After a major back surgery six years ago from chronic back pain, I am now able to travel the world. In this podcast episode, I discuss how I went from spending six days in the hospital after getting three discs replaced from degenerative disc disease which included all kinds of new ‘equipment’ in my back to traveling to 35 countries in 27 months. I struggled with my back pain since my late teen years, played through the pain in my D1 basketball days, struggled in my 20’s to stay active, and then finally had enough in my early 30’s.
I will discuss not only the exercise that changed my life but also the other factors that play a part in the pain on vacations like hydration, food, and even beer. If you have ever struggled with back issues during vacation, listen in as I give tips to help you get your life back. This is an important episode for me as I know how many people have asked me about my recovery process and I want to continue to share how I made it through.
A bit more about my battles with back pain:
Back pain, back stiffness, neck problems, constant numbness, lower back problems. It never ends. It seems like all of us are going through these struggles. Even though I knew I was not alone in my battle, I felt incredibly isolated in trying to beat the constant pain. Chiropractors, cupping, needles, inversion table, stem treatment, weird stretching devices, medication, more medication, too much medication. I tried it all.
These ups and downs stayed with me in my 20’s and early 30’s with the downs becoming more of a theme. Every 12-18 months I would seek a new opinion on the pain and attempt to get a proper diagnosis and potential plan of recovery. Every plan would eventually fail, and the lower back pain would recur.
Into my 30’s I was still active, attempting to overcome the stiffness out of pure stubbornness. I just couldn’t believe that I would be sidelined by an injury this young in life. I played golf, basketball, and even ran. I would go through weeks and months with minor stiffness, numbness, and pain in my legs, hips, and lower back. Then I would tweak it a certain way and would be out of commission for a couple of months.
This cycle replayed itself over and over.
I finally began seeing a back doctor. That relationship was a winding one with a diagnosis that would bring anger, denial, and frustration. This cycle in my mid-30’s would end with a significant back surgery spending six days in the hospital replacing 3 of my discs and adding 2 plates, 2 rods, and a ton of pins into my lower back.
And then the real recovery began.
As a Division 1 Athlete, I should have had a lot of opportunities to understand my body, proper exercise techniques, stretch training, and most importantly, nutrition.
I hope that the athletes today are getting more of the training that we lacked in the late ‘90’s. Basically, the coaches told the players the exercises that we were supposed to complete on a regular basis. We were not educated on why we were doing them or how they helped us get a competitive edge or how it would affect our bodies. We just did them to grow bigger, stronger, faster.
We did stretch but it wasn’t a focused-stretching process like I understand now is essential. We only stretched the big muscles, neglecting the smaller muscles that are crucial to prevent injuries and help with recovery.
Nutrition? None. I can still remember eating those horrible cafeteria meals that, looking back, likely hurt my ability to play at a peak level rather than enhance it. If I could go back in time and change one thing, nutrition would be my focus. It has been a game-changer for me later in life, and I cannot imagine what it would have done for me in my prime.
I am grateful, in mid/late 30’s, that I was given the tools (books in this case) on nutrition by my general practitioner and on back-focused exercises by a peer at work. I’ve always been open-minded in my approach to life. I went about reading books in the same way. Nothing else had worked, why not be open.
Once I had the chance to dive deep into the education, research more, openly discuss, and then implement the foundational approaches into my life, I was shocked by the results. Why did I just learn all this far in my 30’s? Why did nobody teach me these basic principles earlier in life?
Starting new habits suck. I had to change other parts of my life to realign with my new goals and vision. It ate into my routine. It messed with my schedule. People asked questions. People judged me. People doubted me.
But in the end, it was worth it. Life is long. I had to learn and adapt to improve and change.
I was over living in pain. I deserved to wake up and walk to the bathroom without having to worry about numb feet.
As I began to implement these minor changes and new habits, positive things starting happening to my health, pain level, strength, and body weight. People started noticing that I was slimming down and moving better.
Nikki could tell my mood was more consistent because the pain wasn’t lingering like it used to. Let’s be real; it is not fun to deal with back pain on a regular basis. When I was working through those struggles, my mood would change, and I wouldn’t be as fun to be around. And I’m a fun guy 😉
With more life changes came more discipline. I enjoyed seeing the improvements and loved getting out of bed in the morning pain-free.
Time to Believe
There was a point in this process of education, implementation, and gradual recovery when I was encouraged like I had not been in quite some time. Being in pain, off and on, for half my life, I forgot what it felt like to be pain-free and to do physical activities without fear.
At some point, I had to realize that I deserved to be pain-free. I deserved to play with my nephews without lower back pain, hip stiffness, or tingling feet.
I made the decision that I would get pain free and that I deserved it. It wasn’t my fault that I had this disease that had slowed my life down; it was just my body. It wasn’t my mind. It wasn’t my spirit.
I finally changed my attitude toward pain. I understood that my future was going to be pain-free. And I deserved it.
From Novice to Pro
Once I hit my stride in recovery building muscle, increasing flexibility, and understanding the nutrition that decreased inflammation, my transformation intensified. Positivity improved, and my body was responding.
My habits, goals, and routines were second nature. It was as if I had always done these daily tasks and I always would. The lower back pain was a distant memory (though still a memory).
Sleep became more important. Water tasted better than it ever had. Vegetables looked like Butterfinger bars.
I understood that any happiness (too many beers) would be happiness that I was stealing from the next day.
It was the combination of all these things that made it all possible. I could not just focus on one discipline and think that everything would be okay. It was all of them working together that caused the pain and stiffness subside. Diet, stretching, sleep, water, mental attitude, long walks, work balance.
It all matters equally.
Being competitive, I continued to strive for the next ‘trophy’ moment. I knew that I would not push it too far, but I knew I could have small wins that would get my heart racing and give me a sense of accomplishment.
Hiking is now my ‘trophy’ sport.
With my life back and no longer in fear of pain, hiking has become a hobby as we travel the world fulltime. Among other amazing trails, I have hiked the Cerco Tocco in San Pedro de Atacama, Wanpichu (that is the Best View of Machu Picchu) in Peru, and the Cinque Terre Hiking Experience in Northern Italy. All of which I could not have dreamed of doing just a few years ago.
I beat the pain! And I deserve it.
Can you even imagine the fear that I used to have to get on a 12-hour flight to fly to Mumbai, India from the US for work? I am 6’6 and only fly economy. No matter what airlines you fly, it is a tight squeeze. Flying internationally was a significant issue for me.
On my final flight to India before I decided on the discectomy, I received an epidermal that was supposed to numb my back for a few days, even weeks. It was supposed to help release the pain of the long flights. No such luck. This painful process helped seal the deal on my surgery. I scheduled it a few months later.
Now, just a few years later, I am traveled full time around the world. In and out of planes, buses, tuk-tuks, trains, and ferries. All while carrying my single backpack.
The thing that I most feared has become the thing that I most love.
Now that I have found my way over the past few years, I would love to help others find their way. I realize that every story is different and everyone’s pain is different.
I am not a doctor, so my opinions and thoughts only go so far. That said, I lived it. I know what it is like to wake up in pain every day. It sucks.
My goal of the podcast is to give the small pieces of advice that have helped me get to a place where I can walk around without pain, don’t have to take any medication, and can PLAY as I’ve always loved to do.
Why So Many of Us Struggle with Back Pain
Look around; everyone has back problems around the world. Neck stiffness, pain in the hips, numbness.
We don’t sit correctly. We don’t walk correctly. We stare at our devices too much. Not enough water intake. Bad foods.
There are so many factors that lead to back issues. And all are ‘simple’ adjustments.
As I walked the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, I shake my head as I see how Asians ‘sit’ often. It is mind-boggling to me. What if I would have grown up sitting like that all the time? Would my back have shaped differently?
I know that I changed my posture and back strength late in life AFTER I already had a ton of hardware inside it. What if I made drastic changes early in life? I can’t imagine the positive impact that some of this information would have on kids.
It’s never too late; it’s never too early.
It’s time to stop taking the easy way out and looking for a quick fix. There is no ‘get rich quick’ scheme with back pain.
It’s time to commit to change.
It’s time to get your life back.
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
The book that changed my life by Dr. Eric Goodman.
Eating is also a major factor in back pain. Read Eat to Live to understand more about inflammation.
The Foundation Training Instagram post of my back equipment.
An awesome overview of Foundation Training. Be sure to subscribe to the channel as well.
Watch the World Barber Shop Adventures on Amazon Prime now.
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Find out where we are NOW and check out our Journey So Far to get an idea of all that we have seen along with our adventures around the world!
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