A Grand-master LMT Talks About Back Pain

by Larry Heisler, M.A., LMT

Providence! Integrated Health and Fitness presents Nutrition for the New Year.

This Grand–master LMT is also Providence!’s nutritional consultant. Join Mr. Heisler for his descriptive nutrition education program starting March 10th at 7:45pm that will change your life. For more information about upcoming workshops, click here. Start to understand why “Back pain is the number one cause of lost work days in the United States.” Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery and spine surgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, in New York City.

My grandfather built the Empire State Building, my father built the World Trade Center. My dad was a bull of a man; Manhattan champ wrestler, a great long distance swimmer and a champion ballroom dancer, all in a construction workers body.   So it didn’t come as any surprise that by the time dad was in his late thirty’s he was suffering from chronic lower back and knee problems. Throughout my childhood I remember him running from specialist to specialist; Orthopedic doctors, Osteopaths, Chiropractors, Physical Therapist’s, Physiatrists (M.D. Level PT), all supposedly lower back, pain management specialists. The pain he experienced laid him up for weeks and months at a time and seeing your father disabled was probably the impetus for my massage therapy career.

By the time I was in my early twenties (1970’s), I was intently studying Oriental and Macrobiotic healing arts. I was teaching meditation at the N.Y. Center for Macrobiotics and was told by all three of the macro center directors, Serena Silva, Shizuko Yamamoto and Annemarie Colbin, that a revered and brilliant Japanese doctor, a master of 16 martial arts was coming to the center to teach.  His name was Sensei Masahiro Oki and he ran a world famous clinic in Japan for folks battling serious degenerative diseases. His skills at Oriental diagnosis were so finely honed that he could diagnose your condition by merely looking at you. Oriental diagnosis traditionally was used by martial artists to determine where their opponents would be vulnerable. It later turned into a powerful diagnostic tool used by Asian healers and medical practitioners. Essentially it is the art of observing how an individual looks, moves and expresses themselves. Taking into account which muscles and meridians exhibit imbalances and how our lifestyle excesses display themselves on the human body. So for instance, if you are consuming too much fat or alcohol in your diet, areas associated with the liver and gall bladder would show signs of excess or discharge. In the back of the neck there are gall bladder diagnosis points, so dietary excesses might result in a stiff neck or an intra-scapula knot in your rhomboids just over the liver on the right side. One day Shizuko took me aside and said that Master Oki’s power of diagnosis was so finely tuned that he could diagnose an individual’s condition by simply smelling them from across the room. Apparently even how you smell has diagnostic implications.

Well, I just had to see for myself so I attended Master Oki’s classes and as advertised Sensei was amazing. He seemed to know exactly where to press on your body to make you jump with pain and sensitivity. Then he would have you do an adaptive yoga posture and the sensitive area would disappear like magic. Or he would run his hand over your body and by simply feeling the hot or cold areas would tell you which organs were imbalanced and under duress. According to Sensei, many areas that stay cold are stagnant areas that would eventually get much worse. So a simple, continual cold butt might portend a future hysterectomy. His breath of knowledge and understanding regarding the human body was so profound I decided dad had to have a consultation.  So the day arrived and we went to see my new teacher.  Sensei took one look at my father and said, “You American’s are so foolish, you think you can eat anything. Mr. Heisler, the reason you have been suffering so is because of your kidneys and intestines.  If you don’t change your diet immediately you will certainly die prematurely from kidney disease.”  He strongly advocated dad to consume a completely plant based diet. He then hit some acupressure points on dad’s body and had dad stretch in some very interesting yogic ways and again almost like magic, dad had no pain! When we got into the elevator my father looked at me and said, “I think he’s full of it, but he did get me out of pain and no one has ever been able to do that, so I’m going to do what he says and see what happens.” When we arrived home, dad announced to mom that he was a vegetarian. Now it was true, my father never ate anything resembling fiber and in those days all that mom made was flesh foods and simple carbs.  Eggs for breakfast, some sort of dead thing sandwich on white bread for lunch and more meat, meat, meat for dinner. A salad would consist of iceberg lettuce and tomato with Heinz distilled vinegar and Mazola corn oil. Healthy nutrition? No such thought. After going through the big depression and the big war, my folks were just happy to have food on the table. I think it would be fair to say that Master Oki scared the living daylights out of dad and seemingly overnight he became aware and changed everything.  It’s as if the light came on.  He still ate a little fish and seafood but now it was a macro style diet; grains, beans, soups, salads, fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts, fermented soy products like miso, tofu, etc.

Now here’s the really amazing thing; dad’s visit to Oki was the very last time he had any problems with his back!  What’s more, his knee gradually improved and that too never afflicted him again. On the first anniversary of his meeting with Master Oki and especially pain free living, dad announced to the family that “Oki” was the most impressive man he had ever met and he would be eternally grateful to him. Dad lived another 25 years after that meeting and eventually succumbed to asbestos poisoning.

I would say way more than half of the 50,000 massages I’ve performed have been on individuals with some sought of serious back complaint. In my professional opinion, after 40 years of performing massage therapy on literally thousands of athletes and tens of thousands of regular folks, it has become glaringly obvious after taking a history, the two single biggest factors associated with lower back complaints like sciatic pain and piriformis syndrome are a CHRONIC LACK OF FIBER and in particular RED MEAT CONSUMPTION!

Normally I ask each and every person to account as best they can for the dietary choices leading up to the moment their back became obviously a more serious problem. I can do this because formerly I was director of nutrition education for the medical group I am in. Hands down, when I ask what the patient ate leading up to their back pain, I get the same response over and over again. Red meat along with lack of fiber. Maybe it’s because a pound of beef is the equivalent of sixteen pounds of grain and that’s really high up on the food chain or maybe it’s the highly inflammatory arachidonic acid in the beef. Allegedly arachidonic acid plays a role in cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and even rheumatoid arthritis. I really can’t say. Now gathering information like this is called anecdotal or coincidental, but when you’ve seen and heard the same thing come up tens of thousands of times, it’s not anecdotal any longer, it’s science!

The second part to this is equally amazing. When the person in pain finally changes their diet for good, in other words, when they stop eating red meat completely, they become back pain free for good.

“So let me get this clear, when you got out of bed this morning your back was giving you a lot of pain, is that correct?  And you say you had no pain all weekend but just this morning, something as simple as putting on your pants blew your back out? Ok, let’s think about this for a second, what did you eat yesterday? What did you eat over the weekend?”   

“Nearly one in 10 people across the globe suffers from an aching lower back and in a 3-month period, about one-fourth of U.S. adults experience at least 1 day of back pain. It is one of our society’s most common medical problems.” National Institutes of Health NIH.gov

So in addition to a healthy eating regime, Deep Tissue Medical massage is the best approach for soft tissue complaints.

Here’s why…If you have a soft tissue complaint, soft tissue specialists like us work directly on the soft tissue itself. Hands down, the most effective approach to soft tissue pain is a soft tissue solution like deep tissue massage with trigger point therapy and myofascial (muscle and connective tissue) stretching. That’s exactly what a well trained massage therapist does. That’s what I teach at my state certifying school for massage therapists and in my medical massage series. Sure you have to prepare the body by desensitizing the soft tissue to gradually accept the deeper work. Remember, as we age your muscles get shorter, tighter, stagnant, and eventually become cold. An inflexible, tight body is an aging body and “rigamortis sets in way before you die”. Deep tissue massage breaks up the hardness before it sets in your body and nourishes your entire system with increased circulation and oxygen, We literally alkalize the body. After a couple of sessions you’ll look and feel younger, and you’ll be dramatically more flexible. I have seen with my own eyes, my clients heal much more quickly and you will too.

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