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How To Overcome Chronic Neck & Back Pain With Exercise

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 05 December 2014
Hits: 2150

Neck Pain and Back Pain are some of the most debilitating, stressful and life changing injuries anyone can suffer from. And when the pain remains for long time and becomes chronic it can affect your work, home life, it can even affect your relationships as it changes your moods and ultimately starts to wreck your life in more ways than one. This means having a program to firstly prevent chronic pain, and secondly to rid yourself of pain if you already are in this situation is critical. Unfortunately most therapists and rehabilitation programs focus only on removing the pain, or treating the symptoms. This WILL NOT help the chronic pain sufferer at all because it has not addressed the real problem or the cause of the pain. After spending 12 years of working with hundreds of clients who suffer from all types of chronic pain, sciatica & piriformis syndrome, bulged disc in neck or low back, knee problems etc, I have found that there is a common theme in the people who get on top of their pain, versus the people who continue to suffer and go from therapist to therapist, searching for the magic pill that we all know does not exist.

Five Factors That Are Common To All People Who Get On Top Of Chronic Pain Forever

This article I am going to share real case studies of people who overcame neck pain using exercise as their medicine! All of them had similar symptoms but many different causes and also solutions.

But.....

They all shared 5 common TRAITS that I will list for you below.

  1. They had a burning Desire to change and take responsibility for what happens to their body.
  2. They identified the CAUSE of their pain and put a plan in place to change or eliminate it
  3. They were very disciplined at working on their Postural Corrective Exercises, mobility drills and stretches daily
  4. They all placed a high priority on excellent Nutrition, eat organic foods, rarely drink coffee or alcohol
  5. They all followed an exercise program based on teaching them "HOW TO MOVE" as opposed to just strengthening muscles

It is these 5 Factors I have found that make the difference with clients in severe pain. Many people fail at resolving a long term chronic problem due to the fact they think someone else can "fix them".

Unfortunately the human body is not a piece of machinery, (which unfortunately is what we have been brought up to believe by the medical world) that can have parts replaced and you continue doing what you are doing and it will all be fine. Taking responsibility for what happens to your body is a massive step in finding the answer. Possessing that burning desire and motivation is the first step and one that most therapists & personal trainers ignore or have no idea how to help. Click here to see our best tips for motivation and creating change. Once people make this decision all they need now is some expert guidance into finding the cause, eliminating this as a continuing problem via postural corrective stretches and exercises, improving nutrition and lastly developing perfect movement and motor skills.

Previously my programs were exactly what most physiotherapists, pilates training and even what many exercise physiologists do, and skip the first 4 stages and go to the last stage. This did not focus on movements, but just adding muscles using robotic like isolated exercises. I used to rely heavily on isolated strength training exercises to build muscle in weak areas of the body. Just like Pilates and Body Building training I had a great understanding of anatomy and what muscles did what, but a poor understanding of movement, myofascial slings and how the human body actually moved. And although  the muscle approach worked to some extent, and I still use some of this today, I found only using this approach had many problems with chronic sufferers and never achieved great results.

Why?

Because when the person stood up to do a real life movement the only movement they knew was a faulty one! By only focusing on improving muscle strength, without educating the system on how to move in the correct sequence, position, timing and co-ordination is pointless. Read our article on movement skills to see more detail about the origins of this training and how we actually do it. Once I changed our rehab program to develop superior motor skills and movement was when we started to see fantastic results. And not just in some clients, but ALL clients who followed our principles as mentioned above.

Examples Of Clients Who Have Achieved Great Success

Here is four examples of clients who turned chronic pain around just by using exercise methods.

1. Christian Haider

This first story is a great one and of a young guy who appeared to be in great physical health from looking at him but he was a complete mess both physically and mentally. He was a very keen jiu-jitsu fighter and loved going to the gym but his neck pain had got to a point where he was barely able to walk down the street or get out of bed without aggravating his pain. Mentally this was taking a toll on him, and he had already tried many health therapists before seeing us, that either did very little or made matters worse. His secret is a perfect example of why many modern health methods fail people with neck pain for we did very little in the way of stretching or massage with him as although he possessed many nasty trigger points, it was his lack of stability around the scapula and thoracic region combined with poor movement function that was his problem. Once he was able to practice this and become comfortable with this new movement strategy it all clicked into place.

The biggest difference with Christian versus many other people I see or work with was he was so devoted to doing his homework! He never missed a session, and did his home drills EXACTLY how we told him. It is this reason that he was able to get on top of his problem so fast. Here is his story in his own words, very inspiring. The picture below of him doing the Turkish Get Up he is holding a 30kg dumbbell!

"After years of coping with pain I had finally crashed hard in January 2017. I was lost in deep depression and pain that was hard to describe. I spent every waking moment focused on the pain and the disability it was inflicting in my life. Couldn't sit, couldn't run, couldn't lift, couldn't do anything without paralyzing fear. I had tried massage, chiropractor, osteo etc. I was all out of options and truly lost and hopeless. Finally I came across the No Regrets testimony page and after reading some of the stories I decided to drop in and have a chat to Nick. Straight away everything he was telling me made sense, I had put my trust in so many heath professionals however so i was naturally a little pessimistic that what he was talking about could actually fix me. The pain I was experiencing in my neck was so strange that I felt no one could possibly understand what it was or how to fix it, I had been convinced it was a herniated disc, or a bulging disc, or maybe even a dodgy spine that would inevitably cause tremendous pain for the rest of my life.  After 3 months of hard work and listening to the team at No Regrets, I was finally experiencing a reduction in pain and had regained hope.

Fast forward 2 more months and here I am now, doing Jiu Jitsu again, sitting for hours again, running again, doing whatever I want! The pain no longer rules my life. It's not until now, 5 months later that I realize that what really saved my life was the fact that the team at No Regrets were not entirely responsible for fixing me, they were teaching me how to regain my freedom myself. They simply showed me what I needed to do and the rest was up to me. I had to to lift the weights, I had to put in the hard work. Thank you Nick and Nathan for showing me there wasn't anything wrong with me that I couldn't fix with time and hard work. You have given me hope that has truly saved my life. If you're reading this and you're in pain right now, you have come to the right place. The team at No Regrets will change your life."

Christian Haider.

2. Phil Neckers - Neck & Back Pain

When we first met Phil he was in severe chronic pain that had forced him off work for over 18 months and prevented him from doing almost everything in his life. He was even unable to sit for longer than 20 minutes at a time! He had come to us from a referral from a well respected Podiatrist who had been referred from another therapist. Phil had spent a lot of time with pilates type training and isolated muscle training and a strong focus on stretching. We could see straight away from his assessment that he was hyper-mobile and needed to cease stretching so much and also almost all of his movement patterns were faulty. After only a few months he is already improve to a point where he now has been doing indoor rock climbing, playing basketball and more recently sat in a lecture for over 2 hours with no pain!

Below is a video interview we did with Phil where he explains how he managed to get his life back!

Phil is now currently improving each week as we now expose him to greater loads and more complex athletic movement skills. He is not 100% complete with his program but with more time he will be able to do all the things in life he wants without fear of hurting himself again!

If you want to see the 6 month programs with all the mobility, stability, movement and strength exercises that we used with both Christian and Phil all laid out for you in a step by step guide you will find that in our special report on Shoulder Pain below. If you CLICK HERE you will find out more about what is in this 95 page report and to get your copy straight away click the image below to go straight to our online shop.

2. Georgie McIntosh - Neck & Back Pain

Georgie just like Phil when first coming to see us had spent a long time in pain, going from therapist to therapist for little result. Her story in many ways is more extreme than Phil's.

"For the past 10 years pain has been a constant in my life. I ended up having 2 surgeries for a bulged disk in 2006 and have never really recovered. The surgeon referred me to a physio who I saw twice a week and they also had me doing one-on-one Feldenkrais to learn how to move correctly again. I did EVERYTHING they told me to. After a year I was still in a lot of pain so I went back to the surgeon. He did another scan and confirmed there was no longer a bulge, and said ‘give it another year’. Easy for him to say!

Over the following 8 years, across different countries, I’ve seen at least 10 different physios, ~2 osteos, ~5 remedial massage therapists, ~2 myotherapists, ~3 acupuncturists, ~2 personal trainers, an exercise physiologists, one-one-one clinical Pilates with multiple physios, a swim trainer and 2 podiatrists. Well that’s what I remember - I could have paid off my house by now! Last year I decided my twice weekly Pilates wasn’t building my strength, and it was also aggravating my shoulder and wrists. I knew it was related to bad habits picked up from ‘protecting’ my back, but no one could really diagnose it. Late last year I saw a new sports doctor, who after finding out I was recently pregnant told me that he ‘couldn’t really help since I couldn’t have an injection, so I should plan to leave work early as I was highly likely to struggle, and well good luck with the feeding because that’s going to be tough’. After working so hard for so long I felt like I had failed. As it turned out I had a miscarriage, so I decided to suck it up and go back for the injection – my last resort. The scans and injection cost close to $2k, and it didn’t work at all. He didn’t have much to say to me, so I demanded he refer me to a pain clinic – if they couldn’t fix it, I was going to need a better way to cope with it – enough was enough. Instead he referred me to a rheumatologist, who suggested I immediately cease all Pilates, go back to Feldenkrais and learn meditation. He suggested my problems stemmed from being super tight and ‘strengthening’ just made me tighter. I felt much better initially, but 4 months later I felt worse than I had with the Pilates, I’d lost any strength and momentum I did have, and was just another patient they had forgotten about.

Upon hearing this recent update, a friend who had been seeing Nick for a while recommended I give No Regrets a go so I reluctantly met with Nick one lunchtime. I thought his approach sounded great as it seemed to pull together so many of the various things I’d learnt over the years, and I was keen to give it a go, however I was completely reluctant to commit as I had been through this so many times in the past 8 years – throwing a lot of money into a different approaches – only to be the one who gets screwed in the long run when the trainer/physio/specialist etc. get very little results and basically gives up, but continues to take my money until I eventually get handed over to someone new, and the cycle continues…

But I did really like that Nick took learnings from so many different approaches and I felt that maybe he would just pull all the different bits from all the different therapies and put them into something that worked precisely for ME. I am only 33, and I simply felt like I shouldn’t have to settle for where I was at – yes I was ‘functional’ and working full time again, but every decision and plan in my life was made with pain management in mind.

I’ve now been seeing Nick twice a week for three months. Right from the start he has identified poor movements patterns that I’ve always felt weren’t right but no-one ever listened or taught me HOW to correct it. He is great at explaining why we do movements or exercises a certain way and identifying the specific trouble spots that I have, allowing me to be much more aware of how I move both in and out of the gym. Particularly the way he structures workouts around the relationship between stretching and strengthening makes so much sense. Much of what he says is bits and pieces of what I’ve heard before but finally packaged into a training session that works for ME and doesn’t aggravate my various complaints. He’s also very flexible and will change his workout plan to suit how I’m feeling that day which means I never feel pressured. I’ve learned that I still hold a lot of fear with my movements but I know I can be honest with Nick and he makes sure I feel supported physically and emotionally. Whilst I get the muscle soreness that you get from a good workout, my body has quickly adapted and I’m yet to have any major ‘set backs’ like I’ve always encountered with other therapies/trainers.

My employer recently offered me a job closer to home, a dream given driving aggravates my sciatica. After much thought I accepted the position on the condition that I could continue to work from Nunawading once a week so I could continue my training. That’s how committed I now am to working with Nick! I never thought it would be an overnight cure, and Nick is very honest and upfront about the work you need to do and time it takes to make permanent corrections, but I have genuinely seen more improvement in the past 3 months than I have in the past 6 years! Obviously it’s still early days, but for the first time in a long time I feel like I’m making consistent improvements and am on absolutely the right track."

Georgie McIntosh

What Was The Program Focus?

You can read her full program focus by going to "How These People Beat Chronic Back Pain". Below is an infographic explaining what we did.

Georgie's program was very similar to Phil in that we found no real need to stretch or relieve "tight" muscles. Again another hyper-mobile client. Having focused so much on isolating muscles, Georgie now moved more like a robot, rather than a person. Her rotational movement in particular was very stiff to non-existent. The program was built around developing skills in a standing position straight away with a heavy focus on rotational single cable pulls, push and wood-chop type exercises. We also had to teach her how to bend as this was a very faulty movement. Her squats and lunges were fine, however if load was added she was unable to maintain upright posture due to a weak upper body and a method of going into flexion when faced with load. By using mobilizations in conjunction with stability and strength exercises we were able to get Georgie very quickly to a point where she can now complete weighted deadlifts with 30kg on the bar and squats with 20kg on the bar. This is amazing considering when I first met her she was unable to even do a body weight squat with a swissball against the wall!

3. Olivia Kourmadias - Knee Pain

Olivia was a 14 year old girl suffering from severe knee pain that was causing her to limp, unable to walk up stairs and even sitting down to a chair was painful. She had seen several practitioners before seeing me so I was not sure what I could do but I agreed to see her and hopefully devise a plan to help her. When I first saw Olivia all I knew was she had severe knee pain that had been around for quite some time and several physicians were unsure what to do as their current protocol was not working. Being only 14 years of age it seemed strange for her knee to be so sore and not responding to their normal treatment. I was unsure what I could do but had a suspicion there was more to it than the knee. And I was right.

Watch the video interview below where Olivia explains  how she improved to the point where she now plays basketball and hockey 3 nights per week.

I noted that she had a hollow back, a slightly swayed-back posture, protruding abdomen, and when relaxed her feet pointed outwards slightly. I decided to assess her kinetic chain and neuro-muscular efficiency by asking her to perform an basic squat test. This would reveal whether Olivia's movement patterns were working in the right order and would show up any muscular weaknesses or imbalances. When performing the squat test, Olivia's feet started to collapse inwards, her right knee buckled inwards during the squat and her lower back arched inwards even more, and on top of that she would have excruciating pain! From this, I could see that Olivia looked to be having a few problems with the right leg mainly due to: tight calves, weak buttock muscles and a tight front hip. Her abdominal muscles were also very weak on testing and not providing any stabilizing strength to her pelvis. This is what we refer to as Lower Cross Syndrome. But most glaringly obvious was her FAULTY MOVEMENT PATTERN. Her instincts were to move down and not backwards first.  A very common fault we see with people who have knee pain when doing squats. Once we loosened her tight quads and hips and spent several minutes working on her MOVEMENT skills she was able to squat without pain. Among the potential resultant problems are increased strain on the knee (because of the inhibited buttock muscle); and overloaded front-of-thigh muscles, which will try to slow down the knee flexion and internal rotation, increasing the stress on the knee.

The weak buttocks may also cause overloading on the calf muscles, leading to a similar strain which can cause a sore arch and plantar fasciitis or an Achilles tendinitis. Now Olivia's case was all starting to make sense.

Why Did The Other Treatments Fail?

For most people stretching, massage, manipulation and various other muscle relieving techniques are fantastic. However in Olivia's case and for most younger adults it is not the fact the muscles are tight, it is that the muscles are overstretched and weak. I see this occasionally with adults, especially dancers, gymnasts and people who do too much Yoga. Olivia needed to be "tightened up" to a degree, and then taught how to move. The more you loosen something that is loose the more tight you make the joint. A real paradox! Many people lack stability which is why the muscles surrounding the joint become so tight, to protect the joint from damage and injury. No loosening procedure will have any effect while the instability is still present. Strengthening an unstable joint creates more problems as the muscles will compensate and limit the range of motion to move. Movement skills fall into the category of stability training and perfection is of high priority to getting this right.

Below is 2 videos I encourage you to check out that explain stability and movement patterns.

Conclusion

If you are someone with chronic pain, YOU MUST strive to find someone who can teach you how to MOVE correctly. You MUST develop a program of improving Posture, Stability & Strength, Nutrition. Relying on a surgeon, Dr, Physical therapist, chiropractor to take your pain away will not address the reason you are pain in the first place. I guarantee if you aim to incorporate the four factors mentioned in this article earlier you will get out of pain and start living the life of your dreams.

If you are someone with Chronic Back Pain, Knee Pain or Shoulder Pain I suggest getting a copy of our Complete Rehabilitation Programs below that include over 60 minutes of video and a PDF book with step by step instructions.

 

And if you live in Melbourne and you would like to know more about our programs or would like a Free Consultation to discuss your current condition fill in the form below