Physical therapy, Rx pills, injections, research program, tossing, turning, stretching, yoga, acupuncture, nutrition, supplements, exercise... AAAARRGGH!! WHY is my lower back still hurting??
Such was my frustration before I discovered the Wim Hof Method: a model that has allowed me to manage my chronic back pain —caused by a torn disc— better than anything I had tried previously. The ability for me to manage the pain without taking any painkillers or supplements has had a significant impact on my day to day life (and my wallet).
Instead of taking a potentially harmful NSAID, muscle relaxer or painkiller, now I just do the Wim Hof Method. By doing WHM breathing techniques, specific stretching exercises, and taking a plunge in cold water, I can completely mitigate ANY pressing pain.
Breathing, stretching and cold Water? Really? It seemed too good to be true. But suffering can be a great form of motivation. After trying everything under the sun to remedy my chronic low back pain, thankfully I can now control it by practicing the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method.
How It All Started
In 2009, I started having severe pain in my lower back, left leg and hip area. I shrugged it off and tried to “play through the pain” for about 6 months, continuing to abuse my body every day, thinking that was the only way to train.
Then, while jumping rope at the gym one day, I went down like I had been shot by a sniper. While I stared at the ceiling in immense pain, I realized I was going to have to do something about this obvious issue, as playing through the pain wasn't cutting it. Five minutes later I was finally able to get to my feet, and gingerly limped out, tail tucked and humbled.
The next day I was getting x-rays and MRIs, confirming what I feared: I had structural damage to the L5/S1 disc (annular tear), degenerative disc disease in L5/S1 space resulting in sciatic nerve inflammation, and a 12% grade scoliosis.
I was devastated. The thought of having to take time off from being physically active in order for my back to heal seemed like an unattainable goal. My entire life had been based around some sort of sport or physical activity— what was I going to do now?
The next several months consisted of me mindlessly taking the medication, pain killers and muscle relaxers the doctors had prescribed me. I didn’t think about any adverse effects of taking them, since it was “doctor prescribed”. I took the pharmaceuticals and followed the physical therapy regimen that I was placed on by the therapist I was seeing at the time, not questioning anything.
I got to a point where I just couldn’t function at work, or life for that matter. I was always in a muscle relaxer daze, and since I had limited my physical activity to just the prescribed therapy routine, I felt more stressed than I ever had in my life.
Next up was rounds of corticosteroids and other injections, as well as taking part in a research trial program in attempt to get the tear in the disc to close, and the disc to heal. All efforts ended with me continuing to be in pain.
The doctor’s solution at this point was a choice of invasive disc surgeries, spinal fusion, or artificial disk replacement. None were a guarantee; in fact they could potentially worsen my condition.
Thanks, But No Thanks
Over the course of this journey I became determined to heal myself as naturally as possible. I know the human body is capable of extraordinary feats; I just had to learn how to get my mind and body working together. I began seeking various natural and alternative treatments such as a holistic doctor, chiropractic work, massage therapy, nutritionists, acupuncture, meditation and yoga.
I started noticing a big difference in my back pain once I started practicing yoga regularly. Some movements seemed to exacerbate things, but that was mainly because I had for a long time limited my movement in certain directions.
Once I started experimenting with whole food nutrition I was able to feel my body better manage the inflammation. I was making progress towards my goal of feeling 110% for me and my family!
I was feeling much better, but had kind of hit a plateau with the protocols, supplements and everything else I had been doing. By now I had spent thousands of dollars on doctor visits, physical therapy, gadgets, classes, alternative treatments and supplements.
I was beginning to accept that the low back pain I felt was something that was going to be with me for life.
Thankfully, a good friend of mine told me about the Wim Hof Method in 2015, and said to give it a try. Specifically, he wanted me to use the WHM in an attempt to reduce the inflammation in my body and get better control of some of my internal processes. I was already taking cold showers at the advice of my holistic doctor, and had been practicing yoga and breathing exercises for a few years, so I was instantly intrigued.
I researched the WHM for about three months before purchasing the 10-Week Video Course. During that time, I read every paper and watched every video on Wim and his method that I could find, as I became fascinated with what he had achieved; specifically the scientific paper reporting zero inflammatory cytokines in his blood after breathing, meditation and cold exposure.
Just Breathe, MotherHoffers
I noticed an immediate difference in my mental state and the perceived pain when performing the breathing techniques. The act of breathing and being conscious of that action helps to keep me in the moment, not stressing my injury or regurgitating the same thoughts of the pain I felt or how uncomfortable I was. This alone has had a huge effect on my day to day stress levels.
After some practice, I noticed during the retention phases of breathing that I was able to get into a deep state of relaxation that I hadn't yet experienced in any other alternative treatment or meditation before. This allowed me to really relax and "turn off" my back muscles without the use of pharmaceuticals or herbs. Incredible! I can't tell you how much this alone reduced overall pain and tension in my lower back.
Mind Over Matter
When I first started the course, the thoughts of doubt and excuse ruled over me (as they had for much of my life).
When it came to enduring the extreme cold, challenging myself mentally, and the physical exercises Wim demonstrates, I was fearful and intimidated.
"There is no way I can ever bend forward like that; it will hurt my back, so I probably shouldn't even try that exercise."
"There is no way I will ever be able hold my body weight like that; it will hurt my back, so I probably shouldn't even try it."
"There is no way I will ever be able to get into ice cold water like that; I probably shouldn't even try."
These limiting thoughts are part of what I have dealt with my whole life. Practicing the Wim Hof Method lit something up inside of me. It was my inner fire! I was determined to change my way of thinking, and commit myself to trying new things and expanding my comfort zone. Even though I was not good at these new things and it caused me some temporary discomfort, I was going to try.
Wim became such an inspirational figure to me after learning more about his story and his triumphs and hearing his words of encouragement. This pushed me to better myself every day using the WHM, for myself and for my family.
After some perseverance and persistence, I became able to mentally withstand the force of extreme cold. I was able to focus my mind and consciously relax my lower back muscles when they would tighten up. The stretching and body weight poses that I avoided for the first few weeks have completely transformed what I thought my mind and body were capable of.
The stretches Wim utilizes in the 10-Week Video Course totally changed the flexibility and range of motion I have in my spine (and thought I would ever have due to my injury). It was incredible how the day to day low back pain decreased once I was able to get fresh blood flow to the areas of pain, and increase my physical mobility and range of motion with the stretches and holds.
The body weight holds gave a me strength which I didn't think I possessed, as well as the courage and confidence to try new, difficult things. I felt superhuman compared to how I had been feeling the previous 6 years of my life. So empowering!
The Cold, My Warm Friend
I had been taking cold showers for a while once I was introduced to the Wim Hof Method, and once I started the online course I could comfortably start and end a cold shower for a couple of minutes, but I had no idea how powerful of a force the cold could be.
After months of regular cold exposure via cold showers, and being under-dressed in cold conditions, I started taking daily ice baths in my converted chest freezer. Once I had implemented this as part of my morning routine, I was able to completely mitigate any pain I had in my body; not just in my lower back.
The rush of adrenaline and other hormones attenuated my perceived pain, and shut down the inflammation in my bod. Once I learned —as part of my Wim Hof Method Academy training— how to practice safely, mitigate afterdrop, and not risk hypothermia, I feel pain free every single time I get done with cold exposure, with virtually no side effects.
Sleeping was still an issue, as lying still for 7-8 hours at night had me feeling stiff as a board when I woke up in the mornings. Now, after practicing the WHM after waking, all of my pain is gone.
It's truly magical for me, even to this day. No pills, no gadgets, no screws in my back. Just air, the right mindset, cold water, and the willingness to experience short-term ‘discomfort’ to promote long term happiness, health and strength.
Strong, Happy & Healthy
If you or someone you know is suffering from chronic pain —especially low back pain— I am confident in saying that if you commit yourself to practicing the Wim Hof Method with the 10-Week Video Course, that you will reap great benefits, as I have in managing chronic pain. I continue to use the Wim Hof Method every day.
If you are interested in learning how the Wim Hof Method can help you mitigate or reduce chronic pain, don't wait any longer.
Michael McTate is a certified WHM Instructor, based out of Fort Collins, Colorado.