Low Back Shame


Here’s the thing.. about 92% of me has been conditioned to believe that lumbar fusion surgery is ‘bad’, a last result, that people that do it were brain washed to believe that surgery heals all.  My professional career has kind of had an undertone culture that all injuries should be able to heal with time and love.  I am a physical therapist, massage therapist, life coach, and yogi..l should know this by now inside and out.. right?


I have been lead to believe that energetically, physically and emotionally I ‘should be’ able to have the strength to heal this with just the ‘right’ treatment. Be it:

strengthening through physical therapy





visceral manipulation


anti inflammatories 

modified my career

craniosacral therapy

Trigger point work


Reiki and other energy work

cold immersion

miracle balls






coaching, thought replacement

Positive affirmations/mantras

home exercises

stem cell replacement and PRP

essential oils




dietary supplements

infrared saunas

hemp oil

giving up dairy, gluten, and caffeine


facet injections

and even less invasive surgeries (is that an oxymoron?)..




you name it.. If I were ‘just better’ at finding that less invasive fix… I too could be pain free.



I have built 20 years of my career focusing on helping others and myself heal through non-invasive approaches. I am not a huge fan of surgery, trust me. I understand the multi-faceted approach to healing and I understand that each person has their own path to healing.


I have done a lot of research. I have done the work. I have tried. I have been patient. I have changed and I have grown.  But why am I still in pain? Am I not doing ‘enough’? Am I not ‘good enough’ at the above 30+ modalities that I have worked on since 2012 to get myself well.


People, myself included, are quick to place blame and offer unsolicited advice as to why I am not better yet.  They (and I too sometimes) believe because I am a PT, that I ‘should be better’… I should know the ins and outs of recovery by trade, and therefore I should excel as a patient.


Frankly, it makes me mad.


I have been told time and time and time again.. It must be something that I am doing wrong.. I must not be ‘stretching, strengthening, thinking correctly’. 

One colleague recently said to me, 'maybe it's something you need to heal by healing your mind'.

Uhhh Thanks. Probably thought of that and have actively been working on that every day.


I also recently had a PT I very much respect tell me ‘if you aren’t 5/5 strong in all your muscle strength testing then you shouldn’t even be considering surgery’.


Uh thanks..??


How does that even make sense??


A major disc herniation from a degenerative disc that won’t spontaneously heal (or does and then recurrently herniates) continues to compress the nerve root(s) which feeds the muscle. If you present with weakness in all the muscles that have that specific nerve root involvement, then how do you get past that block?



In reality, I just don’t see how to rebuild strength in a muscle that is weak because the very nerves that innervates it and provide the muscle with energy are being suffocated by a disc herniation.


I have undergone 2 discectomies to try and ‘clean up’ a disc that has herniated and re-herniated multiple times. My symptoms get a little better, but then return when the disc reherniates . I have gotten some shorter term relief from cleaning up the disc surgically, but nothing long- lasting.


Sometimes I feel shame that I haven’t worked out hard enough.. I've reinforced this vision of myself maybe training ‘harder’ somehow.. Like I should be sweating up a storm at the gym, cross fitting, grunting, doing 3-5 minute plank holds in a unitard and squatting, dead lifting, something.. to ‘strengthen’ more.


But the truth is, my strengthening program looks a lot more like this: I commit to a daily exercise and stretching program.

 I try and push beyond isometric holds or low weights, pilates, walking, swimming, or gentle yoga and I just flare up, re-aggravate, and send myself into a 3+ week spiral of 6-8/10 sciatica because I ‘moved wrong’ somehow.


(and of course that’s my ‘fault’ .. you know .. moving wrong because I should have known better.. even though there was no way to know that doing an exercise in tall kneeling could have caused a problem, or sneezing for that matter)..


It’s very frustrating.


I have tried.


And I am beginning to lose faith.



See here’s the thing.


Brene Brown discusses in a few of her books Rising Strong and Dare to Lead how we as humans are quick to ‘fix’ others because it’s easier for us to ‘fix them’ than to sit with others in their moments of truthful darkness.


And so I think it stems from that.. like the belief that there absolutely must be a non-invasive ‘fix’..heavens...


But what if there just wasn't a non-surgical fix ? To just about every health and wellness practitioner, that fix couldn’tpossibly  be lumbar fusion. .. it goes against the very bread and butter we eat, the air we breathe, the culture we live to consider that.


A lumbar fusion does have so many risks.. like infection, needing further surgery.. but what are those held against.. living a life that is full of pain, anger or frustration..



Maybe I should just be more grateful. ..

Or look at adaptive athletes who have prevailed…

Or stop grasping at the future and appreciate the present. ..


I can see all of those things. All of those aspects. But it doesn’t take away this pain. 


But fuck, this is my life, and I have lost a lot of time away from being me.


The days I have not been able to share my work or gifts with the world because I am ‘managing pain’.


I won’t even talk about dollars invested (50k+ of my own money probably in the last 2 years) in trying to find the non-invasive path.


And so this isn’t a plea for someone to offer just one more ‘have you tried _________?’


I think it’s a grasp for help to shift my perspective for having so much shame that I am not better yet. The shame that Brene Brown talks about that makes us feel like we are less than human.. and help to see that accepting that maybe I do need a more aggressive surgery/ approach at this time.


I think my biggest fear around the fusion surgery is that if it doesn’t work that I will regret it, and I will not only be faced with my own self loathing and shame for it not working but other’s shaming words of ‘I told you so/ it wouldn’t/didn’t work’



It occurs to me I have battled with this almost every day of my life since 2012.. and prior to that in 1997 and 1998.. I know this isn’t going away overnight.


I accept that low back pain must be a part of my torch to carry.. but I sure would like to let go of the shame I feel for not being strong enough, good enough, better enough.. because it certainly has not been due to lack of willpower or perseverance to overcome this obstacle in my life.


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