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Getting rid of back pain without surgery

A professional singer was devastated by severe back pain before specialist intervention at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital changed his life for the better.

 Gavin Newman was diagnosed with a prolapsed disc which stopped him singing, working or even doing basic tasks like shopping. At one stage he was taking 30 painkillers a day and was told he’d need spinal surgery if he was to recover.

That was when he met Dr Grahame Brown and Extended Scope Physiotherapist Dave Rogers at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Northfield. They introduced Gavin to the Functional Restoration Service they run, which provides support to people living with back pain, and helps them recover without the need for major surgery.

Gavin said: “I owe everything to the team at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital. Everything has changed. I hold them responsible for my recovery. Without them I dread to think what I’d be doing now.”

The service was set up with the aim of improving patients’ confidence, reducing disability and pain, making them less reliant on medication and better able to cope when back pain flares up.

Extended Scope Physiotherapist Dave Rogers said: “This is all about putting the patient back in control. We used the latest research to design the programme, and patients find that after the four week programme they are much less disabled, in less pain and much more confident. They are getting back into work and enjoying their leisure time more.  Until 10 years ago people with severe long term back pain would find themselves having a spinal fusion operation, which is major surgery.”

The programme involves education, relaxation techniques and graded exercise and encourages patients to use a toolkit of techniques to help improve function. There is support from physiotherapists, a doctor and a pain counsellor, Abigail Darling

For Gavin, it was life changing. He spent six months going back and forth to his GP who provided painkillers which gave him many unpleasant side effects.

Gavin said: “Everything I touched gave me pain. I couldn’t even do the shopping. I came into the programme really dismissive of it. I didn’t think it was for me. I was the worst possible patient. Then something just clicked. I listened to the functional restoration team and together we set a goal that I would come off one of the most powerful painkillers.  In a couple of weeks, the pain I was taking the tablets for had almost gone away. As soon as the pain began to reduce and the exercise took effect I got into it more. I started volunteering to do extra, took on board everything they were saying. I used the breathing techniques to help me and I still use them. In four weeks I was pain free. It was absolutely amazing.”

Having been out of work due to his debilitating back pain, Gavin was finally able to get a new job. And now he is IT Service Desk Team Leader at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital. He marries his fiancée this August and is looking forward to taking up singing once again.

Gavin also volunteers to talk to existing patients taking part in the Functional Restoration Programme. He said: “Seeing them recover makes it all worthwhile. I see people totally changed.”

Patients can be referred to the Functional Restoration Service by their GP, or through the Musculoskeletal Medicine Service at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital.

Try some of the breathing techniques for yourself, which our Pain Counsellor, Abigail Darling, has created in MP3 files accessible below: