Back Pain Relief: Two People, Two Approaches That Worked

Meet Hollie Clarke and Mike Quincey. Two people in pain from different back-related problems: spinal nerve damage and spinal stenosis. Both found relief with different treatments. Here are their stories.

Some 16 million adults – or 8% of the general population – lives with chronic or persistent back pain. In fact, back pain is the sixth most costly condition in the United States.1

There are two main types of back pain: specific and non-specific. Specific refers to back pain that can be linked to an identifiable disorder, disease, infection, injury, trauma, or structural deformity, while non-specific refers to back pain that has no identifiable underlying spinal cause. Mechanical changes to the spine and its supporting structure, namely how the spine, joints, discs, muscles, nerves, and tissues move and fit together, are the most common reason for chronic (lasting 12 weeks or more) low back pain.1,2

Living with pain in the lower back or lumbar region (that is, L1-L5 on the spine) can be a daily challenge. Here’s how two individuals found some relief from their pain.

Mindfulness for Pain Relief

Hollie Clarke, 45, who lives in an Indianapolis suburb is a divorced mom of two who has been involved in several car accidents. One of the accidents, occurring in her mid-30s, involved being rear-ended by a truck at a stoplight. She suffered spinal nerve damage and began experiencing a lot of pain. “I couldn’t even use my arm anymore,” she recalls. “I couldn’t work, and I could no longer drive.”

Years after a car accident caused nerve damage to her spine, Hollie Clarke (left), pictured with a friend, experimented with yoga and journaling. These mindfulness-based techniques reduced her pain so much she continues practicing them today.

She had been working as the manager for a pharmaceutical company and had to drive a lot for work. “The doctors said that my cervical spine had a lot of structural damage,” she recalls. “Even with narcotics could not alleviate it. I was spending days and days in bed.”

Then, someone told her about a program developed by David Hanscom, MD. His book, Back in Control, describes the program and teaches individuals how to identify stress-inducing behaviors, break the cycle of negative thinking, and relieve chronic pain without surgery. Hollie decided to give it a try. She attended a four-day workshop given by Dr. Hanscom in upstate New York—that was when her life began to change. She learned yoga and meditation. She began to keep a journal. She read a book on forgiveness. She learned to forgive the person who hit her car and be grateful for the positive things in her life.

“When I first got to the workshop, I was in so much pain,” Hollie shares. “There is a lot of shame involved in chronic pain. Just being in the workshop and realizing that all these other people were in chronic pain, too, helped me. I saw that there was a level of acceptance. I learned that I could slow down and choose how I react to things. It was very empowering for me.”

By the second day of the workshop, she says, her pain had been cut in half and it continued to drop. “I learned to write about what was making me angry and then just to burn what I wrote,” Hollie recalls. “I didn’t need to read it. I realized just how much power I had over what I was feeling and creating. I felt empowered to choose what I wanted from my life.”

Since she attended the workshop eight years ago, she no longer has the chronic, debilitating back pain. She changed her career to eliminate the long commute and intentionally surrounds herself with uplifting people. “At the same time, I try to be the most uplifting person I can be,” Hollie says.

The fluid-filled cyst in her spinal column that she had been diagnosed with before the workshop has started to shrink . “I still have discomfort, but I understand what it is and I focus on something that makes me happy,” Hollie says. “I know I’m not a victim and I have things in control.”

Spinal Stenosis Implant

Mike Quincey, a San Diego-based father of three who played a lot of football, rugby, and other sports in high school and college, began having lower back pain about five years ago. It continued to get worse, to the point where he was feeling pain in his hips and developed sciatica in his right leg.

Always active, he enjoyed running and various sports into his adult years. Imaging work revealed he had spinal stenosis, a narrowing in his spine that was affecting a nerve.

After trying physical therapy, injections, and medication trials to relieve his pain, Quincey's doctor suggested a minimally-invasive spinal spacing device. The results were exactly what the doctor ordered. Quincey (right pictured with his wife and new puppy) says the procedure has given him his life back.

“Initially, the pain management doctor prescribed physical therapy and I did it for a few months, but it wasn’t getting better,” he recalls.  Mike said he trialed a few types of prescribed medications as well as injections over the course of a year, but nothing seemed to do the trick.

Then, in November 2018, when he tried to walk up some stairs, he fell. “It was getting really bad,” he says. After consulting his doctor, he found out he was a candidate for a new type of spacing implant.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved a product called the Superion Indirect Decompression System in 2015 for patients with moderate degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis to help create space between the spinous processes of the vertebrae. It remains the only FDA-approved, commercially available, minimally invasive interspinous spacer. PPM spoke to the manufacturer to find out how it works.

“The device acts as an extension blocker and serves to open the passageway through which the affected nerves are located, while retaining the patient’s ability to maintain motion,” explains Nilesh Patel, MC, vice president of medical affairs at Boston Scientific, which acquired the device from Vertiflex. “The Vertiflex procedure is a minimally-invasive procedure performed through a single, half-inch incision that is typically performed in an outpatient setting.”

For more information, view this short physican-training video on YouTube.

At first, Mike’s insurance company denied the procedure, but his doctor did some research, put together an appeal, and got it approved. By then, Mike’s pain had gotten so bad that it was taking a major toll on his activity level, social life, and career.

In January 2019, he had the procedure in an outpatient setting. “I went in at 11 am, had the surgery at 1 pm, and was home by 3 pm that day,” he recalls. "I highly recommend it.”  Today, Mike, who has nine grandchildren, says he is back at work and pain-free.

 “I still have some stiffness in the morning, and I do a lot of walking at work, but I am back to all my social activities and I do not have pain,” he says. In fact, one of Mike’s favorite pasttimes is to take the dogs to the beach and run and play with them. “I wasn’t able to do that for so long and now I can,” he says. “It’s really amazing.”

What has worked for your back pain? Email


Updated on: 09/16/21
Continue Reading:
The Empowered Patient’s Guide to Lower Back Pain