I remember the day with the kind of awful clarity you have recalling, say, a car crash you were in.
It was late November 2000. I was staying at a hotel in Austin, Texas, where I was covering the Bush post-election recount drama. I woke up with a piercing pain in my lower back. I'd never before had back pain and it scared me. I would soon learn that my life would be divided by that day. There were the pre-back pain years and the years since that morning.
My back doesn't hurt all the time. I can go days, sometimes weeks pain-free. But it always comes back, the same piercing pain I first experienced in Austin but sometimes it is accompanied by an ache over a larger area and, in recent years, I've also developed a tingling down my right leg when I stand too long.
An estimated 26 million Americans suffer from chronic back pain. It has been estimated that back pain drains $100 billion a year from the U.S. economy in lost work days and diminished productivity, though I suppose those figures may be slightly counterbalanced by all the money sufferers pour into analgesics, medications and treatments.
Over the past 11 years, I have tried physical therapy, acupuncture, epidural steroid injections, exercise and something called Rolfing. Some of these treatments provided temporary relief. Nothing worked permanently. So, when I was assigned by World News with Diane Sawyer to do a story on innovative treatments for back pain, I approached it with more than just a professional interest.
We started with a visit to Dr. Andre Panagos, a private physician in New York City who specializes in pain management.
"The second most common visit to primary physicians is back pain," Panagos told me. "So, I see a lot of back pain patients."
On his computer, we were able to call up on the results of an MRI I had in 2007. Panagos peered at the black-and-white images, then pointed at something that meant nothing to me.
"This MRI shows the most significant finding being at the S-1 L-5 segment," he says referring to the lower spine. "This (disc) edge here is more toward the back that this edge here. It's degenerative. If it narrows to where the nerves are very tight or compressed it causes a lot of pain in the lower back or legs."
He said I also had tiny fractures on my spine that could also contributing to my back pain.
I mentioned that my back was often especially painful and stiff after playing golf.
What he said next stunned me.
"I do not like to tell people not to do things, but with what you have here on this MRI, you really should not play golf," he said.
As I researched further, I learned that the professional golfer Fred Couples had suffered from almost crippling back pain until, he says, he went to see a doctor in Dusseldorf, Germany, named Dr. Peter Wehling. Wehling discovered a treatment for osteoarthritis and lower back pain that he calls Regenokine. To simplify a process that it actually quite complex, it basically involves taking the anti-inflammatory proteins from a person's own blood and then injecting them back into the body at the site of inflammation. Wehling's theory is that it is not the mechanics of the body causes osteoarthritis or lower back pain, but the inflammation triggered by the physical problem.