BPL6: Outwitting the Crooked Back Pain Industry

by | Nov 29, 2017 | Podcast

with Cathryn Jakobson Ramin

Lower back pain and standing crooked; a miserable and debilitating state of affairs.

If you’ve ever thrown your back out, you’ll know how bad this can get. Muscles in spasm like a sheet of steel, you’re all bent out of shape – literally.

This episode is the first half of the interview with respected journalist and author Cathryn Jakobson Ramin.

She talks about her habitual bad posture and testy back.

This physical vulnerability was the backdrop to a stressful and demanding professional life. Typically she would spend hours hunched over her desk or cooped up in an aircraft seat.

The toxic mix set her on a downward spiral to almost constant back pain and a crooked body.

An Entire Industry That Needs to Straighten Up

Cathryn describes

  • the many different treatments and therapies she tried that didn’t help at all.
  • her growing suspicions that many others were also undergoing ineffective, even dangerous procedures.
  • how she began to question who really benefits from this multi-billion dollar industry?

Finding Out What Really Works

Over time she began to understand that a different approach was required.

Cathryn made it her business to find out how others had successfully overcome the problem she faced.

She observed a pattern. Avoiding physical activity, for fear of damaging a fragile spine, was often linked to further weakness and frailty. On the other hand, adherence to a suitable exercise programme seemed to have better results than passively receiving treatment.

Consequently she began a workout programme with the guidance of a ‘back whisperer’ – a trainer specialising in back pain rehabilitation.

Regular training, in the right way, enables Cathryn to maintain good posture and sort out her own back problems.

This whole process prompted her to research and write her latest book.

Crooked – Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting On the Road to Recovery is essentially two things:

  1. an in-depth critique of the current state of treatment and therapy for back pain
  2. a practical guide to effective self help


Crooked Back Pain Industry

  • I do meet a lot of people who have found themselves having had many injections, surgery, who have become addicted to prescribed pain killers etc. I was very fortunate that I did not gave to undergo that.
  • Crooked – there are so many of us walking around that way….and this is an industry that, unfortunately, has some seriously devilish players.
  • It’s really all about money because there are dozens and dozens of stakeholders in this industry, and every one of them wants a piece of you.
  • Almost anyone can work out a way to hang out a shingle and sell back pain patients something.
  • Back pain patients are frequently not good decision makers because they are already in so much pain.
  • If you are in pain for a long time you will become depressed.
  • The regions of the brain which are affected by a phenomenon called central sensitisation – which occurs when a person is in chronic pain (and may, in fact, be the cause of the chronic pain). Those regions are very involved in decision making. So people are really impaired in that way and they don’t realise it. Whatever seems to be on offer at that moment tends to be the thing that they go for.

On the Long Term Use of Pain Relief Medication

  • It can effect your liver and your kidneys, that’s not very well understood or discussed.
  • It’s not a very safe approach….for managing back pain.

Cathryn’s Personal Experience of Crooked Back Pain Treatment….

  • Very early on…..at a spine surgery clinic….I was handed a list with five options…..and told to look at them and research them on the internet…I was like ‘what are you kidding me? I’m going to choose my own treatment?’………………you know why? It’s because not one of those options is a satisfactory one, not one of them has dependably good outcomes.
  • It was pretty bad but I was very lucky in that I never got myself into a position where I had procedures that were really seriously damaging.
  • Much of what they were advertising was actually accurate. It was a warm, comfortable environment, it was well run. You felt very good about the people there. Unfortunately the procedures they were doing were not anywhere near as effective as they said they were.

….and Working with a Trainer Specialising in Back Pain Rehab

  • Over the period of time that I have worked with her I’ve seen huge physical changes, in particular with my posture……….I had really lousy posture most of my life, well into my fifties…..it’s one guaranteed route to back pain.
  • That had to be changed, and that could only be changed by working on specific muscle groups because someone says to you ‘stand up straight!’ if you don’t have the muscle groups you need to do that, you can haul your shoulders back for a little while….4 seconds later, you’re back to where you were.
  • Changing these motor patterns takes a  lot of time…..and building muscle.
  • 10 years ago I did not know what was needed, I would do an exercise………….as most back pain patients do…….in a way that did not hurt at all and that isn’t very productive…………if you have back pain and it’s because you have weak, deconditioned muscle groups – it’s gonna hurt some!

Effective Back Pain Exercise Modes

  • In the second half of the book I run through many approaches that people have found very helpful, some of which I too have found very helpful, and I talk about intensive exercise under the supervision of what I refer to as a back whisperer. 
  • Since the book was published, I’ve received hundreds of e-mails…..talking about exercise practices that people have adopted, in particular the Stuart McGill exercises……People have written to tell me that after years and years of believing, deeply, that they should not exercise because they could hurt themselves worse, they’ve read the book, they’ve gained some confidence, they’ve never been diagnosed with a pathology…..they begin to do these Mcgill exercises and almost immediately they begin to feel a whole lot better.
  • Feldenkrais, Alexander, (Pilates) several other practices that I describe in the book and I think we found a lot of good stuff.
  • Gyrotonic, you’re using all your rotation in all your joints in every direction and I think that’s pretty good……pretty useful for a lot of people.
  • It gives (the person training) an opportunity to move into a more active lifestyle which is certainly necessary if you want to recover.
  • There’s an entire field of chiropractic that’s emerging…….they’ve moved into really focusing on back pain rehabilitation through exercise.

Today’s Guest

Investigative journalist and author Cathryn Jakobson Ramin

Thanks for Listening!


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Thanks to Cathryn for joining me this time.




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