Armand Brevig is the founder of BackMentorMe. He was a speaker at BackMentorMe’s Back Health webinar, June 2016. Armand told his own health transformation story, which inspired him to launce the BackMentorMe website.
I am going to briefly tell you my health transformation story. I am saying “health transformation” because it is not really a story about back pain. In my case, my debilitating chronic pain was caused by self-inflicted health neglect. That included too much sitting and too little moving. I didn’t look particularly unhealthy and I wasn’t obese. Though technically overweight, most people considered me average.
I am telling you my health transformation story to show you that it is possible to become completely free of chronic back pain.
Anyway, one day in 2008 when I bent forward, I just fell to the ground with excruciating pain – no warning! Just like that! I later found out that I had a herniated disc. It was causing the pain and also pressed on the sciatic nerve, leaving me with extremely painful sciatica.
Doc says “live with it”
Everywhere I looked my worst fears were confirmed. My general Practitioner (GP) said it was “very common and part of getting older” and that I “just had to live with it”. Some people I spoke to said, “that’s it, once you have a herniated disc you will always have issues”. Internet searches also confirmed that I was “doomed”.
I really, really believed all that misinformation. It became my reality.
But, because my pain was totally off the scale, I also thought that if at least I could get myself into a less painful state I could get back some life quality. After all I moved with the pace of a 95 year old despite being in my early 40s. I certainly wasn’t happy with the “just living with it” response from my GP.
I wanted “somebody to do something”!
I went back to my GP a few times, hoping he would tell me something other than “just live with it!” Got stronger and stronger painkillers and a few sessions of physiotherapy paid for by the National Health Service (NHS). Okay, that was “something”. Unfortunately that “something” turned out to be virtually “nothing”. The physio only dished out a few standard exercises. I slowly got better, then reverted right back to the previous levels of pain.
It became clearer and clearer to me that the “someone” that needed to do “something” was me. The NHS sure as hell wasn’t going to do it!
I didn’t know what to do exactly, but I decided to continue searching for that “something” to reduce my pain. I really felt I had nothing to lose.
Getting a kneeling chair and a desk that adjusts from seated to standing position had some immediate benefits. For example, the kneeling chair took pressure off my sciatic nerve and made the pain less unbearable.
First exercise-based thing I tried that made a difference was yoga. After a few months I could do more and more of the exercises and my mobility improved greatly. But I also had some serious relapses, due to some very significant muscle imbalances, which a yoga class couldn’t address. It required the intervention of a physiotherapist, who I self-referred to. She was recommended to me by someone who had recovered from back pain. So I was hopeful this physio would be different from the first 3 I had tried.
And, yes, her approach was very different. The assessment of me was much more personal and detailed, and therefore the intervention much more customised. The muscle imbalances were addressed, and 5 months later I was strong enough to train with a personal trainer – also recommended to me by a recovered back pain sufferer. 5 months into the personal training I was strong and confident enough to start karate lessons.
The new and improved me
I have now been totally pain free for 2 ½ years – and I mean TOTALLY pain free. No relapses, nothing! But I didn’t just get rid of my back pain. Along with the increased level of fitness came improved eating habits and I lost more than 25% of my previous body weight.
I feel a lot more energetic now and have a much more positive outlook on life. I got my life quality back with dividends.
I have only told you about some of the things I did that worked, but of course I also tried lots of stuff that didn’t work. The point is, though, “don’t give up”.
You lied, Doc!
So, why do doctors say, “You’ll have to live with it” when it is clearly not true? They tell you that because back pain is not high on their list of priorities. Fact is that nobody dies from it – people may be in misery, but they get on with it. The job of your doctor is to identify those people that are at risk of developing further complications from the back pain, or where the back pain is a sign of a serious underlying disease, such as cancer. That’s approx. 5% of back pain cases, so the rest of us a left to our own devises. Unfortunately doctors don’t tell their patients that!
They don’t tell you because they don’t have any easy one-off standard solution to offer. The variability in what causes back pain is so great. So, solutions have to be tailored to the individual too. Public health systems are not geared up to deliver tailored solutions. It’s too expensive.
Health Transformation for everyone
I know for a fact that my story is not unique. There is nothing about me that makes me a special case with respect to recovering from back pain and improving health. Most people can do it with the right personalised intervention. But more often than not, they don’t get that support.