Jon, 26 “Stretch and Stretch Again”

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ContributorJon, 26Read Full Bio


Jon, 26, grew up in Boston where he played hockey and lacrosse as a kid. By 10th grade Jon was 6”1’ and experiencing what he thought was normal growing pains. He didn’t want to wear a back brace or have back surgery which his doctor suggested. Jon still wanted to play hockey and lacrosse. He could not put his own socks on by his junior year. Jon often travels for work, and a cross-country flight for him is “brutal.” For ten years he has not been able to sleep in one position for too long without pain. He is used to living this way.

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ContributorDr. Robert G. Watkins IV, MD, Orthopedic SurgeonRead Full Bio


Robert Watkins IV, M.D., is co-director of Marina Spine Center and Chairman of the Surgery Department at Marina Del Rey Hospital. Dr. Watkins is a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon, specializing in minimally invasive spine surgery, computer-assisted surgery, spinal-deformity treatment, and disc replacement. Dr. Watkins earned his medical degree at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at the L.A. County/USC General Hospital. He then worked as a traveling fellow in Europe, specializing in artificial-disc replacement and scoliosis surgery. Over the past decade, he has lectured on spine issues to doctors, patient groups, athletic trainers, and physical therapists; led research teams that have published studies; and taught surgeons on specialized techniques. He is the spine consultant to many Los Angeles sports teams, and has treated professional, college, and high school athletes from all over the country.

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Jon, 26, grew up in Boston where he played hockey and lacrosse as a kid. By 10th grade Jon was 6”1’ and experiencing what he thought was normal growing pains. He didn’t want to wear a back brace or have back surgery which his doctor suggested. Jon still wanted to play hockey and lacrosse. He could not put his own socks on by his junior year. Jon often travels for work, and a cross-country flight for him is “brutal.” For ten years he has not been able to sleep in one position for too long without pain. He is used to living this way.

My name is Jon. I'm 26. I grew up in Boston, and I'm a recent transplant here to Los Angeles. Traveling a lot for work. Work in the music business with production, and so we do different things in the electronic and orchestral music space.

Growing up in Boston, dad and uncle were both big hockey players, so we were skating pretty young. But so I was playing hockey, playing lacrosse. You know, it's interesting, 'cause in ninth grade, I all of a sudden woke up one day with a massive, swollen wrist, massive swollen elbow, pain all over, aching everywhere, and went into the ER. And they kept saying I had arthritis, and my mom is, like, this kid's in ninth grade. There's no way that's the case.

Nine months later, after going to tons of different doctors, one was like, I'm just gonna get you tested for all these different things. It turns out I had pretty bad Lyme disease. That's kind of around when my back started hurting. You know, I never had one incident that was I got hit in the boards and all of a sudden my back's broken. I just kind of figured, oh, it was growing pains. You know, I mean, by the time I was in ninth grade, I was probably, like, 6'1. And so I was shooting up, and I just thought it was normal, and-or it's the Lyme's. After another year, year and a half, so probably this is the end of my tenth grade year in high school, I finally went home, I was like, Mom, I don't think that this is normal. Could we just go get it checked out? I mean, by this point, I was a little bit of a wild child, so I'd been in and out of hospitals with stitches and all sorts of different things.

And so I was kind of used, I was like, let's just go back to the hospital, let's just see what's going on. Got an MRI, CAT scan, everything. And turns out I had a crack in my L2 and a crack in my L5. So that was a surprise, and it also kind of was like, all right, cool, like, I'm not just being a wimp and this isn't just growing pains. Like, there was actually something wrong. I'm glad we caught onto this. What are my options, doctor? And he's like, all right, well, we're gonna get you fitted for a brace. Whoa. You know, I'm tenth grade, sophomore in high school. I've got this massive brace that he wanted to put on me. So I was like, what else? He's like, what I suggest is we fuse the bones together. It's two years' recovery, and it should work, you know, which at that time I wouldn't have accepted either way, because I got to play hockey, I got to play lacrosse.

But at the same time, my hockey season of junior year, which is kind of the year that you get looked at, I couldn't play. I mean, I'd wake up, and shout Dad, you've got to put my socks on. I couldn't bend over to put my socks on. I mean, that's how bad it got. Waking up in the morning and having to, like, yell upstairs to my dad to come down and put my socks on is not what you want to be doing at 16, 'cause, you know, at that age, you're getting independent. So part of me was a little insecure about it. You know, we had a bigger car, the Expedition back then. Great, I can hop right up into that thing. It was awesome. But getting in and out of those small, you've got to bend down, and ooh, that'll get you. Even now, a cross-country flight, you're sitting down in that seat for five, five and a half hours. It takes a toll on my back.

Things that I didn't have to do before, I mean, constantly stretching; hamstrings, glutes, all the time stretching. Every morning when I woke up, I had to stretch. Every night before I'd go to bed, I had to stretch. Otherwise, I'd wake up and I'd be stiff, and if I'm stiff, I could barely put my pants on now, let alone my socks. If I lie on my back for too long, back hurts. Lie on my side for too long, it starts to hurt. Sit down for too long, it starts to hurt. So I'm constantly throughout the night changing, and I've been doing it for about 10 years now and dealing with this. It’s just,this is how my life is. I mean, now looking back, it's like, oh, maybe I should have done that, but at the time I was like, that's not an option. Like, doc, I just can't not play sports. I'd rather have the pain and play lacrosse than not play.

I think it was the end of tenth grade, my mom and her four friends, every Tuesday and Thursday they have a private teacher, and they'd meet at our house, have a glass of wine or two, and then go to yoga. [LAUGH] So I remember the first class I'm in, they're giggling and falling over in their poses, but having a great time doing it. And I just really loved it, and so started going twice a week with them, getting more into it, and taking some things from that and using it in every day. You know, instead of going to yoga every day, I realize the importance of the core, I mean, 'cause they teach a lot breathing, the core, and that supports your lower back. And so now in the weight room, instead of just going and doing this and biceps, I was going in, focusing on this, and focusing on my lower back and hamstrings, which also will help there.

And so that kind of changed the way I looked at my body, but it made me realize there's certain things I can do to lessen the pain, right? I didn't think I was gonna cure it through yoga. It certainly lessened the pain. I had a few flare ups. In college I was playing Lacrosse Club, but we were top 10 in the nation and, you know, we'd travel a lot. And I remember we went to nationals my freshman year. We took a bus from Raleigh, North Carolina, and it was like a-God, maybe like a 23 hour bus ride. Well, by the time we got to Austin, I mean, I could barely walk. If I'm not consciously paying attention, as in eating unhealthy.
Last weekend, Super Bowl weekend, for example, eating nachos, hot dogs, wings, you know, having a few drinks, this, this, and this, you do that on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, this starts to grow a little bit, I haven't been in the gym. Monday morning I wake up and get out of bed and you can feel that right there, right? Any long periods of time that I have to sit still, that usually is when it'll start flaring up. Cross country flights, things like that. I move around a lot, and maybe that is my personality and the ADHD, or that may be because I-I know that if I sit too long, I'm gonna get some pain. But, you know, in my office, I'm not one to go sit at the desk all day, right? I'm up, I'm walking around, I'm taking every hour, I'm getting up, going outside, doing whatever, staying on the move.

Because right now as we're sitting, you'll notice I'm stretching, I'm going back and forth, and this feels good, right? And then stay here for a little bit, nope, doesn't feel so good. Switch over, ooh, this feels nice. Things like that. I don't know if this is what people do, or if it's because I'm constantly doing 'cause I'm constantly thinking about my lower back. I do constantly find myself thinking about my lower back. Does it wear on me? I don't sit down and-and really talk about my lower back problems with my friends. They don't want to hear about that. But, you know, now that we're talking about it, going through it, it does make me think, wow, maybe this is on my mind at all times, and maybe this is taking away from mental capacity that could be used elsewhere. I don't know the answer to that.

You know, I get back spasms every now and then. I mean, it ruins my whole day, ruins my whole week. It throws everything off. It's as if a crisis has come up you didn't prepare for, and now your meetings are thrown off, you're-you're behind on work, because all day long I'm, you know-or if I get up the wrong way, ooh, and I'm back sitting down in the chair and I've got to ride this one out. And people around me are like, "Are you all right?" I'm like, I'll be okay. Like, just give me a second, you know? [LAUGH] I mean, there's been times I've hopped on a plane running late, and, you know, I'll get up in the middle of the flight and stretch it out a little bit. But if I sleep through the whole flight, I'll get there and the next morning I wake up and I'll just regret. I'm like, I know exactly why this is happening, and I could have avoided it, and I didn't do what I know I should have done to avoid it.

I do think about it a lot, though. Like, if I make it to 75 years old, am I gonna be hunched over and a cane and not able to move that well, or am I gonna be able to beat this thing and stay at it and, you know, stay active, and-and not let it affect me. I mean, are there things that have progressed and that are suited for me today. Maybe this is the thing that gets me to go back. Some of my very close friends have seen me, I've, you know, put on the pounds, lost them, but hey, when you put them on, that's when you get the problems. There was a quote I saw walking into a restaurant the other day. It said one life, one body, treat it right.

I saw that, I was like, whew, praise power to that. As far as the physical aspect of it, I don't want to say this for sure, but if I didn't have to do these things to not be in pain, maybe I would be a couch potato, hanging out on a Saturday afternoon, just not doing much. But today, you know, it's a beautiful day in California. I'm gonna go hiking. I mean, I've taken a different approach to this entire situation. So whether you're in the hospital or going online and doing research or looking at things like this, there are other options out there. There's always more options out there to look at. It doesn't matter how old or young or obese or thin you are, anyone can do it, and just start somewhere.

Did a yoga class this morning, which was a little tricky to get up super early. But, you know, you do it, because after I feel so much better. I know another day, crushed a yoga class. I did the right things by my body. Body's gonna do right by me now.

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