Back pain in a 36-year-old athletic male

I’ve always been an amateur athlete and sports junkie, but severe low-back pain changed my life from active to sedentary. It started about six years ago. I got the first episode of back pain in January, but got over it relatively quickly and I promptly forgot about it. One year later, it happened again. I reasoned that the two January episodes were linked to a change in exercise patterns: Every November, soccer season ended so I’d start jogging three days a week in the winter. Even when I wasn’t in an episode of acute pain, I still had some pain that I’d simply ignore. But when I had the second episode, I stopped running and I used chiropractic care to feel better. I was told that my lower vertebra was out of line and that the space between the vertebras had collapsed. I religiously went for treatments and did every exercise I was recommended.

A year later, again in January, I was on a hike in AZ, went lightning struck again. This was the worst episode ever. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t cough, and was in complete agony. I saw doctors, therapists, and had MRI’s. There was nothing definitively wrong but I was in a great deal of pain. I can’t remember all the different treatments I tried, but they included acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, too many exercises to list, and I saw every doctor that anyone recommended. I even tried something called prolotherapy, which is an injection of sugar water into the lower back. Those shots made me feel better for a day or so, but the pain always returned. I wasn’t in crisis mode, but I had a lot of pain all the time. I was told that I had degenerated discs, a pelvic girdle that was “too loose”, and some other things that I don’t remember. My pain was solely in the lower back and did not radiate down my legs at any time. I was fortunate to have good doctors who were straight with me, and one of them looked at my MRI and told me that they’d never be able to pinpoint the exact spot that caused my pain.

By late 2005, I was in a bad place. The pain was severe all the time and after trying everything, I had no other place to turn except having my vertebrae fused. I saw two doctors. One said to hang on and put it off as long as I could. Another simply explained the procedure and didn’t seem to have a strong opinion. Searches about fusion on the Internet revealed more horror stories than good. My thought was to wait a year and see how I was at that point. If the pain continued, and it had been constant for almost two years, I’d have them fused. In February of 2006, my sister sent me Dr John Sarno’s book, The Mind Body Prescription. I never would have read a book like that, but I was desperate.

As an outwardly very calm person, who nevertheless is quite tense on the inside, I saw myself in the pages of that book. I began to believe that my back was no different from those who don’t have back pain. I read research studies that showed that there is no difference in the MRI’s of people with back pain and those without back pain. As I began to realize that I wouldn’t make myself worse by carrying on with activities, I started moving more and gradually went back to exercising. I could ignore any pain as long as I didn’t think I was permanently damaging my back. Plus I was sure I had TMS. In five days, the pain was nearly gone.

Wow. Wow. That’s so unbelievably incredible, isn’t it? For the next six months I felt remarkably good. I even had another episode of pain a month later and licked in it in four days by recognizing what it was from (my mind) and telling myself that I was really OK.

One problem however was that I was still afraid of hurting my back, so I didn’t do all of the activities that I would have liked. For example, I didn’t play soccer, didn’t jog. I was glad to feel better and didn’t want to “push” it. So I did things that I thought were safe, like bike riding.

Then things got crazy at work. The pressure mounted. I could feel my back getting worse and then one day as I spoke on the phone, I had another episode. This one was bad and I could not talk my way out of it. I read Dr. Sarno's book again and again. I could almost recite the book by rote, but it wasn’t helping.

An Internet search led me to Dr Schubiner. I took his class and I have to say it was as enlightening as the book first was. I learned so much more than just about TMS. I learned several methods to deal with what’s inside my head and relieve the tension that was directing itself to my back. Dr. Schubiner said so many things that made an awful lot of sense. He talked about “chipping away” at the tension and finding what works for each individual. I also appreciated the fact that he makes the class become a terrific chance to reset your priorities in life. So much of it made sense to me. In two weeks, I was feeling far better; almost pain-free.

Two weeks ago, I played soccer for the first time in two years. The next day I went jogging. The pain just about disappeared. For me, the last piece of the puzzle is ridding myself of the fear that the pain will return. I’m not 100 percent there, but I’m working on it. And now I have the tools to fight TMS head on. It is a terrific feeling and I hope my story will help you as well.

Kevin N.

*The personal stories are from actual course participants and are used with permission. The names and photos have been changed to protect confidentiality.