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Back Pain: Dealing With Golf’s Enemy Number One

This doctor got rid of my back pain. Maybe he can do the same for you

By: James A. Frank

If you’re a golfer, you have pain.

I’ve written that sentence numerous times, usually using myself as an example. It’s rare that some part of me doesn’t hurt, most of my aches and ouches caused and/or exacerbated by playing golf. Like the rest of you, I put up with the mostly minor maladies because I love the game.

But sometimes the aches aren’t insignificant. In particular, golfers—along with the rest of the public—are susceptible to back pain. It’s the leading physical complaint among us club-swingers, which should comes as no surprise when you learn that 80% of all Americans will experience some back pain during their lives, and that we spend more than $86 billion a year trying to treat back and neck pain. Mostly without much relief to show for it.

I’m one of the lucky ones. It took me more than 30 years, but I did find relief, thanks to Dr. Norman Marcus. I figure Dr. Marcus, who is located in New York City, was the 10th, 15th, maybe 20th doctor I’d seen about my nearly constant, occasionally debilitating, back pain. Before him, I’d seen orthopedists, neurologists, acupuncturists, surgeons, even hypnotists.

The magic moment was when Dr. Marcus—who is a founding member and past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, among other credentials—told me that my pain was not where other doctors said it was. It was not in my joints, not in my nerves, not an orthopedic issue at all. The cause was my muscles.

“Certainly back pain can come from the spine, discs, and nerves,” he told me when I started seeing him years ago and again when we talked this week, “but the majority of back pain is caused by problems with muscles. If muscles are not evaluated as a source of pain—which they rarely are—then doctors will most likely suggest treatment that does not address the true cause of the pain. That results in suboptimal outcomes, needless cost, and perpetuation of suffering.

“Which means that no matter what you’ve been told and no matter what diagnosis you’ve received, your problems may still be coming from pain in the muscles. That’s a hard pitch because it means going against what most other doctors have told their patients, who’ve seen their ‘ugly’ MRIs. But even most healthy, pain-free people have ugly MRIs. At New York/Cornell Hospital, 90 percent of all adult MRIs of the low back are read as being ‘abnormal.’ So what an MRI shows is not necessarily the problem.”

Having been a paying patient of Dr. Marcus’ for nearly nine years, I’m a success story and a believer. The best course of treatment is to see him in his NYC office, where he uses a proprietary device, developed with Stevens Institute of Technology, to identify the individual muscles causing pain. He then treats each muscle, relieving its tension and restoring its suppleness.

But if you don't come to him, he can come to you in a new book, End Back Pain Forever (Atria Books, $16). The core of the book is a series of exercises—which I do, at least in part, every day—originally developed by Dr. Hans Kraus (one of John F. Kennedy’s back doctors) and refined and tested by Dr. Marcus. They work for me.

The book also helps sufferers understand and deal with back pain, especially its connection to stress and tension. Plus, he deals with other affected areas, such as the upper back, shoulders, neck, and head (specifically tension headaches), as well as back pain in pregnancy and aging. He also has suggestions for finding and working with a doctor, and much more to help manage and control back pain.

Over the years, I’ve referred dozens of people to Dr. Marcus and will continue to do so. I’m living proof that his methods are effective. He changed my life.

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