at the point, that if I even sneezed too hard, I would have been on the surgery table just like that. He now had to fix my SI Joint and my herniated disc.
Time To Get To Work
This was going to take months, potentially 6 months of treatment. It would be a really long road, but hey I was up to the challenge. The thing that made this guy different is he explained to me exactly what was going on. He told me more about my injuries than I told him. The other thing that I really like is he is an athlete himself and he also has shredded disks in his back.
I went in for adjustments 2x per week for the first 3 months. I spent the first 6 weeks icing my pelvis 5-8 times per day to get the swelling to go down. I slept on the couch in the upright position with my legs bent, as if sitting in a chair, because I couldn’t lay down flat on a bed. I couldn’t lay on my side yet either.
The first thing the chiropractor wanted to do was get me so I could sleep in my bed in the fetal position. When this happened, I was able to get a little bit of rest in bed, then I would end up moving out to the couch. Slowly but surely, I was able to get in the fetal position and sleep for a few hours. Finally, after about 6 weeks, I was able to sleep in bed in the fetal positions for most of the night. Then I would start waking up on my back.
Finally, I was seeing some progress. The next move was to get on the inversion table and use that, more progress. Then one morning I woke up and was able to walk around the house for about 20 minutes fully upright.
That’s when it really hit home that I might be able to get through this. I was dead set on trying anything but surgery. I knew that surgery would always be an option if I needed it, so why not try something else. Eventually, I went to the chiropractor once a week. Then it was 10 days, then 2 weeks, so on and so forth. Finally, I was able to get back in the gym.
This time, I had a plan and a mentor. I would start slow, just the elliptical. My job was to build my core! That was it. Lunges, leg curls, anything with light or no weight. My job was to rebuild my body and my confidence. It took me nearly 6 months of chiropractic visits and a high pain tolerance to get to this point. Now I had a mentor to help me along the way.
My Mission With BuildingStrongerBodies.com
My goal with this site is to help people with back problems to get some relief from my very own experiences. I have tried so many different things that didn’t work for me. So, my goal is the provide examples that have helped me, whether it’s stretching, workout routines, or what have you. Hopefully, you can benefit from my journey.