Who Fixed My Back?
If you went to Cardio High between April and July this year, you probably saw me (Mark G.) limping around as I was suffering constant pain down my right side from an L4/L5 disc rupture.
I visited three physical therapists including one at the Spine Center who said I had the worst symptoms she’d ever seen. They all encouraged me to see a surgeon. My physiatrist believed the injury would heal on its own over time, and she suggested using steroid pills or an injection to decrease pain while healing. I put off the ‘roids until all other options were exhausted.
Through awesome recommendations from clients I also visited three excellent chiropractors. One of them, Matt Kowalski, urged me to get an MRI which showed the full rupture. Matt and one of the other chiropractors suggested lining up surgical options, as they had doubts that the injury would heal on its own.
On June 26 I went to see Dr. William Foley, an osteopath recommended by a client. Dr. Foley spent an hour placing his hands on my feet, legs, lower back, neck and head. He did not guarantee his method would solve the problem, but he asked me to return in 3-4 weeks — and he predicted I would be 50% better. He also said I should soak my feet in magnesium chloride every night for 20 minutes because my muscles are too tight. As I was getting up to leave Dr. Foley instructed: “No more foam rolling, no chiro, and no massage. Let your body heal on its own…”
During the first week after the visit, I felt no better, and began to think maybe his method of listening to the body didn’t work. But. On the 8th day I had a 30-minute stretch of walking with no pain. The feeling was pure joy.
I made sure to continue with the foot soaks, and visited Dr. Foley in the middle of July. I would guess I was about 50% improved by this point, though I was still unable to lie flat on my back without pain. He asked me to lie down and then he proceeded to play a light piano sonata on my lower back (at least that’s what it felt like). Within 60 seconds the pain vanished, replaced by pins and needles in my lower leg. But I’ll take pins and needles over pain any day.
Each week I have continued to improve. By the end of August I was able to SUP while riding waves (and falling off), play tennis and throw a Frisbee. I can’t explain exactly why this method of healing works, but in my case of n=1 this is a 100% success rate.
So… what happened here? Why did this work? Why no foam rolling? I asked Dr. Foley these questions twice, and I am not 100% sure I understand his responses. This is a highly suspect summary of our conversations:
How did Dr. Foley fix my disc rupture? Regular MDs take a problem/solution approach to medicine. Osteopaths, on the other hand, listen to the body by using their hands, and they detect what the body needs to heal in an optimal manner. From the Dr. Foley’s FAQ page; “Treatment restores motion, improves vitality (ability to heal), and brings about a higher state of function.” The piece of this equation that seems like art or magic is listening to the body by using the hands.
Who should employ foam rolling? Dr. Foley says that foam rolling and muscle manipulation will create a short term benefit that will help a professional athlete perform at a higher level or with less pain. But unless Cardio High clients are professional athletes they should not foam roll.
Uh, why? When you squeeze a muscle the brain will respond by temporarily sending signals to relax the muscle. This process, however, causes the brain to also release cytokines which, according to Dr. Foley, are not good for the body in the long run. From my lame-ass Google researching into why they are, apparently they play a role in increasing long inflammation and pain in the body. Though what we also found was that there are pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines.
What should we tell our clients to do to achieve optimal health? Drink water. Cut out sugar and grains (ouch). Sleep 8 hours each night. Spend time with friends and family. And definitely don’t miss your chances to exercise (though there’s no need to do CrossFit or anything that causes pain).
– Mark G.