Summary This is my story of conquering back pain! I started getting pain about 3 months after beginning my office job. I believed it was caused by too much sitting. I saw many "experts," none of whom could offer me much help. I stopped doing most physical activities because I was afraid they would hurt me. I stopped traveling with my girlfriend and family because I thought sitting was bad. I got depressed. I was constantly searching for a reason. After being in pain for over 2 years, I started reading about pain and how the mind works. I read Healing Back Pain by Dr. John Sarno. Most of it made sense, but some of it did not (and still does not) seem to apply to me, specifically the part about repressed emotions being the cause. Regardless, I diagnosed myself with TMS and used many of the methods, and others, to treat myself. My recovery took about 6 months. Now I lift weights, run, bike, sit all day, whatever I want. I love life again, and am excited to live the rest of mine to the fullest! Onset I got a job as an engineer the summer after I graduated from college. I enjoyed the work, but hated the idea of spending so much time at a desk. I felt stuck though, because that was what I went to school for, and I didn't know what else to do with my life. After about 3 months, I started getting lower back pain. I noticed it while sitting, so I believed this was the cause. The pain was not severe, but it was enough to eventually crush my spirit. I had always been active and excited to try new things. I was becoming a boring working stiff with a bad back, which was my worst fear. My work hired an ergonomics consultant to check out my desk area after noticing that I had propped my keyboard and mouse up with boxes so I could stand while working on the computer. They decided to order a raise-able keyboard tray, so I could switch between sitting and standing. It made my work day more tolerable, but the pain did not go away. The pain was the worst when I was sitting or standing for a long time. It ranged from 0 to 5 on a pain scale of 0 to 10; most of the time it was a 3 or 4. That may not sound like a lot, but remember that 10 is supposed to be the most excruciating pain you can imagine. The pain also moved around. The main areas of pain were the lower back, butt muscles, and outer sides of hips above the hip joint. Other problem areas were mid and upper back, and sometimes shoulders. It also had different qualities. At different times it felt sore, stiff, hot, cold, dull, piercing, electrical, or achy. Heat and massage always felt really good, but did not provide lasting relief. It felt really good to move around too. This was my first clue that it was not a normal injury, although "experts" later convinced me that I needed to be careful about how I moved, which made it worse. I think they had good intentions, but I also think some of them did more harm than good, and charged for it. I do not fully blame them though. They have invested many of their own resources into learning strict professions; they are invested in their paradigms. The "Experts" The first medical professional I saw was a chiropractor. He was pretty laid-back. When I would see him, his assistant would put some electric massagers on my back for about 10 minutes, then he would come and give me the "classic" adjustment on both sides, and finish with some ice. He recommended I see him once a week and taper off as I felt better. The sessions felt good, but didn't provide any long-term relief. I stopped seeing him after about 4 months. Next I went to a regular doctor. He was a very fit-looking, young doctor. He took x-rays and blood tests. After looking at the x-rays, he said he wished his spine looked as good as mine. The blood tests were all normal except they showed I had mild hypothyroidism. He prescribed a thyroid medicine, but said it probably wouldn't help my back. For my back, he referred me to a physiatrist. I took the thyroid medicine for several months, then quit because it didn't make me feel any different. The physiatrist gave me a quick physical exam and didn't find anything wrong, so he referred me to a physical therapist (PT). The PT said my left leg appeared longer than my right leg, not because it was but because my pelvis was crooked. He diagnosed me with SI Joint Syndrome and taught me to strengthen the transversus abdominis muscle with daily exercises. He also showed me a maneuver that was supposed to realign my crooked pelvis. I saw him once a week, and I diligently did the exercises. Sometimes I felt better and was very optimistic, but the pain always came back. I finished his program after about 6 weeks and it became clear he didn't have anything else to teach me. I actually wrote a nice review for him because I still believed I was slowly getting better. But really I just had a lot of ups and downs, and when I was up I thought I was getting better. But I would always go back down and feel like I hadn't made any progress. I kept doing the daily exercises for several more months. Next, I went to another chiropractor because I got a great recommendation for him. He took x-rays and went over them with me. He pointed out numerous "problems," mostly in my neck and upper back. I thought this was strange since the doctor hadn't noticed anything, but I couldn't remember if the doctor had looked at my upper back too or just my lower back. The chiropractor proposed a plan where I would come in 3 times a week and taper off to 1 or 2 times a month. The whole thing would take a year. I accepted the plan even though the treatments from the other chiropractor hadn't worked because I liked that this one based his plan on x-rays. At each session, he would check the apparent length of my legs, and give me the "classic" adjustment on only one side. He would also adjust my upper back by pushing me into the table and my neck by twisting my head quickly; it was not painful though. He and his staff would forget that my complaint was my lower back and not my upper back or neck. He spent much more time looking at and adjusting my neck. Sometimes my girlfriend would come to the session with me. One time she asked him why he spent so much time on my neck when it was my lower back that was bothering me. He got a little defensive and said something about the lower spine being affected by the upper spine. Sometimes the adjustments seemed to help, but most of the time I felt no different. I stopped going to see him after a few months. When I settled my account, I noticed I had spent about $1,000 at his clinic. Then, I went back to the physiatrist and told him the PT had not worked. He ordered an MRI of my whole spine and a blood test. When the MRI came back, he said my spine looked "perfect." Please be very skeptical if a chiropractor tells you that you have a problem with your spine; get a second opinion from someone who is not a chiropractor. I read about the spinal disease Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), and I hoped I had it because it would give me an explanation and some clues for how to get better. I was very disappointed when the physiatrist told me I did not have the genetic marker, HLA-B27, that is associated with AS and, therefore, it was very unlikely I had AS. My blood test was normal, actually very healthy. He did not recommend any treatment, but said he would try injections if I wanted. I declined, because I wanted to try other things before resorting to injections as they are for pain management and rarely fix anything. Next, I went to a rheumatologist. I am 5'-10" and my normal weight is 160 pounds without clothes. I was shocked when I stepped on his scale and weighed under 150 pounds with my clothes on and a big jacket. I hoped I had some kind of inflammatory illness; I really wanted some information to use to get better. The rheumatologist ordered some blood tests. When the results came he informed me there was nothing abnormal. He said I have "mechanical" back pain, which I gathered to mean there is no known cause but it is believed to be caused by bad body mechanics. I cried on the way home from his office, in front of my girlfriend. My dad got a recommendation for a chiropractic neurologist. When I went to see her, she gave me vision and balance tests. She said my vision and balance were off, and prescribed vision exercises where I would watch a ball move on a computer screen. She also gave me some chiropractic adjustments. She had a machine that tested my balance, and it really was better after doing the vision exercises. My pain still went up and down a lot though. She got me to think about the mental part of this, which is the most and possibly only useful thing I received from the “experts.” I saw her for 4 or 5 months, and I stopped once I found something that really helped me. Other Things I Tried I also tried changing my posture, changing the way I walked, walking barefoot, a lot of stupid exercises, changing my diet, taking over the counter pain pills, sleeping on the floor, long walks every day, hanging from a bar every day, massaging trigger points, and probably some other things I have forgot. Everything seemed to work at least a little at first, but it did not last. Epiphany While seeing the chiropractic neurologist, I got really interested in the mind's role in pain. I read Healing Back Pain by Dr. John Sarno. Much of the book rang true for me, but some of the theories did not seem to fit my experience. I never discovered repressed emotions or repressed anger at people in my life. I tried really hard, but it just wasn't there. I think my frustration at starting my desk job was enough to start the pain patterns, but I had made peace with that and I was still hurting. I read information on http://www.painrelievers.org/. I watched a TEDx video called “Why Things Hurt” by Lorimer Moseley. I learned that nerves don't send pain signals, they send information. The mind uses the information to decide if there is danger. The mind can get stuck in a pattern of interpreting danger when there is none. You can experience pain even when there is no tissue damage. It is a little like the warning lights in your car. A warning light either means a real problem with your car, or a faulty warning light. Pain comes from the mind, all the time, even when it is for a good reason. In the video, Lorimer Moseley talks about an experiment where people were tricked using video cameras to believe a fake arm was their own. The participants experienced pain when the experimenters did things to the fake arm. At first, I was afraid that my mind was stuck for good. But then I thought, if it was malleable enough to get stuck, I can un-stick it. I learned from a book called Train Your Brain to Get Happy that the mind is much more plastic than most people believe, meaning you can change the way it works throughout your whole life. I believed I could get it to work right again; it used to work just fine. I learned not to fear the pain. I learned to accept and try to conquer it, rather than try to avoid or ignore it. I thought about my thoughts and how they affected the way I felt physically. I reassured myself that there was nothing wrong with my back. I slowly resumed the physical activities which I had stopped. I started doing the strength training program from the Primal Blueprint Fitness Plan, because it is based around bodyweight exercises, so it seemed safe. I noticed that my pain did not correlate to my level of physical activity. This was tricky though, because sometimes I would push my work outs harder, then the following day or 2 days later I would get scared and have a flare-up. But many times I would work out really hard, then the next day I would forget about it, then later realize I had not had a flare-up. The difference was the absence or presence of fear! Recovery Regular workouts became my new normal, and my mind slowly accepted this. I started hill sprinting too. I went for bike rides, hikes, and road trips with my girlfriend and other family members. It took about 6 months to start feeling pretty good again. I gained some muscle, got up to an athletic weight of 165 pounds without clothes. My girlfriend and family noticed, which felt good. I somehow got the idea that if I could do heavy deadlifts, it would prove that I had a normal, healthy back, for good. I was afraid of deadlifts; they were the last thing I needed to overcome. I started practicing with a single 45 pound plate at low repetitions. It was easy, but I was afraid to do more. Many times I had flare-ups, but I would calm myself down, wait a couple days for the pain to drop, and do some more deadlifts. Once I could deadlift the 45 pound plate enough times to exhaust myself with confidence and no flare-ups, it was time to get a barbell and up the weight. The first time, I loaded two 45 pound plates on the bar, so the total weight was 135 pounds. I did one and it felt good. I did a couple more and stopped because I didn't want to push it too soon. I didn't have a flare-up, so a couple days later I did some more. I slowly upped the weight over the next few weeks, never attempting a max lift though. A few days ago, I decided to try my max deadlift for 1 repetition. I started at 185 pounds for a few reps and it felt good. I kept adding weight a little at a time and it still felt good. When it started to feel heavy, I got excited and asked my girlfriend to come and watch, which she was happy to do. I loaded the bar to 250 pounds, all the weight I own, a little more than 1.5 times my bodyweight, and executed a smooth lift. It felt great! For weightlifters this is not very impressive, but it was an amazing accomplishment for me because it was not that long ago that I was afraid to bend over at the drinking fountain. This was the final proof I needed to be confident that there is nothing wrong with my back. Now Now I am free. Free from the pain and depression. Free to live my life the way I want. Free to be happy. I still have the same job. Although I am still not a fan of working at a desk 40 hours a week, I enjoy the work and have found plenty of time outside of work to do the things I love. I still stand at my computer about half the time. Not because I am afraid to sit, but because it is more comfortable and I think it is healthier to change positions. I am still with the same girl. She is amazing and we are best friends as well as lovers. My back no longer limits the things we can do together. We are training for a 100-mile bike ride. I do barbell strength training, sprints, high intensity interval training (HITT), run, hike, bike, swim, and sit in the car for long road trips. I am confident to attempt any physical activity. I still massage my trigger points because it feels good and occasionally provides lasting relief. I still have a little pain and discomfort. But it does not limit what I do or how I live. I know it is not from any injuries or spine problems, and no chiropractor will ever convince me otherwise! My pain is slowly decreasing, and I expect it to fade away to nothing. Probably it will become so small that I will forget, and one day I will realize that I have not had any pain for a long time. Final Thoughts The main reason I desired to write my story is for people who do not fit the standard TMS model. My recovery took much longer than many others, but 6 months is nothing when you get the rest of your life back. And I think my pain was due to thought patterns of fear and anxiety, rather than repressed emotions. I am still on the lookout for repressed emotions though, as I am not 100% pain-free. Many times I thought I found some, but eventually realized it did not help and I was trying to force something that wasn’t there. It is possible that I am just very good at repressing things, but I do not believe this and I have found un-related techniques that are working for me. I still consider my story a success because I am back to living the way I want to, and I am happy again!