Andre Agassi on his Back Pain

Tiger Woods’ remarks about his back pain spawned a rumble in the physio community. This piece by Peter O’Sullivan sums things up nicely. My favorite thing about Peter’s write-up is that it’s aimed at health care providers, not the athlete. Tiger’s latest injury involves his right wrist:

Keeping with the theme of athletes and their bodies, check out the following excerpts from Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open, describing his experience with back pain. It’s a great first person’s view on the relationship between back pain and emotions.

Now rising from the center of the fatigue comes the first wave of pain. I grab my back. It grabs me. I feel as if someone snuck in during the night and attached one of those anti-theft steering wheel locks to my spine. How can I play the U.S. Open with the Club on my spine?

I was born with a spondylolisthesis, meaning a bottom vertebrae that parted from the other vertebrae, struck out on its own, rebelled. (It’s the main reason for my pigeon-toed walk.) With this one vertebra out of sync, there’s less room for the nerves inside the column of my spine, and with the slightest movement the nerves feel that much more crowded. Throw in two herniated discs and a bone that won’t stop growing in a futile effort to protect the damaged area, and those nerves start to feel downright catastrophic. When the nerves protest their cramped quarters, when they send out distress signals, a pain runs up and down my leg that makes me suck in my breath and speak in tongues. At such moments the only relief is to lie down and wait. Sometimes, however, the moment arrives in the middle of the match. Then the only remedy is to alter my game – swing differently, run differently, do everything differently. That’s when my muscles spasm. Everyone avoids change; muscles can’t abide it. Told to change, my muscles join the spinal rebellion, and soon my whole body is at war with itself.

The cortosine injection:

I stretched out on the table, face down, and the nurse yanked down my shorts. The doctor said he needed to get his seven-inch needle as close to the inflamed nerves as possible. But he couldn’t enter directly, because my herniated disc and bone spur were blocking the path. His attempts to circumvent them, to break the Club, sent me through the roof. First he inserted the needle. Then he positioned a big machine over my back to see how close the needle was to the nerves. He needed to get that needle almost flush against the nerves, he said, without actually touching. If it were to touch the nerves, even if it were to only nick the nerves, the pain would ruin me for the tournament. It could also be life-changing. In and out and around, he maneuvered the needle, until my eyes filled with water.

Finally he hit the spot. Bull’s-eye, he said.

In went the cortisone. The burning sensation made me bite my lip. Then came the pressure. I felt infused, embalmed. The tiny space in my spine where the nerves are housed began to feel vacuum packed. The pressure built until I thought my back would burst.

Pressure is how you know everything’s working, the doctor said.

Words to live by, Doc.

Soon the pain felt wonderful, almost sweet, because it was the kind that you can tell precedes relief. But maybe all pain is like that.

Perception of our bodies, pains, and injuries can have stunningly strong effects on our daily function.

Andre Agassi’s book is the first autobiography I’ve read cover to cover. And, it’s one I’ll be re-reading over & over. Pick it up here.

@Cinema_Air

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