Meet the man who could bring salvation from back pain

Nic Aldous is a complementary therapist who can’t be easily pigeon-holed. And that, he says, is what makes his methods so successful. Sheena Grant went along to find out more…

As someone who is terrified of the dentist drill I take a precautionary approach to tooth care: if get them checked regularly and look after them properly you’re less likely to have problems. It’s a philosophy osteomyologist Nic Aldous wishes more people would adopt
towards their back health.

“How often do you visit a dentist,” he asks, soon after we meet in his clinic at the Complementary Medicine Centre in Eye. “Every six months, ” I reply. “And when was the last time you had toothache?” It’s a fair point. I don’t think I have ever had toothache. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for my experience with back pain, a situation, I suspect, that will be familiar to many other people. Yet with our sedentary lifestyles, hours spent hunched over desks and computer keyboards or sitting at the wheel of a car our backs are suffering an onslaught every bit as overwhelming as that endured by the enamel on the teeth of your average chocoholic.

Luckily for me, I have found Nic: quite by chance. I was expecting to spend an hour or so interviewing him about the physical therapy of osteomyology but he suggests I should also experience the treatment, both to write about it more authoritatively but also, frankly, because I need it. Ok, I get the occasional twinge and I have to admit, just lately, I’ve been laid up once or twice with back pain that has lasted a few days but I’m not really suffering. That’s not the point, says Nic. A back problem, he tells me, is not the same as back pain. Most people over the age of 16 (and some even younger) have a back problem and it is this that needs to be dealt with, not just the pain that occurs when we push our poor old unloved backs just that bit too far.

“Very few of us manage our backs in the right way”

Nic has been practising physical medicine for the past 15 years. In 2000 he became a Member of the Association of Osteomyologists and has recently been awarded a Fellowship of the Association. Before that he gained extensive knowledge of physical exercise, particularly remedial exercise for back pain sufferers, while pioneering the concept of the modern health club during the 1970’s and 80’s, initially as joint owner of Gym&Trim, Ipswich and sudsequently as owner of The Fitness Habit also in Ipswich. With this background – and his own experiences of being a back pain sufferer – Nic has developed what he believes is a unique method of treating back, neck and shoulder pain, muscle pain and trapped nerves. This method is, he says, especially effective in cases where symptoms include headache, sciatica, leg pain, arm pain ‘pins and needles’ or numbness .

A large part of the treatment programme lies in the use of something called power assisted manipulation to mobilise the muscles in a stiff back. A special handset is taken over the whole spine, moving each vertebral joint and gently restoring movement, reducing inflammation and nerve impingement, while increasing blood supply and restoring normal mobility and function. Nic believes it is the combination of this technique with other physical therapies that makes his method truly unique – and successful. Its speed and effectiveness has, he says, “astonished” patients who have received little benefit from other therapies. While good for acute pain (the state in which clients most often first consult him) he has found his best results are often for people with long-term chronic conditions. Hearing all this, I agree to give the treatment a go (still privately convinced my problems – and the twinge I can feel coming on again at the base of my spine – are really only the result of a lack of adequate exercise and poor muscle tone).

Using a well-worn model of a human spine on his desk Nic attempts to explain to me what goes wrong with most people’s backs. Put simply, it is tension and stiffness which over-stresses the top and bottom of the back, which is where the pain is usually felt. “you often hear people say their back gave way after they sneezed or bent over, ” says Nic. “But this isn’t the real cause of the problem; it is just the last straw for the real back problem, which is stiffness of the whole of the back. I don’t just treat the pain; I treat the cause of the pain which is that the back is really stiff.”

“my scepticism, like my back pain, has vanished”

“There are a few osteomyologists in Suffolk and we all tend to work in slightly different ways but the big thing with all is that we will not focus solely on one form of treatment. “I have developed my own combination of therapies which is fairly unique. I have found more effective and quicker results than other ways of doing it – although that is not to say my method is right and others are wrong. “The only criteria I work by when treating someone is that if I see them twice or three times I know if the treatment is going to work or not going to work for them. If it doesn’t work it is time to either review the diagnosis or the treatment plan. “I like to give clients between three and five treatments and then get them into maintaining a healthy back themselves. If they are sensible they will come back and have the odd treatment to keep them pain-free every few months. “You care for your car by making sure it has enough oil and air in the tyres and go to get it serviced every so often. Once in a while people may need to come in here for the equivalent of a car service.”

Nic’s treatment programme involves a range of therapies including using the energy of the muscle itself to correct imbalances, mobilising joints to improve flexibility and craniosacral therapy to deal with muscle tension. He says the cranial therapies work particularly well with children as they are so gentle. And belief it or not, children too are often in need of help. “Most children over sixteen have bad backs,” says Nic. “In fact, I have recently treated an eleven year old whose back was stiff as a board. From a very young age kids are put in car seats and strapped into position. They are taken to school carrying bags and heavy loads on their spines. “Very few of us manage our backs in the right way”. We’re almost ready for my treatment to begin and Nic looks particularly keen to get started after I reveal my history of horse riding. Not good for backs, apparently. And horsey people are notorious for spending lots of money on getting equine backs checked while ignoring their own. I can vouch for that.

After assessing my posture Nic tells me my hips are unlevel, giving the effect that one leg is fractionally longer than the other. He manoeuvres my left leg and tells me to push against him before checking my hips again. They are, he tells me, now level. He also identifies tension in my shoulders and general stiffness through my spine as problems. He treats this with cranial therapy (highly relaxing) and the power assisted manipulation machine* (not so relaxing) which mobilises my spine. It is no exaggeration to say that almost immediately Nic “adjusted” my hips the twinge I had been feeling in my lower back disappeared and has not (fingers crossed) returned since. I am also noticeably more flexible through my spine. I have to say my scepticism, like my back pain, has vanished.

Now I have the job of maintaining my own back health. It’s going to mean breaking the habits of a lifetime but if the precautionary approach to tooth care works, then maybe it’s time my back got in on the act.

This article was originally published in the East Anglian Daily Times – 5 Sept 2009.

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