Back problems are no stranger to me. Back in March 2002, I had fallen onto a concrete structure and damaged three vertebrae in my lower back. The end result was major back surgery and months of rehabilitation.
During recovery, my surgeon gave me an ominous warning that certain aspects of my active lifestyle will need to be limited or restricted altogether. I opted to not have my back fused, and with the nature of the injuries, it did seem it would put hard limits on activities like bike riding, running and lifting.
During the six years that followed my surgery, I followed the medical advice to restrict my physical activities which resulted in gained weight and added stress to my lower back. Poor food choices compounded the problem, adding extra pounds which in turn increased the load on my spine. The added weight taxed weakened muscles, placing pressure on the soft tissue around my vertebrae that allowed distorted spinal alignment, causing chronic lower back pain.
Then came a number of life-changing events. I re-injured my lower back in a fall, discovered the healing value of good nutrition and connected with an unconventional physical therapist who changed everything for the better. My new PT suggested a high level of exercise activity contrary to my surgeon’s advice. At the same time, I placed an emphasis on eating right with a focus on adding healing foods to my diet. Needless to say, taking these much needed and different approaches to being active and eating had amazing results in a short time.
Now, seven years after my PT gave me his life-changing advice and correcting my misguided understanding of what good nutrition is, I am able to do things that many guys half my age do not attempt.
Was my surgeon wrong in his conservative approach or was my PT overly zealous toward being active? In my opinion, neither my surgeon or PT missed the mark. They simply were not synced up with each other nor did either place a high value or importance on healing nutrition. I think it is important to point out our nutrition or lack of nutrition can become pivotal to whether we properly heal and recover or not across many illnesses and injuries.
The other very important point to understand is healing and recovery comes with an intensely personal set of issues. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work and healthcare providers tend to template their approach around state of mind, nutrition and exercise. My personal belief is anyone can overcome most health problems and accomplish amazing recovery if they include positive mental outlook, good nutrition and exercise as part of the prescribed treatment. These areas are not a would be nice to do, but rather a must-have during any healing process.
With all that said, if I had to relive the surgery, rehab and recovery over again, great nutrition and vigorous exercise would have played a major role in my recovery. Placing, at minimum, truly good nutrition and exercise at the same level of importance in my treatment as the many medications that were scrutinized and ordered from the pharmacy, my outcome would have been much different in a shorter period of time.
You may think that most people would know to place a high regard to healthy nutrition and exercise. The reality is most people really do not understand what good nutrition and enough proper exercise look like. We all have well-meaning intent around both food and exercise, but more often than not we get confused with misleading facts and advice. Of course, this leads us to consuming foods that in fact can damage our health or at least slow down healing, along with not pushing physical activity far enough to actually help with our recovery.
Here is a good example of how nutrition plays into healing: If I had known at the time of my surgery that certain foods caused inflammation and other foods reduce inflammation, I could have helped my body manage pain and swelling by avoiding or adding these foods. At the same time when you eat foods that promote healing, they also tend to be foods that do not add inches or weight gain.
I think it is fair to say that many medical schools have failed to adequately prepare doctors specifically around healing nutrition. There seems to be a disconnect for many doctors coming out of med school lacking a deep understanding around nutrition and its role to assist healing. If we look to Eastern cultures, for example, most medical treatments start with nutrition and healing foods. To be fair to our amazing doctors, they have so much to grasp and learn during med school that adding a degree in nutrition should not necessarily be a priority. Our reliance on medications is yet another reason nutrition takes a back seat.
Almost all doctors have access to nutritionists and dietitians, so that should help them address their patient’s nutritional needs or so you would think. This too can be disappointing since many times an illness or injury traditionally would not fall into a category requiring nutritional assistance.
Let’s not even start the conversation around insurance coverage if something falls outside of standard prescribed practice.
OK, so where am I going with this you may be thinking? It has been my assertion for a number of years that 70 percent of our health footprint is based on our nutrition. Healing through foods has been something humans have done for thousands of years and is not new or an unique idea. The right nutritional approach along with a more focused exercise regimen would have helped speed up my recovery and at the same time, reduce stress to my lower back offering much better pain management.
No matter what the illness or injury, the role of good nutrition and appropriate exercise should be considered as part of an overall prescribed treatment. You cannot always rely on your healthcare providers to incorporate these aspects, so ask plenty of questions.
If you feel you need a deeper understanding, do research and get a second opinion from professionals who know. In some cases, reaching out to homeopathic medical professionals can give you good directions. Just make sure all the healthcare folks you are dealing with are certified in their field and come highly recommended.
A recognized health and wellness presenter, fitness trainer and now primal health coach in the Inland Northwest. Now in his eighth year of bringing health and wellness through his writing, teaching and coaching, Judd delivers his well-rounded message of mindfulness, nutrition and fitness to readers and clients alike.