Chronic pain

In 2005 I was on my high school basketball team. In the first game of the season, I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) when I jumped and collided with an opposing player. I felt the energy from that collision travel from my shoulder, through my torso, down my leg, and into my knee. I heard it POP, and I fell on the floor. It hurt bad, and I was taken out of the game. I remember it being the first time in my life that I couldn’t walk off getting hurt. I tried to walk around seeing if my knee would get better, but it didn’t. It just got worse.

Over the next few days my knee continued to swell and affect my walking, so we decided to go see a doctor. The doctor reported that I had partially torn the ACL in my right knee and that he highly recommended a complete ACL reconstructive surgery. They were going to take a portion of my gracilis and semitendinosus tendon and use those tendons to replace the ACL. I followed the doctor’s advice and had the surgery.  

The timeline of the events after the surgery is kind of a blur. This is probably a result of the hundreds of percocet that I was prescribed. Basically, what I remember is being on crutches for what seemed like a long time. I was not a patient person and when you are 17, a few months seems like an eternity. I went to physical therapy where I re-learned how to walk, contract my quadriceps, receive STEM treatments, and do other simple exercises.

Even though I completed physical therapy and did everything the therapists instructed, several months later my knee was still fucked up. I did not have full range of motion. I couldn’t sit seiza or squat down like a catcher. My knee still felt stiff. It ached all the time and made horrible noises. I went back to the doctor and physical therapists, and they prescribed another 4 weeks of therapy where we did the same exercises all over again. Nothing changed.

The doctor told me that I would probably never again be able to play catcher in baseball because I would never regain full knee flexion. He told me that that position was stressful on the knee and people shouldn’t sit like that anyway. I accepted everything that I was told and resolved that I would just have a bum knee. I tried to go back and play basketball but it just hurt too much. I walked with a limp and any activity like basketball or running aggravated my knee my already damaged knee.

Not only did my knee hurt constantly, but about 6 months after the surgery, I started having a very bad pain in my mid back. It was on the right side of my thoracic spine right around T-7. It ached, and I could not get comfortable in any position no matter how I sat or stood. It affected my ability to play ball and exercise. One day, the vertebrae near that spot in my back moved. It popped just like a chiropractic adjustment. The feeling of it moving was extacy. Unfortunately, the relief only lasted a few minutes. This was the beginning of many years of physical suffering for me. The spot on my back continued to bother me, cracking and popping every day, for the next 10 years.

Healing came in small bits and pieces throughout my 20s until I was about 27 when I really became pain free. My first yoga class was at age 20 where for the first time, I was taught how to really stretch. My knee pain improved drastically with a regular twice a week yoga practice.

Then, at 21 I went to an Aikido class where all the students are supposed to sit seiza while the teacher demonstrates and teaches new techniques. I informed the teacher that I could not sit seiza because I had a bad knee. An elderly student, a blackbelt named Doc, told me “I don’t want to hear that fucking bullshit. You are 21 fucking years old. You need to start sitting seiza and your knee will get better. Don’t listen to those fucking doctors.” Out of fear for the 65 year old Vietnam Vet, I started working on sitting Seiza. It was incredibly painful but sure enough, after only a month of practice, I could sit in full seiza for a few minutes at a time. I finally regained full knee flexion!

At this point, with the help of yoga and sitting seiza, my knee was about 95% better. It no longer prevented me from doing things, and it didn’t hurt and make noises. However, my back still bothered me horribly.

At the age of 25, I received my first massage. The relief I felt from getting deep work in my back and shoulders was worth every penny of the $100 I paid for 90 minutes. I continued to get worked on by that lady once a month for next year. My back and shoulder was feeling better but still not even close to being healed. My quality of life was still suffering because of this musculoskeletal problem.

Despite all of these problems, I was still doing yoga, tai chi, dancing, and many other physical practices this entire time. And at the age of 26 I was introduced to Ido Portal. I immediately became obsessed with his philosophy and method. I began his online training.

Ido Portal’s online training consists of 2 workouts per day 6 days a week. Within 6 months I blew up. I must have gained 15 pounds of muscle. I learned ring muscle ups, handstand pushups, freestanding handstands, loaded stretching, bridges, lizard crawls, and a lot more. Even more powerful than the individual movements, I learned principles of exercise. What I have learned from Ido Portal over the last 4 years is another post entirely.

Even though I was doing incredible things physically, my back was hurting just as bad as ever, and I was starting to have shoulder pain. I went to a physical therapist. I was very skeptical because of my experience with physical therapists after my surgery.

I went to see Ryan Marek at Magnolia Physical Therapy, and I was pleasantly surprised. Ryan spent well over an hour diagnosing me, measuring scapular angles and assessing a variety of movements. He diagnosed me with shoulder impingement. He also told me that if I did not quit working out and start doing physical therapy, I would DEFINITELY tear my rotator cuff. I took his advice.

I spent 3 months with Ryan doing physical therapy. During this same period of time. I went to see massage therapist who was recommended to me by a friend. For the purpose of this post I will call this person Carl. Carl is a licensed massage therapist, but actually he is much more than that. His primary modalities are Chinese medicine and Neuromuscular Therapy. He specializes in nerves and ligaments. His massage is more than painful. It is torture.

The first time I went to see him he made me cry. Literally. He shoved his finger into a few different places in my face and held it there until I started shaking uncontrollably and crying. He then told me that he released my mind from much of the trauma I had experienced throughout my life. He told me to come back in 2 weeks so he could fix my back. Not knowing what the hell just happened, I did as he said. 2 weeks later he fixed my back.

Carl, with the use of his elbow, fixed my shoulder and back. He released all of the “fascia bands” in my upper body. His techniques involved shoving an elbow or finger into a point in my body and holding it there until the pain went from a 10 down to a 1. Another technique he used was taking his elbow and violently rubbing different spots on your body. People scream. People Cry. Carl laughs the whole time. And people heal.  

I was still in physical therapy at this time. I returned to see Ryan after my second trip to Carl and Ryan exclaimed, “WOW! Your scapula is moving much better!” I told him that I had been seeing a massage therapist who I thought was really helping. He agreed that whatever this therapist had done was working well.

All of this is not to say that physical therapy didn’t help me. I still believe that I could not have healed my back and shoulder without BOTH physical exercise and massage. A lot of what I learned about shoulder health came from Ryan. He helped me close many gaps in my understanding of physical wellness and healthy movements. I am very thankful for Ryan and still refer people to him with a high degree of confidence.

Anyway, at age 27, after suffering with back pain for 10 years, My back was better. It no longer ached. It no longer popped and made noises. I was so happy. I had spent so many years discouraged believing that I would be in pain for my entire life. Many times I had given up hope that anyone could help me. This level of suffering allows me to truly be grateful for my body today.

Today, I feel great. I am now a massage therapist and personal trainer. I continue to train every single day and learn from the greatest teachers I can find all around the world.


**This story is a very reduced and generalized version. I have left out hundreds of exercises and coaches that I worked with trying to fix my back.