(Ed. note: Interviewed myself for Suite101 story about a comeback from painful half-mile on treadmill to 20-mile weeks -- over three months. Back issues returned, but Dr. Nate's chiropractic care helped me get back on my feet. I continue to run with a herniated disk. Written Novmeber 2007. SCV)
Like most aging runners, Steven Curtis, 54, has dealt with his share of injuries -- IT band syndrome, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, assorted muscle tears. But none threatened his running like a chronic bout with low back pain.
"It shut me down," said Curtis, who began running during the first Running Boom back in the late 1970s. "I went from a steady diet of 20-mile weeks for years and years, down to a half-mile on a treadmill before I had to quit. The pain was just too much. And I couldn't shake it."
Self Therapy Didn't Help
During a 15-month period, Curtis tried to add more stretching and strengthening to his daily routine, iced constantly, and took anti-inflammatory medications. But every time he began to feel better and begin running again, the low back went into spasms and the pain returned.
"After 30 years, I started thinking that this might be the end of the road," he recalled, in an interview with Suite101 on November 13, 2007. But a visit to a chiropractor, Dr. Nathan Kraner in Delray Beach, Florida, finally began to turn things around.
"Had Doubts" at First
An x-ray of Curtis' spine showed minor degenerative spondylosis -- regarded as normal "wear and tear" for someone in their fifties, Curtis said. But the x-ray also revealed narrowing spaces between two sets of vertebrae and a "seriously bowed" spinal column. Either situation may have produced a bulging or herniated disk, which could impinge on a nerve root in the spine and cause persistent lower back pain.
Although only an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test could definitely identify a herniated disk and a nerve impingement, Dr. Kraner assured Curtis a conservative chiropractic approach could solve the problem, he said. "Frankly, I had my doubts, but nothing to lose."
Back Pain Common in Runners
Low-back pain is common in runners--running stance, pronation problems and weak abs can trigger episodes. Traditional Western medicine, however, has a poor reputation for dealing with it, according to Joe Ellis in his book Running Injury Free (Rodale Press, Inc., 1994).
"Treatments...range from heat to ice, medication and taking up another sport....all too often, little relief is provided. These failures send runners looking for answers outside traditional medicine," Ellis wrote.
Chose Conservative Chiropractic Care
Changing sports was not appealing, nor was surgery or more NSAIDS, already bleeding his stomach. So Curtis went ahead with twice-a-week conservative chiropractic adjustments, along with heat/cold and electrical stimulation therapy on his lower back. The $35 sessions lasted 45 minutes to an hour. "I figured if this didn't work, my next stop was an orthopedic surgeon," Curtis said.
For the first month, the progress was slow and uneven; although every "session" provided relief from any back discomfort -- relief that lasted for increasing periods of time. After six weeks, the visits were reduced to once a week, and after nine weeks, to every other week.
All the while, Curtis added specific daily abdominal and lower back strengthening and stretching exercises, and began running on a treadmill to lesson impact on his back. Over two months, Curtis worked up to 20-mile weeks again on the treadmill, and gradually began transitioning back to the road.
Planning to Run Half Marathon
"I would have opted for surgery to run again and be out of pain," said Curtis, a marketing executive. "But taking the conservative chiropractic approach worked."
Curtis, who has run 13 marathons including Boston, Chicago and New York, continues to visit Dr. Kraner twice a month -- for general maintenance, he says -- and plans to run in an upcoming local half marathon.
"I'm running again and pain free," said Curtis. "I wasn't a believer in chiropractic care when I started, but I am now."
(Postscript: Ran Palm Beach half marathon pain-free, but two months later ran Miami Half in considerable discomfort.)