Solutions for Back Problems

I had a spinal fusion surgery when I was 16. When I was 12, I was diagnosed with scoliosis.  I wore a Milwaukee brace for a while, but it didn’t help, my spinal curvature kept on growing.

Since the surgery, I’ve become a modern version of the Princess and the Pea; I feel every dent in the mattress.  I am uncomfortable sleeping on a spring mattress; it hurts my back. My favorite bed, so far, is an IKEA platform/slat bed with a 4” foam mattress.

At the hospital I was told that once my back is healed from the surgery, I would not be limited with my activities. That was not my reality; I had to be careful with my physical activities. In exercising, for example, I learned the hard way that squats debilitate me for days with back pain.

As time passed I started so suffer from attacks of back pain that kept me in bed, sometimes for weeks. One orthopedic doctor told me that eventually I will need disc replacement surgery; since most of my spine is fused and every movement I do, especially bending, puts pressure on the two lower discs that are below the rods. When I asked him if there was a way I could prevent such a surgery, his answer was “Don’t bend”.

A kind caregiver, who was aware of my distress, recommended I should see her non-surgical orthopedic doctor.  Dr. Carolyn Marquardt. For the first time in years I felt that someone really understood what I was going through and wanted to help. She recommended I should see a physical therapist that specialized in the Feldenkrais method. I chose to go to a traditional PT clinic that was closer to my house (in scriptwriting this is called “refusal of the call”). Two years later, I was back at her office with another episode of back pain. This time she sent me to see the PT who was also a Feldenkrais practitioner.

I started to work with Gordon Brown not knowing what to expect or what Feldenkrais is, despite the fact that Moshe Feldenkrais was Israeli.

Unlike conventional physical therapy, where the treatment focuses on one isolated part of the body, the Feldenkrais method is a holistic approach. All our body parts are connected and affect each other. I learned how to pay attention to my body and listen to it. It was shocking to find out how disconnected I was from my body, and how completely unaware of it I was.

Gordon asked me to sit and pointed out how my knees touch as I lower my body to sit, apparently this is a sign of a week back. I learned that my loose stomach muscles were a reaction to my tight back muscles, just like with the muscles in the arms – tight biceps cause loose triceps.  Doing Feldenkrais I had to reprogram my brain to use the body differently, starting with basic movements such as standing, sitting, and walking.

At that time my cousin told me about a book called The Body Has Its Reasons by Therese Bertherat, a conventional French PT that developed a method called Antigym. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about the body we live in.

Because of the hardware in my back, my muscles are pulled in an unnatural way; I need adjustment from time to time. For this I see my chiropractor Dr. Ashley. He uses muscle testing to diagnose the problem source and fixes it in the gentlest way.

My favorite exercise is walking. When I walk I have to be aware of my posture, movement and breathing. At home I love to exercise with Teresa Tapp’s DVD Basic Workout Plus. It’s a gentle 15 minutes program that is proven to be very effective for my back.

I haven’t had severe back pains for years. If I do feel a little sore, I do T-Tapp exercises, and the pain is usually gone. Sometimes I do need to see my chiropractor to stop the pain. This days I don't let the pain escalate, I know how to take care of it as it starts.

All the information I have learned in the past years, and the changes I made with the way I use my body, make me hope that I might be able to avoid another back surgery. Today I cannot avoid wondering; had I known everything I know today when I was younger, could I have prevented my initial surgery?

For local readers, I add contact information for the caregivers I mentioned in this post that do not have a website:

Gordon Brown PT, Feldenkrais Practitioner
Balance point physical therapy
2261 Bel Red Rd #201, Bellevue, WA 98008
(425) 867-0839

Dr. M. Ashley  - Family Chiropractic
1800 Bothell Everett Hwy #108, Bothell, WA 98012
(425) 487-0487

*Milwaukee Brace photos from Scoliosis Treatment Devices blog: