I Am Not My MRI

Yeah, that’s a MRI of my lumbar spine. The dark round thing in the middle is a large L5/S1 disc herniation that pinches on the right S1 nerve root. This was taken about 10 months ago, about 14 months after I was on the wrong end of a deadlift. For the first year, it was just mechanical low back pain until I woke up one morning with what felt like a strain to my right calf. Odd, considering I couldn’t recall a reason why. Then I realized it was related to my back when I could modify the symptoms by simply performing anterior and pelvic tilts. Uh oh…

So yes, I am a physical therapist with chronic back pain. It happens. Physical therapists dealing with injuries happens more often than many would think. And it’s probably a good thing, honestly. It keeps us grounded and holds us accountable to how we treat our patients. Many say the hardest person to treat is yourself, and I believe it. This post is about how I am managing my own back pain and how I sought out help when I needed it. I still have intermittent back pain, but the radicular leg symptoms are gone, and I am not limited functionally.

For the first year, I was managing the pain on my own through mobility work, core/trunk stability training, and taking Motrin as needed, which was fairly frequent. Truthfully, I may not have been the most compliant patient as the mobility and stability work were not performed daily. The initial severe pain reduced within the first week, and fortunately I never was out of work due to the pain. Over the course of the year, I had several exacerbations, especially when trying to increase my workout intensity and frequency. In the Army, we have to pass a semi-annual physical fitness t