Freedom From Back Pain: An Orthopedist's Self-Help Guide by Edward A. Abraham MD (Rodale Press: $18.95).
"The human back can become the seat of more aches and pains than are registered in books for the composite anatomy of a regiment. It is a limited area, but it can become the theatre of innumerable muscular conflicts, tangles, wrenches, knots . . . ."
Stephen Crane in his short story "The Open Boat," capsulizes the plight of millions of Americans suffering back pain. And you don't have to row for dear life on high seas, as the shipwrecked Crane actually did, to know the terrors of this condition that strikes one in three.
In this answer to a back-pain sufferer's prayers, Edward A. Abraham--orthopedic surgeon, former team doctor to the Oakland Raiders and head of Postural Therapeutics, an outpatient rehabilitation clinic in Santa Ana--explains that bad backs set us back $5 billion a year for examinations, treatment and therapy, not counting huge amounts in disability claims, lawsuits and lost work time.
But with few exception--as in trauma to the spine or other clinical conditions--the cause, Abraham maintains, is more psychological than physical, a giving in to "pain behavior."
Describing four stages of "backitis," ranging from mild to chronic, he concentrates on the "tragic victim." After initially gaining attention and sympathy, "backacholics" learn to enjoy their invalid role, finding "pain the perfect excuse for not doing what we don't want to do."
To be sure, back-pain attacks have physical causes. Carrying extra weight, poor posture and sleeping habits, lifting heavy objects incorrectly, excessive sitting and even aggressive sexual performance can trigger an attack. But all conditions, mild to severe, can be overcome, Abraham insists, by following his uncomplicated regimen, which delineates "simple, safe, tried and true" physical exercises as well as relaxation techniques to escape the "pain barrier."
Some readers will not readily embrace Abraham's theory, and, as he admits, some will resist mightily. But "Freedom From Back Pain" is a jewel of a guide.
If you want to live a full, good life, read it and follow its sage advice. Abraham, in quoting Plato, believes that "the greatest victory is over self."