Cleaner’s Back Problems


Bumped into another interesting story in the gym yesterday. One of the cleaners at Gwinganna has a chronic back problem. He wakes up sore every day, has pain through his neck, up and down his arms and down his legs. He’s young (same age as me ;-). But this has been going on for years. He’s plagued by the “all-of-a-sudden” pain that can be triggered by simply reaching towards a desk. It’s either his neck or his lower back and then the pain really sets in for a few days.

It affects his mood, his quality of life and of course his productivity at work. But he’s helpless except for the daily anti-inflammatory medication that brings some level of sanity to his mind.

I listened to all his reasons as to why he has so much pain; from car accidents, to lifting heavy sheets of wood in his early years, to the movements he has to do in his current cleaning job… all the while watching him move.

My compassion for this helpless guy stems from my own very similar life story, but we’re going back 15 years now. Well, actually 20 years ago I had a car accident with minor whiplash. It wasn’t until 4-5 years later I was in a similar state to this guy.

Talking Himself Out of Healing

So, I listened for a little bit and then asked him a question.

“Do you want it to stop?”

His answer: “I do but…as a cleaner…” and out came all the reasons why it’s not going to stop.

So I tried again.

“But do you want your back issues to stop?”

Again, “Yes, but…” and off we went into another story of expert opinion, trial and error, and ultimately a justification of why nothing is going to help.”

Then I told him my story (as I balanced on a swiss ball doing exercises that he couldn’t even imagine as being fun!)

I was lucky enough to find the answer to my chronic back problems at only 24. He, on the other hand has spent 16 years getting worse and worse.

Do you believe that your body is a self-healing, self-regulating, self-balancing, self-aligning organism?

If you do, then how can you make excuses for why your body isn’t in top balance unless you are simply too embarrassed to admit you don’t know why?

I put this to him. And he stopped talking about his problem.

Healing Potential of the Body

The answer is pretty simple…and I like to make the analogy of a burn on your hand.

We’ve all burnt our hand on the stove or on an oven tray before. We left it alone, it healed. Amazing!

If we had kept burning it in the same spot, over and over, would it have healed? Undoubtedly not!

So, is it possible… is there just a slim chance… that you are doing things that are preventing the healing from the car accident, from lifting heavy objects the wrong way, things that are continually “re-burning” your injuries so that your body is literally unable to heal?

I had his attention. But I wasn’t going to launch into an Alexander lesson because he’s just not ready to listen yet. Why waste my time if he isn’t willing to contribute his own first?

Are You Willing to Take Action?

So I asked him, “Are you willing to do one simple thing every day for the next 2 weeks as an experiment?”

He said, “Ok”.

I showed him how to lie on his back with legs up and head on a Relaxaback, with strict instructions for him to do it 3 times a day for 10-15 minutes before he gets the next lesson from me.

And here is the bottom line:

Until you are willing to stop and allow your body to heal, nothing will change. Until you understand that stopping without expectation, without anticipation, without obligation to “do” anything… I can’t help you.

You must be willing to commit to a completely new program and all I’m asking is that you stop. Could it be any simpler?

He agreed that I wasn’t asking for much. Of course the usual excuse I hear was tabled, that is, “I’m pretty busy with my work and might not get time to do it.” He’d already told me about loving video games…

I said this, “Ok, what I used to do was 10 minutes on the floor out of bed every morning, 10 minutes as soon as I got home from work, and then 10 minutes right before bed at night.”

“I can do that” he agreed.

“Good” I said, “2 weeks, then we’ll talk”.

Will he be able to commit? It depends if he really wants it to stop doesn’t it?

Who Really Understands Back Pain?

Meeting someone like me, who knows exactly how he feels, has been in the exact same shoes and thought the exact same things about my body (mainly the advice I had received from countless physios and chiros etc) I would say it was his lucky day.

How many practitioners have you visited for back pain and had them tell you they know exactly how you feel?

How many practitioners have you ever met who have recovered completely from back pain?

Of the pilates converts, yoga teachers and health professionals I’ve met who claim to have recovered from back issues, all still admit when pressed, “I manage it much better now”.

I haven’t met many who don’t have some strategy that if stopped, everything breaks down again…although they don’t admit to it up front of course. But I just need to watch them move to know that things aren’t what they seem.

I’ll let you know what happens with our friend in 2 weeks time when he either comes back with excuses or asking for more. [Update XXX. He never brought it up with me again…]

Either way, if I get through to him it’s because overcoming back pain is not the complicated and life-long ordeal that everyone thinks it should be.

It starts with simple realisations: “I give up”, “I don’t know why,” and “I am ready to think outside the box I’ve been put into by all the so-called experts”.

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