I was only sixteen when I injured my back.
I used to love karate, and I had recently gotten my brown belt, on the way to black.
Then one day I was just warming up practising kicks on a bag, when I felt a sudden sharp pain in my low back.
On the left-hand side, just at belt level. It felt like I’d done something really bad.
Then the pain in my leg started. A shooting pain right down to my calf, which I later learned it was called sciatica.
Unfortunately, that was the end to my martial arts career.
For the next few months, the pain fluctuated but it was always there.
Sometimes I couldn’t walk very well because I couldn’t stride out with my left leg.
And at one point my mom had to help me put my trousers on, which for a 16-year-old boy was the last thing I wanted.
I saw the family doctor who gave me some painkillers. They helped a little but never fixed it, and I wondered how long it would last.
But then my mother took me to see a private physiotherapist, who’d helped her out a couple of years before.
I lay on my side on the bench, and she twisted my hips and I felt a click.
When I got off the bench the pain had gone from a 7/10 to a 2.
It was amazing.
After that, I also saw a chiropractor who also helped me tremendously. And I realized that I’d found what I wanted to do for a living.
Now, in the UK, NHS physiotherapists don’t do much hands-on treatment for back pain anymore, so it’s more about exercise prescription.
So if I wanted to do those hands-on techniques that helped me so much, then it had to be chiropractic.
So, in 2004 I graduated from the University of Glamorgan (now the University of South Wales) with a BSc (Hons) degree in Chiropractic.
The journey wasn’t over
But like many people, my journey with back pain wasn’t quite that simple.
Although I’d experienced a lot of relief from the people who’d treated me, I still had to learn through experience how to look after my back, so the pain didn’t keep returning.
For example, the first time I had x-rays was actually in the first worked at.
And I discovered I had a leg length difference – meaning my right leg was 9mm longer than my left.
I know now that this had been a key underlying factor in my back pain. But it had never been mentioned by any practitioner.
And all it took to correct, was a small cork heel lift in my left shoe, which I’ve worn ever since.
Because of my own experience, leg length difference is one of the first things I check with all my clients. And I talk about it in my back pain course The Total Back Pain Solution.
Another valuable thing I learned was to do the Cat exercise every morning – without fail – before I got out of bed.
I did every day for around 5 years.
I strongly believe it’s the single most important back relief exercise you can do, and I recommend it to all of my back pain patients.
Keep looking after it
Another thing I learned was the importance of moving correctly, especially making sure to bend the knees.
And especially first thing in the morning.
For me, weight training helped me tremendously.
Not only for keeping in good shape, but teaching me how to move correctly, without having to think about it.
Nowadays my back never gives me any trouble.
Ok, except if I’m bent over for too long, like when I go kitesurfing with my wife and my job is to pump up the kites!
But that’s a small thing, compared with how I felt when I first hurt my back.
And how many of my patients are when they first come to see me.
I’m grateful now for my own experience with back pain.
I believe it’s given me an insight and understanding that’s helped me to better help my patients.
And it’s made me realize just how important a happy back is to a happy life!
Chiropractor (and former back pain sufferer)