A Broken Back

April 21, 2012

I’m not the kind of guy who does things by half and breaking my back was no exception; I did it in style. Don’t get me wrong though, overturning a dumper truck was a stupid mistake that cost me dearly. I managed to crush myself under two tonnes of machinery that quite literally folded my body in two, in a manner that it is not designed to do. Our spines are only so flexible and the forced hinging of my back at the thoracic lumbar junction caused catastrophic damage. The bottom thoracic vertebrae (T12) and the top lumbar vertebrae (L1) were put under such pressure that they essentially exploded. An x-ray taken at the time shows there is nothing left of those vertebrae but a shower of pieces; disintegrated into shards of bone.

I passed out in the accident, with the last breath being crushed out of my lungs, and when I came to I had stars in front of my eyes, just as you get in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. I had been freed from underneath the dumper truck by the good man I was working for, but it wasn’t until I saw the truck propped up by a sturdy piece of wood that I remembered what I had done. Only then did the pain hit me! I’d experienced plenty of pain in the past, including extremely painful meningitis (an infection of the fluid around the brain), but this was something else! I was taken by ambulance to Portsmouth hospital and driven ever so smoothly at no more than 15mph. As I was wheeled through the hospital on a trolley I remember the joins in the floor, those tiny bumps that you normally wouldn’t even notice, causing excruciating pain despite the morphine I had been pumped full of.

As well as the pain from the physical damage to my spine, I was also enveloped in pain from the waist down due to the nerve damage to my spinal cord. When I arrived at Salisbury Spinal Unit later that day, having been flown there by the Coast Guard helicopter, the consultant told me, “with the damage you have done you shouldn’t be able to feel anything”. I wasn’t sure what to think of such a statement, but with hindsight I think it was a good sign that my body wasn’t going to give up on me without a fight. In the following weeks of bed rest the pain in my spine eased, but when it was time to sit up I was still very conscious of how weak and damaged my back was, although strangely enough it was more fear than pain that drove my caution. By the time I left hospital, seven months after injury, I felt I had a strong back again, however, that weird neurological pain that enveloped my body from the waist down took years to subside.

After leaving hospital I struggled with enormous physical challenges, numerous aches and pains and many related health problems, but never did I have back ache. Something you would expect to be a serious problem just didn’t exist. It is only now, with all the work I have done rebuilding the bio-mechanical structure of my body, that I understand why this is the case. First of all, a spinal cord injury causes far more than the obvious physical damage; it causes catastrophic collapse of the intrinsic capacity of the body. Secondly, the body has an amazing ability to compensate and allow function to continue, albeit in a perverted form.

With that collapse of intrinsic capacity, due not so much to nerve damage as to the trauma of the accident, weeks of bed rest and the following wheelchair use, the core of the body is left so depleted that it cannot support proper use of the arms let alone the use of paralysed legs. The external skeletal muscles take over the role of structural support and the spine is left floating around inside the body, redundant of its true role. The weakness becomes buried and disappears from the view of consciousness. Had I not chosen to embark upon the path of rebuilding my body through ABR Therapy (Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation), then that weakness may well have remained buried for ever more. However, as we have rebuilt that depleted volume to the core of my body and re-engaged the true structural framework, the spine has come back into play as the structural core to the trunk.

Last autumn, for the first time in fifteen years, I once again felt that damage to my spine. We’ve dug up that weakness and only now can that physical damage be really addressed. It has not been pleasant and at times has been quite debilitating. Lifting myself up from lying on my front seems to put particular pressure on the damage region often with significant pain. I’m pleased to say that the situation is improving and the pain is considerably easing. Through continuing the hours of therapy, constantly inputting into the system of the body, we are slowly improving the structure, and addressing the weakness in the spine is but one more step in my journey back to full able bodied health.


  1. I hope you know how mentally strong you are. MS without pain is my problem and they are similar in the way things are snatched suddenly away. I luckily don’t have the pain, but I get much inspiation from your writing.

  2. Dear Steve, it is wonderful how Leonid addresses the whole human being, and to work with him in such a way is, I think, an honour.

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