Back From The Brink.
Tassie hellman Jeremy Faulds describes his battle with a debilitating back injury.
Can you describe your injury and how it happened?
It was an accumulation of a few different factors but the main being over exercising and not focussing any attention on injury prevention or recovery. I’ve always surfed a lot, almost every day, but leading up to the injury I was also really into running and doing a lot of gym work also. A typical day would consist of an early morning walk (5km) followed by a surf (boog or stick depending on conditions), then I’d go to work but if I wasn’t working, I’d hit the gym and usually finish the day with a run (10km). On work days I’d fit in as much exercise as possible before doing and 8-hour shift at the hospital.
Like most surfers I’ve experienced lower back pain on and off for years, comes with the territory, but when I started get muscle spasms, I knew something wasn’t right. One morning I’d just got to the gym and had a niggle in my ass cheek. I figured I’d do some low intensity cardio on the bike to ease it out. Next thing I knew ‘PING’ my whole ass and lower back locked up, intense pain from my sciatic nerve radiating down my leg. Somehow, I made it home and fell on a heap on the floor. I lay in bed for 48 hours unable to stand, roll over, move an inch, the pain was unbearable. Finally, my partner convinced me to call an ambulance. They loaded me up with a heap of drugs, and carted me off to hospital.
Once I got to hospital, they sent me off for scans, I waited 3 days to see the specialist, just lying there unable to move due to the pain. Pissing in a bottle, pissing on myself. Barely eating. Feeling miserable. The doctor finally arrived, “have you ever broken you back before” he asked. My heart sunk…
Spondylolisthesis occurs after there is a weakness or fracture in one of the vertebrae, causing the vertebra to shift or slip out of place. It’s basically a wear and tear injury of the lower back. I’d been so active that my lower vertebrae had worn out over time and while trying to keep my spine aligned all my surrounding supporting muscle groups had been working overtime and eventually gone into spasm.
What was the medical advice you received about the severity and long-termeffects of the break?
The initial specialist really had no information for me. He couldn’t answer any of my questions. He basically said, you might be fine or we might need to fuse your spine (surgery). He referred me to another specialist who came and saw me a few days later. He was slightly more optimistic; he gave me a 3-12 months recovery time frame. The pain subsided enough after 7 days that they let me go home but I was still unable to walk more than a few steps at a time and spent a few more weeks in bed.
What sort of rehab and training did you undertake to get back into the water?
I saw four physiotherapists. The first three all said pretty much the same thing, they were unsure if I’d surf again to the standard, I was accustomed to. The third physiotherapist actually said that I’d never surf big waves again. In my head I was thinking, ah well I’ll just ride a mal on the local points and that will be ok. A few days after seeing the third physiotherapist a mate of mine calls me up and tells me about this new physiotherapist who had just started in Hobart and who specialised in backs. I booked an appointment and the first thing he said to me was “have you tried surfing”? I said “no, I was told not to”. He basically said you’ll never know if you don’t give it a go!!! I went home that day and caught three waves on my mal.
He set me up with a whole program, focussing on weight training, strengthening my glutes, hamstrings, back muscles and of course the core. I saw him once a fortnight for about 6 weeks and attended the gym every day. I started of just going for quick surfs on my mal, 3 waves, did this for a month or so before progressing to the boog.
Does it still affect you today?
Occasionally if I overdo it or don’t do my exercises, I get some referred pain down my legs but overall, I’m relatively pain free!
Have you had to change or modify what you do in or out of the water?
The only modification I’ve made is not surfing quite as much, or not as long, picking my battles. Right before the injury my partner and I had a little baby boy so where I used to go down to Rebounds for a grovel I’ll spend that time with him.
You recently scored an epic ” comeback” surf at Shipsterns, can you describe that day?
Well, I was hoping for a nice quiet local’s only session but it seems half of Australia saw that forecast and had the same idea. I walked in with a couple of really good mates and it looked a little funky when we got there but saw enough to get us keen. Initially it was slow 8ft but as the day progressed it pulsed with really clean 8-10ft conditions, few 12ft bombs. It was super crowded but when it gets to that size it’s perfect for the boogers as its borderline unpaddleable for the surfers so we tend to get a lot of the sets. Everyone got a few good ones, all the regular legends. Harley and Charles Ward, Sam Thomas, Sam Lennox, Dean Watkins, Chris from What So Not fame. The clip on my Instagram was my final wave of the day, long south number that unfortunately pinched on the end. Had to perch up on the boat after that one and sink a few cans. Was an all time session, so stoked to get back down there after 2 years. Back felt great, frothing for the next one!