What We Can Learn From Graham’s Back Pain Story

I wanted to share the story about my back pain to help you understand the limitations of using scans to guide treatment, and show you how small changes to routines can have a large impact on your quality of life. (I’m known for waffling so I will try to keep this as brief as possible!).

A few years ago I started to notice some mild tingling in my feet, which would come and go, but was more apparent after a long run or a hard training session around Princess Park( I was in a running group back then, and our coach liked to push us!).

As a Physio, I sort of knew what this may be, but it wasn’t affecting me much so I just kept doing what I was doing.

Then in 2019 we renovated our house. Most people who’ve been through this know how stressful it can be, and although we had a great builder, I was quite involved in the whole process. There was a lot of physical work to do, like moving and getting rid of furniture, putting together flat packed furniture( I will outsource this next time!) painting and landscaping, as well as the stress of moving out temporarily and managing the budget. I was still running a lot at this time, because I felt it helped me relax and I enjoyed it.

But soon I started to develop back pain, which would often radiate down the back of my legs on both sides. I remember coming home from work back then, and feeling much worse than the clients I was treating! I also remember umpiring at my son’s tennis games and having real difficulty standing for a set of tennis…my back and legs would be aching, and often my feet would be tingling.

The pain was also affecting my running, in fact I had to stop completely and go to walking on several occasions due to acute episodes. I remember one weekend after a flare up, I couldn’t walk more than 2 km, whereas 1 week earlier I had run 18km! ( 18km is not that far when you’ve done 6 marathons!). I was often tired and cranky at the end of the day, and it was even affecting my relationship with my wife and kids… mainly because I was tired and in pain… and a pain to live with!

I had an xray in 2019 and later in 2020 an MRI of my lumbar spine. The results of the latter are below. It looks pretty bad doesn’t it? Essentially I had a forward slip of the L4 vertebral segment on the L5, severe facet joint degeneration at that level, and stenosis(narrowing) of the spinal canal due to disc bulging and swollen facet joints. This really did explain most of my symptoms, especially the tingling in feet and legs, which was nerve irritation.

My doctor had referred me to a spinal surgeon, and cortisone injections were on the cards.

So what did I do:

1. I didn’t panic or catastrophise! With my knowledge of pain and the body, I knew there are a lot of contributors to pain signals being created by the brain, and stress/anxiety is a big factor!
2. I made more time for meditation and managing my mental health, and was more conscious of overdoing and overthinking! This calmed my central nervous system( completing the renovation and settling into a beautiful house also helped!).
3. My colleagues assessed my posture at work and found that I was over straightening my thoracic spine(mid back) when  was leaning over to treat. My back was too straight because I thought this was the right thing, but it was placing more load on my spine, contributing to my pain. Making some postural changes here, working on motor control (thoracic flexion movements) and having my thoracic spine treated regularly made a big difference.
4. I reduced my running volume, slowed down my pace, focussed on more recovery between sessions and worked on my core, back and gluteal strength.( I also started drinking Mangosteen juice daily, known for its anti- oxidant and anti inflammatory properties).
5. I had regular tune ups with the team and regular massage, which prevented strain in my body accumulating, and allowed me to slowly build more strength and capacity for load.

It did take some time for things to settle and to build load capacity again, but if you give your body the right conditions(including your positive thoughts and beliefs), and have the right guidance…you can overcome many physical conditions. This also shows that you cannot make decisions about your health based only on scan results, because often they do not correlate to symptoms. There is now lots of evidence to support this. If I had another MRI now the results would not be much different… the same degenerative changes would be there… but I’m essentially pain-free, enjoying my running again…. and my wife and kids are happier!:))

If you have recently had a spinal or joint scan and are a little concerned about it, feel free to contact us at the clinic and we’ll be happy to discuss it with you.

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