Syracuse Online

My Physical Therapist

Pain Turns to Gain

Published December 16, 2002 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

I have flown an American Flag off my porch for years. Recent events caused an itch to replace the porch flagpole with an in-ground pole. Equipped with a 20-foot aluminum pole, 80 pounds of concrete mix, 50 pounds of gravel and 50 pounds of sand, I embarked on the project.

Something snapped when I lifted a bag onto the wheelbarrow. A sharp pain in my lower back ruined a sunny afternoon. Nevertheless, I finished the project and flew the star-spangled banner high.

The morning after, I woke up with an excruciating back pain, somewhere between kidney stones and root canals. I could not sit or stand, crawl or walk, let alone run.

My predicament commanded enough sympathy that my wife drove me to the clinic. My physician diagnosed a slipped disk. Buoyed by a double-dose of narcotics and some physical therapy, I made it back to bed.

The days turned into weeks. My pain level subsided when I lay still, but soared whenever I moved. My wife developed a talent for finding every pothole in the road as she drove me around. The skilled hands of my therapist provided only temporary relief. I resigned myself to a life without running.

Frustrated by my lack of progress, my therapist resorted to drastic measures. "Drop your pants," she ordered one day. I obliged. "Show me exactly where it hurts," she said, then affixed four electrodes to my back and turned the dial clockwise. Pain followed.

"Close your eyes and rest," she said softly. "I will be back soon." When she returned, my pain was gone. "You do not have a slipped disk," she proclaimed. "You have an inflamed sacro-illiac joint," a pain in the butt. "Resume running tomorrow. Start with a mile." The pain returned when I left the clinic, but my outlook on life shone bright. No wonder patients fall for their healers.

A step at a time, a mile at a time, my pain slipped away. The taste of sweat on my lips and a burning in my eyes returned. I shivered in the morning dew and soaked in the afternoon sun. My therapy trips became less frequent as my running returned to normal. Finally, one day, she said: "You do not need to see me any more."

I left her that morning with mixed emotions, certain that we will meet again. After all, a runner alternates between two states: injury and recovery. Somewhere in between lies the healing hands of a physical therapist, ready to serve the injured back into play.

© 2002 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at