Steve Brunskill (63), Australia, runs his own businesses in the construction and education sectors. His recovery from back pain is a story of determination, focus and perseverance. Armand Brevig spoke to him recently to find out how he did it.
Steve, what happened?
My first back pain episode happened at work. I had ignored previous twinges and milder symptoms. Because I have always been sporty, I brushed off any suggestions of emerging back pain. In hindsight it is clear that repeated loaded movement was a key contributor to lower back pain (lumbago) and stiffness.
Bad posture when walking and a tendency to walk flat footed made things even worse. Weakened and inactive core muscles were also a contributing factor. But, there weren’t any underlying medical issues or weight issues that could have contributed to the pain. I would describe my pain as 8 out of 10 during my worst back pain episode and 5 on an ongoing basis.
What did you do next?
It got really bad, so I needed help. Despite a good relationship with my GP, no help was forthcoming from the public health system. In my experience GPs don’t have the specialist knowledge required to deal with back issues. So I decided to look elsewhere for solutions.
Stress and worry started to affect me emotionally. I took the problem seriously and was determined to do “whatever it takes”. I also remained optimistic about what could be achieved. The first thing I did was go private to have a “standing MRI” done. I had heard that it can show details more accurately than conventional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans (MRIs). It turned out that my L4/5 discs were compressed (bulging discs).
Through family links, I knew an effective chiropractor. He told me that strengthening up and exercise was the solution to my troubles.
A consultation with my chiropractor was the first step in empowering me to exercise properly. Over a number of sessions, he aligned and stabilised me. This included initial build-up of core strength. A 10-week Pilates course then followed. Approximately 6 months after my main back pain episode, I started to work with a personal trainer. My trainer had had problems with his own back in the past. So, he was able to empathise, as well as share an empowering mind set. This helped me work through the inevitable setbacks.
The mind set included a realisation that everyone has temporary setbacks. But if you keep up with the management of the issue you will make progress. “Today do what feels good” is another philosophy which I picked up from my trainer. In essence, I have learnt to listen to my body and do what is not difficult. To provide space for this, my routine is flexible and I never “fight against myself”. This is a useful approach for dealing with stress and anxiety.
Also, I avoid attaching importance to any fear associated with back pain. Instead I have mental conversation with the pain and remind myself that it is only temporary. This may sound crazy, but really works!
Initially I saw my Personal Trainer weekly. After about 3 months this was reduced to fortnightly. Then monthly after 9 months to review training routine and technique. I decided to continue seeing my chiropractor every 3 months for a maintenance check-up. I believe this can help maintain a stable nervous system.
My journey to freedom from back pain hell has taken 2 years.
How are you now?
I have been free from back pain for 7 – 10 months now. But, I am still on a journey to find a treatment for weekly recurring sciatic pain. My most recent experiment was “dry needling” (a type of acupuncture). It had an immediate positive effect, but I will have to wait and see how this works long-term. Fingers crossed!
What has your recovery journey taught you?
Clearly my determination to take responsibility for my own health has made the most difference.
I have also learnt to listen to my body and take early symptoms seriously. I accept improvement is incremental with occasional temporary set-backs. Developing an empowering mind-set is really useful.
Finally, interventions need to happen in stages. For example, if I had gone straight to the Personal Trainer, the outcome would not have been as positive. The fear of a relapse would have been too great. My chiropractor and Pilates lessons were necessary in-between steps.
If you are suffering from back pain, why not discover your own back pain solutions and claim your life back?
If you have already made a lot of progress, or become pain free, why not inspire others by sharing your story?
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