Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, which will affect about eight out of 10 people at some point during their lives. It is also the number one cause of activity limitation in people younger than 45 years old, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Back pain can be acute, which comes on suddenly and can last from a few days to a few weeks; or the pain can be considered chronic if it lasts more than three months. The type of pain can range from a dull, ever-present ache to a sudden, sharp, being-stabbed-by-an-ice-pick-like pain.
Back pain can be extremely painful and debilitating. Luckily, in about 90 percent of all cases, pain can be relieved without surgery. However, half the patients who experience an episode of back pain will have a recurrent episode within a year.
In many cases back pain is a symptom with more than one cause. Some of the causes of back pain include:
- Overuse, strenuous activity, or improper use, i.e., repetitive, heavy and/or improper lifting
- Degeneration of vertebrae
- Degeneration of disks
- Obesity (increased demands on the spine)
- Poor back and/or abdominal muscle strength
- Sprain or strain
For most of my life I was always so grateful that I didn't experience back pain like most of the people I knew. I felt lucky, because I have been involved in very physical sports since the second grade without any back problems to speak of. When I got into my 30s I had low back pain here and there, but it would go away on its own in a couple of days.
When I was 16 I started weight training. I was fortunate to have national and world level powerlifters demanding proper form from the get-go. As I look back, these guys were so intimidating that I followed everything they said to a "T." I'm sure this had a lot to do with extending the health of my spine. So many people play sports and weight train without the base of fundamentals I had.
I must stress that I've never hurt my back while playing sports or weight training. Never did I think I would ever experience back problems. I'm a very health conscience guy. I train properly, I'm strong, my posture is good for the most part and I eat right. Boy, was I mistaken.
In June 2007, after seeing two chiropractors with no results, I made an appointment with a local orthopedic surgeon. I had been having back discomfort for about six months that started to affect my job and my training. I'm a fireman, and picking up and carrying a 50 pound high rise pack, tools or wearing my Scott Air Pack was giving me some real pain. By this time, I had also cut out doing squats, deadlifts and stiff leg deadlifts because the discomfort was too great.
The result of my doctor visit was an X-ray, a five- minute consultation and a prescription for Celebrex. I was told if it didn't get any better in four weeks to schedule another appointment and we'll get an MRI. But there is really nothing that can be done outside of some therapy and eventually surgery if it gets worse.
I believe the doctor thought he was being encouraging when he told me, "Between the Celebrex and some therapy we should be able to keep you performing your job as a fireman, but weight training and rigorous activity would have to be kept at a minimum." What the F**k! This just can't be.
This was the first of two surgeons I consulted with, both giving a similar diagnosis and future outcome. I was totally perplexed. That's it. It's 2008 and there's nothing more that can be done. I just couldn't accept that and started to do some research.
I happened to come across a binder and VHS tapes I had purchased more than 10 years ago. "Active Release Techniques, Soft-Tissue Management System." I had seriously considered becoming a certified ART provider because of the results that athletes were experiencing with treatment. I thought it would be a great addition to my personal training and strength coach business. Immediately upon seeing that binder a light went on. I wasted no time going to the ART website www.activerelease.com and found a certified provider in my area.
Her name is Dr. Aliann Young, and she originally hails from Mahwah, New Jersey. She's a graduate of New York Chiropractic College and has been a certified ART provider for eight years. Aliann weight trains, has run marathons and is well versed in holistic medicine. Her patience and expertise have made a huge difference in the quality of my life.
By the time I saw Ali on Sept. 17, 2007, I was experiencing pain and stiffness, to some degree, 100 percent of the time. On a pain scale from zero to 10, 10 being the worst pain I ever felt, I reported a three to eight, depending on the day. The pain had recently started radiating bilaterally into the buttocks, and I was also experiencing some "low back weakness." I was having a great deal of difficulty at work, and my workouts were piss-poor to say the least. I also started to experience some depression because after being so active my whole life and loving my job, my prognosis for the future looked pretty grim.
After Ali's thorough assessment during that first visit, she devised a treatment plan that included muscle stimulation, chiropractic manipulation and ART to the associated muscles. After six visits Ali explained she would re-evaluate to determine the treatment effectiveness and adjust accordingly. I had seen, and heard, quite frequently, that athletes start to feel relief, even after the initial treatment. I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't experience it. The evening after my first treatment, and the next day, I had more flexibility and less pain than I did over the last several months. After three visits I couldn't believe the progress.