November 5, 2021
When Jonathan Munoz of Metuchen, New Jersey, was 18, he started a job that required lifting heavy crates and boxes. But by the time he turned 21, the repetitive physical demands of his work had taken a toll.
“I was lifting so much weight at work that it messed up my back,” says Jonathan, who also moonlights as a guitar player and singer.
Over several years, Jonathan says his back pain became so severe that even standing hurt. His pain also affected his ability to give his best when performing during his off-work hours. He had to stop moving around on stage and he sometimes avoided playing shows altogether.
“I was afraid the pain would get worse as I got older if I didn’t do something,” says Jonathan.
Seeking Back Pain Relief
Seeking relief, Jonathan scheduled an appointment with Craig Van Dien, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at the Center for Sports and Spine Medicine (CSSM) at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.
“Jonathan had chronic back pain that wasn’t getting better,” says Dr. Van Dien. “After listening carefully to Jonathan’s story, I was able to tailor his treatment plan to focus on improving body mechanics, as well as exercises to build core and extremity strength.”
Dr. Van Dien also suggested that Jonathan work with Eric Fandrick, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. Eric helps patients address back pain through personalized exercises and stretches designed to target specific muscles, without the need for medications or surgery.
“I knew Jonathan was a musician and an active guy, and I wanted to help him get back to doing the things he loved,” says Eric. “We had to work together to address areas of muscle weakness and imbalances, as well as fix improper body mechanics that were contributing to his low back pain.”
Starting Slow to Get Strong
Jonathan says he was nervous about starting physical therapy at first.
“It was scary because I didn’t want to exercise and make the pain any worse,” says Jonathan. “But after about a month, I started to notice improvement.”
“Exercise avoidance is common amongst patients with chronic back pain, ” says Dr. Van Dien. “We serve an important role in helping patients overcome their fear and boost exercise confidence.”
As Jonathan became stronger through one-on-one physical therapy sessions, Eric slowly increased the intensity of the exercises. Eric even worked with Jonathan to improve his body mechanics while playing guitar so he could play for more extended periods without pain.
“I explained each movement to Jonathan and asked for his feedback on how they affected his pain,” says Eric. “Over time, Jonathan started to trust in the healing benefits of exercise.”
“[Eric and Dr. Van Dien] knew what to do, and they knew their jobs,” says Jonathan. “Eric was always there to make sure I was doing the movements correctly.”
Gaining Self-Care Tools
After three months of physical therapy, Jonathan experienced a significant improvement in his pain. Even today, he continues to do his physical therapy exercises at home — and he is back on stage and able to work at his physically demanding day job without pain.
According to Jonathan, now 22, getting professional medical treatment was key to his recovery and his ability to return to an active lifestyle.
“Now, I can walk around while I perform, and I have the tools to take care of myself,” says Jonathan. “Going to see [Dr. Van Dien and Eric] was the best decision I could have made.”
“When you work with a therapist, you receive education and lifelong skills you can use to manage chronic back pain the right way and reduce the risk of further injury,” says Dr. Van Dien.
“Doing stretches that you find on the internet can be ineffective or even harmful, so seeing a trained professional for evaluation is critical to finding the cause of your pain,” says Eric. “Although an injury might be new to you, we see it every day and know how to help.”
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