We see a lot of people in the office suffering from low back pain. Chronic low back pain affects millions of people a year, and is one of the top cost drivers for healthcare. People with chronic back pain can get better. Some can improve a little, but most can improve a lot.
For the person with daily bouts of back pain, it changes the way they get dressed, walk, move, work, play with their children, and participate in recreational activities. Job productivity decreases and it alters how they perform their daily duties.
One of the best examples of someone improving their chronic low back pain is Jeff. His wife brought him into the office after he had another episode. He had three lumbar disc bulges and some arthritic changes. For 10 years his back pain continued to worsen. It was not unusual for him to sleep on the floor several times a month, in a good month. He was so limited that he couldn't do many of the things he wanted to with his young children; playing in the pool, getting on the ground, or carrying them would always increase his back pain.
His work required him to travel, and every flight would aggravate his low back. On long flights he would worry about not being able to get off the plane. He knew he would be miserable; it was a matter of how much. The return trip would be horrible, and it was common to miss the next work day or two because of back pain.
He had hit rock bottom. His life was severely altered and limited because of his back pain, and it was getting worse. Jeff was very motivated to get better. He didn't expect miracles, any improvement would be fantastic.
In the functional examination, he scored lower than any person ever tested. His strength in the four tests was horrible. His muscle pattern coordination was even worse. Years of severe low back pain had resulted in incredible core muscle weakness and compensating muscle spasms. His muscles could not stabilize his low back, leading to chronic back pain.
Jeff was also one of the most diligent patients I ever had. He accepted where he was at on the scale (bottom), and worked toward improvement. His motivation was getting better for himself and his family. We had to modify every exercise for him until he was strong enough to start the basic exercises. He worked his way through the exercises towards the harder muscle pattern development.
His progress was slow but with each step in his exercise improvement, he felt less pain and limitation. It started with the intensity of his daily pain, especially getting up in the morning. He described less intense, dull pain and felt himself loosening up faster. Soon he could sit longer before feeling stiff and sore. Eventually there was less fatigue at the end of the day and he had more energy. Each airplane ride was getting less painful.
Jeff's progress was amazing, he didn't expect this amount of improvement. Eventually we transitioned him to a trainer to continue working on his strength and muscle patterns. I had followed up with him several times over the year and he was still exercising and getting stronger. He hadn't had any painful days in a year and was doing great.
About two years later I was running on a treadmill in the gym. I noticed a guy doing some great core, balance, and muscle pattern exercises. The exercises were difficult, and I was surprised someone was doing them in a gym. When the guy walked closer I realized it was Jeff.
Jeff had continued improving. He didn't have any pain and felt great. Riding in cars or flying wasn't a problem anymore, and he didn't have any worries about hurting his back playing with the kids or working around the house. This was a guy who could not vacuum the living room because it would aggravate his back, and now he is performing very difficult core planking exercises with weights.
Improvement can be made to decrease low back pain. Often we have to be motivated to do everything necessary. Not everyone will make the gains Jeff did; unfortunately, most do not even try.
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Disc herniations information can be found on the Lumbar Disc Decompression page.