My Eye Opening Bout with Back Pain

By on September 12th, 2016

“My body is falling apart” I thought to myself! It was the beginning of September 2015 and I had just returned from a routine Hawk Hill bike ride, which I had previously done more than 50 times without pain. I was starting to sniffle, but more worrisome was a strange soreness I felt on the left side of my lower back.

My friends and I had been training for the Pacific Grove Olympic triathlon in Monterey, CA which was now 9 days away. I was super excited for my first triathlon, strategically timed for a few days before my 35th birthday. I had convinced five other friends to sign up, and we spent the previous two months training.

I had never felt soreness in my back like this before. In the past if I felt ‘pain’ anywhere in my body I would just work through it, and it would always go away. When the soreness continued into its 3rd day and I couldn’t sleep without tossing/turning at night I thought I cannot ignore this any longer. I am a heavy sleeper and have famously slept through earthquakes, fire alarms, and even an errant sprinkler soaking my tent during the 2014 Aids/Lifecycle – but this was keeping me from sleeping well. I couldn’t be in denial anymore that I had pain, especially since I work for a back pain company!  “Is this what getting old feels like?”, I feared.

I then noticed how my mood was changing. I had my least productive day at work the next day. I started (irrationally?) stressing that I wouldn’t be able to complete the triathlon. Over the weekend I observed a general malaise over my physical and mental state. I was extremely blasé about doing my chores and it took me 3x the usual time for me to do my laundry. I was uncomfortable sitting or lying in one place for longer than 20 minutes, while at the same time unmotivated to leave my house for the 5-6 events on my typical Saturday calendar.

I didn’t recognize myself, and I didn’t like it.

Recognizing I needed to take action, I pulled myself together. My girlfriend assured me I had only pulled a muscle and Kian suggested I try some anti-inflamation medication. I was so worried about my triathlon that I took my bike in for a re-fitting and changed my geometry as a precautionary measure. I knew it was irrational to make such changes to my bike a week before the triathlon, but I felt I needed to do something. I did a swim in the Aquatic Park which helped me psychologically and physically feel better. Eventually the pain went away and I reflected.

I can’t say that I understand the experience of long term, chronic back pain sufferers, but my short bout with back pain was eye opening. I saw how my mental state changed. I noticed both desperation and lethargy in myself, feelings I was generally unfamiliar with. I didn’t care about anything else, and I knowingly acted irrationally. It’s incredible how my mind state took on a life of its own and I now understand why behavioural medicine is such an integral component of the SpineZone program. Psychology and back pain are intimately intertwined.

Maybe my experience was a blessing in disguise?


About the Author: Neil Sethi is the VP of Marketing and Strategy for SpineZone, and after crushing his time goal by completing the triathlon in 3:14:46, he decided his story would be relevant for the SpineZone community.



Kamshad Raiszadeh, M.D.

Dr. Raiszadeh's completed medical school at UC San Francisco, orthopedic surgery residency at UC Davis and his Pediatric and Adult Spine Fellowship at the Hospital for Joint Diseases/NYU in New York City. He has 20 years of experience with the broad range of spine surgery including minimally invasive surgery, complex spinal disorders such as scoliosis and kyphosis, and cervical spine disorders. During this 20 years he has noticed a dramatic increase in patients turning to surgery for treatment of neck and low back pain, but many of them not getting their desired long-term result. He therefore became increasingly interested in improvement and standardization of non-operative treatment. By developing the best aspects of non-operative treatment in an atmosphere of empowerment to maximize the body’s own healing capacity, he noticed that many fewer patients required surgery, and the ones who underwent surgery had much better long term results.

Subscribe here to receive an e-mail every time a new post is published in the blog