Case Study: How Joe Reversed Chronic Back Pain and Lost Twenty Pounds

Joe was a middle-aged mechanic with about forty pounds of extra weight around his belly when he first visited my office. Joe said he had chronic low-back pain and felt tired a lot of the time, although he’s tough and not one to complain about his ailments.

He was drinking six beers every night to relax, but he’d never had any problems arise from his drinking; he tried to be very responsible and had no criminal issues. He also used tobacco.

Joe said he didn’t eat breakfast or much in the way of lunch. At dinner, though, he ate a whole lot of food, and generally not very good food. He was open about that.

He said he felt angry about the state of the economy and the elections and various laws that he felt invaded his privacy. He had high blood pressure that was not well controlled, high triglycerides, pre-diabetes, and chronic reflux, for which he had to take powerful acid suppressors regularly. He was also on a pain medication that didn’t help him a whole lot. Overall, Joe didn’t feel good at all.

The Pain of Managing Pain Medication

One of his previous doctors had prescribed him hydrocodone for pain. When he’d switched doctors, the new doctor refused to continue the prescription. Joe doesn’t trust doctors. “I don’t want more hydrocodone anyway,” Joe had said when the doctor refused him the prescription, “because it wasn’t working. I just want my pain to go away.” Joe can’t even take basic ibuprofen, because it gives him stomach ulcers.

When Joe came into my office, one of the first things we looked at was the role of his diet in his physical discomfort, and the fact that his reflux medication—which allowed him to continue eating unhealthy foods—was potentially causing painful side effects. We also talked about how the six beers each night were keeping him from getting restorative sleep. I told him that, if he could cut back even to three beers each night, he would probably sleep a bit better and lose some weight.

What Joe really wanted was to ease his back pain. We explained that the forty pounds around his belly—which he was carrying around all day in his physical job as a mechanic—were the primary cause of his back pain. After taking X-rays, we concluded that there was nothing about his condition that wasn’t reversible, because he was mainly suffering from muscle strain.

After his initial appointments, Joe started to believe that his diet and drinking, as well as his lack of sleep and body habits, might be the source of his problem. He started to believe he actually could feel better, and he started to want that for himself.

Still, he was slow and deliberate in making changes to his life and habits.

In the first year, Joe slowly reduced his beer consumption from six to three a night, though he often drank more on the weekends. He started trying the exercises we gave him to stretch out his hamstrings and hips and to strengthen his core. He also started to improve his eating habits. Instead of eating only dinner, he began eating two meals a day, and he changed some of his choices to source his foods a bit better. Joe even brought his wife into our office—because she’s the one who does the grocery shopping—so we could tell her how to shop for him. Since Joe is a meat-and-potatoes guy, we showed him how to eat in that way while still getting the right kinds of nutrients.

Joe started to sleep a little better. His mood improved. He started exercising more.

12 Months Later…

One year after he began making these changes, he was still on blood pressure medication and a prescription for his reflux, and he was still using muscle relaxers for his back pain. He was still frustrated and angry about the state of the world.

Two years later…

Two years out, Joe rarely drinks beer anymore. He’s realized that it actually doesn’t make him feel any better and that it was just a habit. He’s lost twenty of the forty pounds he needs to lose. His back pain is a lot better. Every morning, he does a fifteen-minute workout with his wife that’s designed to stretch their bodies and improve their core strength so they can both be healthier.

Joe is now eating in a much healthier way, and he says that his energy has improved. He’s cut his reflux medication in half. He’s no longer pre-diabetic and he has normal triglycerides. We still treat his blood pressure, though, and he hasn’t quit tobacco yet, though he hopes to one day.

Looking ahead to the future

Next year, we’re hoping that Joe can lose ten more pounds, quit tobacco, and come off his reflux medication altogether. But in the meantime, he reports that he feels a whole lot better. In many ways, Joe is a different person from who he’d been when I first met him