Back Pain Truths and Solutions

After a feet-focussed Awareness through Movement® class this term one of my students said to me that she wished she had done some of this before she had had surgery on her toes – surgery which has unfortunately left her worse off than before.

This kind of failed surgery story is not an isolated case but is documented in two recent books written by highly respected and acclaimed authors:

Ramin’s account of her own search of a solution to her chronic back pain issue exposes the false promises and money driven exploitation of back pain sufferers by the back pain industry (worth an eye-watering US$100 billion a year). She exposes the scandal of money-driven approaches including surgery, drugs and therapies such as chiropractic and ineffective forms of gym training.

Ian Harris’s message is not so much to accuse surgeons of exploitation but of the very limited research evidence available to help them decide how effective an operation is going to be. What evidence there is suggests that surgery and related procedures often do not live up expectations. In many cases the improvements reported by patients owe as much to a short term placebo/feel good effect as to the surgery itself. With the result that 6 months down the track, the patient may be no better off – or even worse off as my student was – than before the operation. Which makes surgery a very expensive option! (NZ Listener review of Harris’ book.)

Both Ramin and Harris are not saying surgery is never successful but that its success is much more limited than the pharma and medical “industries” would lead us to believe.

Ramin came to realise that there are no quick fixes for most back pain sufferers and that taking responsibility for your own health means putting in the effort to learn ways of helping yourself. Part of this personal responsibility is becoming fully informed of the benefits and limitations of surgery, drug therapy and other body-related practices.

One of the body-related practices Ramin looks at is the Feldenkrais Method®. It receives her big tick in addressing her back pain issues. This gentle, curiosity engendering approach to uncovering your personal habits of daily functioning provides a relatively low cost way of taking of responsibility for yourself. It requires “work” on your part (i.e “learning”) but without the over emphasis on muscles and outward appearance that many popular body practice regimes promote. (On Ramin’s advice, fellow journalist and back pain sufferer Jane Brody tried out the Feldenkrais Method and with great results.)

In my Feldenkrais® classes and individual work my aim is to enable the “learner” to discover how to improve themselves. I am working through the nervous system utilising its “neuroplasticity” to improve the neuro-muscular connections. This enables better coordination of the body in movement through the bony structure of your interconnected skeleton. Using the inherent flexibility of your brain this approach emphasises efficiency of your movements and reducing over-work or “efforting” that stresses the joints. It enables you to learn how to increase your options for easier functioning in all activities. This “intelligent” awareness approach is quite different from the practice of hours of mind-less and unnecessary muscle strengthening that doesn’t address serious functional issues such as chronic back-pain.

It is only through an awareness based approach such as Feldenkrais® that you will be able to address the underlying poor habits that are at the root of obstacles to pain free movement.  You will rediscover the pleasure and enjoyment in daily work and leisure activities.


  • Alan Cameron, November 2017

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