Insult to injury

Last week was supposed to be a big week for me. As John Allsopp put it, I had been lured out of a self-imposed retirement from speaking, and was scheduled to appear at Web Directions North in Vancouver. I was really looking forward to speaking again, along with seeing old friends, making new ones, and the general camaraderie experienced at events like that.

Alas, for some reason, that wasn’t to be. On a fine Sunday morning before the conference, I bent over the sink to spit out some toothpaste, and felt a shock of pain go through my lower back. I instantly told myself, “oh, it’s nothing. just a twinge of pain. it will go away in a minute.” But it didn’t.

Cam and I waited out the injury, hoping the pain would subside and magically heal itself, and I would be able to medicate enough to fly to Vancouver on Tuesday morning, and attend the conference as planned. Over the next two days, my back got progressively worse, until I could barely move or sit up in bed without excruciating pain.

Long story, short, the pain continued all last week. And I had to cancel my trip to Vancouver and plans to speak at and attend Web Directions. I tried to fight off the depression and the negative thoughts. But the disappointment I felt was huge (and still is). I was forced to miss out on the opportunity not just to speak again, but to hear so many great speakers at once, and to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in over a year. Not to mention the snowboarding in Whistler after the conference.

This is the fourth time in the last two and a half years that I injured my back to the point of debilitation and forced rest. I have a bad disc in my lumbar region. Doctors told me after first injury that I might be forced to deal with it the rest of my life. Physical therapy helps immediately after the injury. But after the pain subsides, I tend to forget about the exercises and the stretching and the fact that my body is not perfect.

If I am to make a difference in the future health of my back and my body, I must make changes to my daily routine. The treatment I learn after each episode must be folded into the strands of my life.

I really don’t want an injured back to prevent me from doing anything or going anywhere else.


  1. beto

    Sad to hear about that Doug. That’s the thing with the human body – you can never tell for sure whether that little pain you feel on your throat, head, chest or back will morph into something much worse. Especially after you cross over the 30-ish threshold. My dad, who passed away last November, used to do a lot of strenuous physical work (home repairs and stuff) that ended up pulverizing his vertebral column, literally. You may have to be extra careful when lifting and pushing weights, etc. I know I have to.

    Here’s hoping you get well soon.

  2. Richard Earney

    All I can say is try Osteopathy. Having had years of back trouble and years of Physio and Chiropractic, Osteopathy really seems to help.

  3. Court

    Hello, thanks for your blog. You hit close to home with this entry:

    I got that back for my 30th birthday. Sitting hunched over a computer since I was 11. I have two degenerated discs, and one likes to hit a nerve. Thats where the pain is probably coming from…1 small protrusion in exactly the wrong spot can feel like a bullet. Here’s what I did that worked:

    1: Go see a Physiatrist– a doctor who specializes in physical movement. with all due respect to those in the practice, avoid the chiropractor at this time. adjustments will shift that disc and can make it worse (i write from experience). Get an MRI. don’t settle for x-rays. they wont show the soft tissues that are causing the problem. Unfortunately, many chiropractors will make the diagnosis with only the tools they have, which may not be the correct tools.

    2: Spend some money on one-on-one physical therapy. Insurance should cover it. Go out of network if you have to, its worth the investment…more than a car or even a home. Pilates & Yoga do wonders (but be careful of certain back bends–a good reason to go one-on-one). Myofascial Therapy is an emerging therapy that goes after your connective tissuewhich can tighten up and cause your muscles to spasm.

    3: stay active. not athletic-active, just walk, move, but avoid any possible movements that aggravate. If you sit still, you’ll tighten up even more: what you are feeling ar the nerves being pressurized, and the nerve flareup will cause the muscles around your back and legs to spasm, causing even more pain. Muscle relaxers can be your freind here, but theyll make you worth about 2 cents mentally. Tke them in the evening so your back doesnt tighten up while you sleep. Pilates is fantastic here, as it was originally invented by Joseph Pilates to help injured soldiers. It focuses on your abdomen, and a strong abdomen means less stress on the spine.

    This could hurt for a while. But it probably will get under control after you learn more about it. If your disc is protruding a lot, youll need surgery to trim the disc down and stop the pressure. If its a small bulge, physical therapy and strong drugs will make it go back and you get to keep your back in one piece.

    i remember you wrote you work at Google now, and if you are in Mountain View, feel free to contact me if you would like any recommendations for doctors and/or physical therapists.

    I’m going on 6 years with my injury, and as long as i stay flexible and healthy, i dont have any problems. Good Luck.

  4. Douglas Bowman

    Court, thanks for all that. I’m seeing a physical therapist 3-4 times per week already — I learned to start doing that right away after the last couple injuries.

    Haven’t considered a Physiatrist yet though. I may have to look into one. And yes, my wife is pushing me to try more Yoga. She used to instruct a few classes years ago, so we’ll definitely be seeking out some classes once the acute pain subsides.

  5. William Stewart

    Sorry to hear about your injury. I encourage you to get a good physical therapist and stick to whatever regime they put you on. I had a back/neck injury and it is greatly improved thanks to the diligence of my PT and my willingness to do everything she said. It pays to take the time now to heal so you do not miss out on life again.

  6. Kevin Fukawa

    Hi Doug,

    I was very sorry to hear that you wouldn’t be speaking at WND07, especially due to a back injury. When I first saw the schedule of speakers, the first session that jumped out at me was two hours with you and Cameron Moll! With John having “lured you out of retirement”, can we expect to see you presenting at any future conferences?

    Hope you’re feeling better soon!

  7. Michael

    I had a back injury as well. My injury occurred when I was opening a sliding gate. Something popped in my back and I was not the same again. The initial pain went away, but it came back from time to time. Sometimes it got so bad I couldn’t go to work. I got to the point that I couldn’t walk very far without intense pain.

    I tried physical therapy, rest, and pain medication. But nothing worked for very long. My overall health was in jeopardy because I couldn’t exercise to control my weight or blood pressure.

    I finally went to a specialist who ordered an MRI. I had a ruptured disc that was pushing on a nerve. The doctor told me that I could end up with nerve damage and eventually partial paralysis if I didn’t get it repaired.

    My neurosurgeon performed an laminotomy to remove the disc. Within six weeks I was back on my feet and pain free. I will eventually develop arthritis in my back because my injury went unattended for so long, but for now, I’m glad I had the surgery.

  8. Angie McKaig

    Doug, I feel your pain. I’ve had a very similar experience to yours for several years, including one patch last spring where I literally didn’t work for a couple of months, relying on the kindness of family & friends to keep my business going.

    When you’re really, really tired of it (hit bottom/I can’t do this with my life forever kind of tired) and are ready to read something that might help, I can’t recommend strongly enough this book: Healing Back Pain Naturally by Art Brownstein.

    I’m in no way affiliated with the book, other than it changed the way I think about my back and how I deal with it. The guy’s a doctor. But also one who suffered back pain *himself* for 20 years including the surgery. He’s also a certified yogi who studied in India for years learning how to help his back.

    Most importantly: no major blowouts in a year for me. I can’t remember the last time I was able to say that.

    Anyway, yes, I sound like an ad, but the book really did change my life and I’m the biggest skepticist going.

    Happy to discuss more details via email if you’d like… good luck, take care of yourself.

  9. Stephen Hay

    Sorry to hear this, Doug. Having had similar problems with my own back (to the point of taking 10 minutes to crawl to the bathroom– one learns to anticipate nature’s call), I can safely say I know how you’re feeling.

    I wish you well. Physical therapy and simply being aware of your movements and the results of these movements help immensely. But be critical of weirdo treatments and watch out for the quacks. You’ve only got one back.

    Wish you the best.

  10. Jonathan E

    Hey Doug, sorry you couldn’t make it to WDN, I was really looking forward to your session with Cameron Moll. Having said that, I hope you’re feeling better soon because your health is most important. Rest, relax and get back to enjoying life soon!

  11. Devon Young

    Yes, take care of your back. One of my brothers has a lot of back problems because he didn’t take good care of it. It can only get worse if you don’t do anything about it.

  12. I’ve got the beginnings of a bad back as a result of years in front of a computer. One of the recommendations I took recently was to invest in a saddle chair – email me for a link if you like (I hate leaving spammy product links in comments) – and my back feels much, much better. The chair makes you to sit in a naturally upright position, preventing slouching, which is one of the chief causes of disc trouble. Of course, you look like a bit of an idiot, and your workmates will mock you, but it might be worth thinking about.

    Good luck with your recovery.

  13. Riccardo

    I guess Taijiquan could do a lot for your back.
    But it requires even more dedication than the usual exercises and stretching to be really effective, so maybe it just can’t fit with your daily routine

  14. Dawud Miracle

    Hey Doug. Sorry to hear about your injury. There’s lots you can do. But one thing I absolutely recommend you don’t do is ever get back surgery. I know a number of people, doctors included, who have had back surgery. The great majority either found no relief or, worse, it caused them further problems.

    My brother-in-law is an example. He injured his back, had surgery – made it worse. Got a second & third ‘corrective’ surgeries – made it worse. He then saw the neurosurgeon my sister/his wife works for – who happens to be one of the top neurosurgeons in the midwest. All he could do was get him back to where he was after the first surgery.

    I’ve talked with the doctor (no name) in private (my sister is his personal assistant) and he told me that backs are especially troublesome to deal with and surgery rare leads to complete relief. He actually suggested surgery as an absolute last option. I believe his statement was ‘try everything under the sun first, try to live with it second, then, if you can’t live with the pain, consider back surgery.’

    Don’t know what your cause – maybe nothing. But often one back problem leads to others. Just wanted to pass on this advice.

  15. Dan Cederholm

    Hope you get better soon, Doug. Was really looking forward to catching up in Vancouver. Be well, hombre.

  16. Mike Birch

    I can relate to this – I went through the same 15 years ago, and I have to work hard to avoid repeat episodes.

    I must make changes to my daily routine

    This is the key, but it’s not that easy. For me the answer has been to make a habit of doing activities that I really enjoy, and also happen to keep me strong and flexible. e.g. I have a dog that needs exercise, so I walk every day. I have never been self disciplined enough to do an exercise program, but I did do Tai Chi for a few months and found it great .

  17. Javier Julio

    Doug, you are an inspiration for all of us. I’m sure no one will be pushy about you not being at the conference. What’s most important over anything else is that you get better. Rest up and get well soon Doug! Don’t push yourself to hard.

  18. Peter Flaschner

    Doug – I herniated a lumbar disc about 4 years ago while doing some renovations (note to self: hire someone the next time). The pain was unbearable, and took over my life.

    Until you’ve lived with pain, it’s impossible to empathize with what one is going through. It becomes the dominant feature in your mind at all times. It makes you cranky and negative, and drains you of almost all energy. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have helped a number of people get their lives back. What I discovered through my own recovery is that it’s a three step process. Two of those steps are obvious. One is not.

    The first step, the un-obvious one, is mental. Until your mental image of yourself shifts, you’ll be stuck in cycle of anger and denial. The denial is incredibly dangerous. It keeps you from changing your habits, and leads to reinjury and and a cycle of pain. If you can learn to accept yourself as you are now, at this moment, you’ll find that your recovery is quick and permanent.

    The second step is physcial treatment. Like a commentor above, I highly, highly recommend osteopathy. In short, an osteopath treats the whole body, not just the location of the injury. There’s a reason your disk protruded – maybe one of your knees is injured, so you favored one side, which put pressure on the side of the verterbrae, etc etc.

    The third step, which you mentioned, is changing your habits. Make sure you get up from your desk often – like every 20 minutes. It’s a pain in the ass, but it can make a huge difference.

    Finally, remember that there is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is your body’s way of telling you there is something wrong. Suffering is the “woe is me” that comes from a disconnect between your mental image of yourself and your current reality. Pain is easy to deal with. Suffering takes you over. Keep that distinction in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to recovery.

    Good luck!

  19. Douglas Bowman

    Thanks, all, for the support and advice. As for osteopathy, it’s something I don’t have experience with. But I think I am fortunate to have found two physical therapists (at the same small clinic) who are helping me work on my entire body (i.e. muscles in my legs, buttocks, abs, arms, neck). So I’m learning a lot in physical therapy this time. Possibly more than the last few times.

    All of this (my problems, as well as others here) makes me think about the possible trouble many more of us may have as we get older. If you’re young, don’t abuse your body as far as posture and sitting too long. We all work on computers, and it’s easy to get into the zone and forget to take breaks, or correct a slouching posture. The more I learn about backs, the more I’ve found that the majority of problems with bad backs are due to poor posture and sometimes weak, out-of-shape muscles.

    Take care of yourself, y’all, and prevent the pain I’m feeling now.

  20. Matt Milosavljevic

    Sorry to hear about your back problems Doug. I too have suffered from issues with discs in my lower back. Luckily I’m still in my mid-twenties so the problem isn’t serious… yet, but your last comment was a real wake-up call for me to pay attention to posture both upright and seated. Here’s hoping we all learn from this and that you get better soon.

  21. mattymcg

    Really sorry to hear that this happened, and that it prevented you from attending WDN Doug. I know how much you get out of connecting with web folks at events like that, and I’m sure you were sorely missed. My wife has a herniated disc, so while I can’t empathise with the pain, if it’s anything like she goes through then I can only imagine.

    FWIW, she got a lot out of Pilates exercises. But like you she gets slack when it comes to doing them regularly to prevent episodes, rather than reactively when the pain hits. I’m going to get on her case about it tonight!

  22. Mark Priestap

    I feel your pain… I had the same injury 4 years ago. Double herniation of L5 S1. I had surgery and have been ok since. :D Keep your chin up man!

  23. Will K


    Sorry to hear about your back; having gone through my own share of physical problems — mostly caused by injuries from my school days — I know how frustrating things can be when they start to intrude on your everyday life later on. It sucks, plain and simple. Right now, with all this snow and cold we are experiencing in Cleveland, I am going through some nasty tendon issues related to it all — and it’s all from the physical stress.

    It ain’t comfortable, let me tell you; I will soon own stock in Advil.

    Riccardo’s suggestion in comment 13 about Taijiquan (for us commoners, T’ai Chi Chuan, but pronounced the same), after you get over a bout, can work wonders; flexibility is *everything*, and T’ai Chi certainly develops it. Personally, I recommend the Yang (hard) style — especially from an accomplished dojo, but this isn’t imperative: Either Yang or Wu will do if you just want the physical benefits.

    But, as with anything, you have to keep it up, keep working with it, keep doing it. Many stop after getting to where they want to be, but they find out later that they need to continue in order to continue to reap the benefits. Make it a lifestyle change, and it’ll work.

    But, I have to admit, sometimes I find that a nice microbrew can do the trick as well. Barkeep! Another pint of Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, please!


  24. Ms. Jen

    Ok, Mr. I-Love-Google-Calendar,

    Schedule your PT & exercises on your Google Calendar. Seriously. If you have your dog’s flea dose on it, put your back on it. Then make it routine.

    About 5 years ago my brother seriously injured his back with herniated disks in his L1/L2. He was told surgery was the only option. He balked, went to PT, and then worked on it. He would only lay down or stand up, he exercised, did his PT, iced/warmed, the whole routine. He is rarely in pain now and is back to all his favorite back crunching activities.


  25. Douglas Bowman

    Ms. Jen, my PT is already in Google Calendar. ;-)

    And thanks to the beta of Spanning Sync, it’s also in iCal and on my Treo’s calendar.

    Wow, T’ai Chi, Pilates, Osteopathy, and all kinds of other exercise. I’ve got my research cut out for me.

    FYI, one of my physical therapists had me read Treat Your Own Back, by Robin McKenzie, and (in addition to some yoga/pilates stuff) she is having me regularly do the McKenzie Technique exercises. I’m finding them very helpful, along with everything else I’m doing.

    Still having some pain, especially when sitting or walking for too long. But rest, exercise, and stretching helps me return to normal.

  26. Sérgio Nunes

    Coincidentally, this video was just published on Yoga Today.

    “Sarah has devoted our 256th class to supported poses and twists that ease lower back pain.”


  27. Ms. Jen

    I was thinking if you tend to forget your exercises once the pain has gone away, that would be the time to schedule the exercises on your calendar.

    Speaking of Google calendars, thanks for the idea of setting up one specifically for your dogs flea treatments and vet visits. I had been writing the date on the Frontline box, which is not necessarily very effective, but now Scruffy McDoglet has his own Google calendar.


  28. terry Evans

    Hi Douglas,

    Like many outhers, I was looking forward to hearing you speak at WDN, and I’m sorry to hear about your back.

    I’ll try and make this real quick: I used to suffer from serious back pain. I was also so dedicated to recovery that I’d wake up every morning at 6am and do Pilates for an hour to keep my core strength up. Anyways, I did this routine for over a year and managed to keep the pain down somewhat. However it was not until a friend recommended the following book that I was able to truly realize why I was suffering from back pain and how to overcome it. This worked for me, I’m not saying it works for everyone, but I can’t not make the recommendation to someone I know is suffering like I did.

    Be Well,

  29. Cindy Li

    Doug, sorry to hear you couldn’t make it. We were all hoping to see you again at WDN. I hope you get better. :::hugs:::

  30. suzanne seale

    Did you consider that the reoccurring back problem could come when you were under stress. Though it might be something you think you want to do, sometimes I wonder if our bodies are speaking up and saying, forget about it, you’re not doing that.

    I thought someone should say this. You have to be true to yourself and we will wait.

  31. stephen blake

    Oh Doug, I am so sorry to hear that your back struck once again. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

  32. Hamish M

    Doug, I’m really saddened to hear that! I’m sure WDN missed you. Good luck, and I hope you have a speedy recovery.

  33. Andy

    Doug, wish you be healthy.

    Regards from Minsk, Belarus.

  34. Nguyen

    Hi Douglas Bowman

    I am from Vietnam. I think you should read books by Mildred Carter and Eunice D. Ingham. You can search them by using These books are about Foot Reflexology, which is about finding one spot on your foot and pressing it to make all your pain go away.

    Why don’t you try going to China for treating your pain by using Chinese way?

    Best wishes to you.

  35. Ben Bishop

    I too have experienced the symptons of a bad back twice over the last three months after years of good (back) health. I know what you have been going through; I can honestly say that breaking bones has nothing on a debilitating back.
    Good luck and hang in there with the exercises your PT recommends.

  36. Veerle Pieters

    Hi Doug, so sorry to hear about your back pain since I was really looking forward to talk to you again. Maybe it’s some kind of comfort that so many people got sick there me included :) There was a nasty virus going arround and it was no fun since I’m only getting better now. Be well and hope to catch up soon somewhere :)

  37. Michael

    Don’t discount surgery as a remedy. I agree that you should try everything else first. But if you have a bulging or ruptured disc, you could eventually develop some serious complications if it is left untreated.

    I lived with a disc-related injury for over 15 years. I tried everything and I saw many experts. It is true that muscular injuries can’t really be treated by surgery, but disc injuries are another thing altogether.

    Disc injuries cause pain because the disc presses on a nerve (usually the sciatic nerve). Sometimes rest, PT and pain management can cause a mildly bulging disc to recede and relieve the pressure. But a ruptured disc will not respond to these types of treatments.

    As I mentioned earlier, a ruptured disc can lead to serious nerve damage and even paralysis. I don’t think avoiding surgery at all costs is worth that kind of permanent damage.

  38. Steve

    ..i had the back problems for several years -and all the docs said the same… have to live with it!

    But last year i had “the” doc over in munich, germany! That was a big money…`s over!

    Try again and look for the best doc you can find! That pain…..

  39. Abdelrahman Osama

    What could I say, I’m really sorry for you.

  40. Dinah Sanders

    Hi Doug, so sorry to hear about your back being a pain again. :(

    I was just crappy at doing my knee exercises after my injury years & years ago and probably pay the price now in it being weaker and more prone to pain & injury.

    If only it were easier to make physical therapy part of your routine and a bit more fun. Imagine if there was a development kit for physical therapists for the Wii that could be used to record a set of moves for you to mimic…

  41. Physical therapy helps immediately after the injury. But after the pain subsides, I tend to forget about the exercises and the stretching and the fact that my body is not perfect.For further details click on injury

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