Your Health

Avoid back surgery, even with 10-plus years of chronic pain

Courtesy of U.S. National Park Service
One of physical therapist Kim Gladfelter’s clients had been suffering chronic back pain for a decade and was told repeatedly that she had to live with it, that her condition was irreversible. Gladfelter determined that her client was compensating due to a skiing accident that injured her core and hips 15 years previously.

One of my dear clients, Angela, 56, was diagnosed with two disc herniations and degenerating discs of her lumbar spine. She’d been suffering from chronic back pain for 10 years, but it was getting worse, especially in the past three months.

Getting out of bed was a struggle, gardening was out of the question, and even taking a short walk made her back so stiff and sore that she just wanted to shut down.

Angela is tough, though. She’s got a high pain tolerance and tries to push through, no matter what. She tries her best to stay active, is very conscious of what she eats and strongly objects to taking painkillers.

Which is why she felt so frustrated when the doctor barely even looked at her, spent only 15 minutes, and told her she needed to take painkillers and simply just rest.

To make matters worse, a trip to the specialist two months later wasn’t much more helpful when her MRI revealed two disc herniations and degenerative arthritis in her lumbar spine.

The doctor said she was facing injections and needed stronger painkillers; potentially life-altering, dangerous surgery; and that the degeneration in her back was irreversible and she needed to just “accept it” and “manage the pain.”

Rooting out root causes

How did Angela, six months later, make a full recovery, without taking a single pill, and without needing an injection or surgery?

It’s because we were able to diagnose the real, root cause of her pain.

The biggest problem today in traditional health care is the fact that many health professionals diagnose every single person with back pain exactly the same, because they do not have the time to conduct a thorough assessment to get to the root cause as we do as physical therapists. Which means nearly every person with a back injury is labeled as a “disc herniation” or “arthritic.” There’s no individualized attention, no process of figuring the problem out and no consideration of other, more realistic causes such as weak muscles, stiff joints or movement compensation.

Identifying the causes

This leads to a dangerous, systemic problem of treating symptoms instead of taking the time necessary to identify causes. Most doctors would be happy to hear about specialists who have enough time and experience to get to the root cause of the problem, because they want you to get a good result.

For Angela, like most others we have helped with degenerating discs or other disc problems, we realized that the root cause of her pain was not from her discs or arthritis, but from:

• Scar tissue in the muscles and tissues along her spine (from inflammation that had built up because of repetitive stress).

• Muscle imbalances and weakness in her core/hips, dating back to a hip injury she suffered 15 years ago while skiing.

• Poor movement habits that developed from compensation, as she had been guarding her back for such a long time (causing her to bend with poor form and rendering her unable to squat correctly).

These were all legitimate problems that will never show up on an X-ray or MRI. While X-rays and MRIs may tell you what is going on inside your back, they won’t tell you the important information of why your back is hurting.

Addressing such problems through a structured, individualized and detailed process of healing her body naturally, Angela is now able to garden three times per week without needing Advil, walk four miles per day without her back seizing up and sit comfortably and go on long drives to the Central Coast with her family and two grandchildren, without needing to pull over every 30 minutes to stretch her back.

For Angela, it all started when she claimed our back pain report, “9 Quick & Easy Tips to Eliminate Back Pain and Stiffness Without the Use of Pain Meds, Injections or Surgery Even If You’ve Suffered for Years.” For a free copy, visit

Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness. For more information, visit

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