8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot
Esther Gokhale runs a wellness center in Palo Alto, California, where she has been teaching her method for over fifteen years. Her book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back is an attempt to instruct the techniques in the Gokhale method taught at her wellness center. This is done through the use of photographs and descriptions, what she refers to as the Gokhale Method 101.
Ms. Gokhale herself suffered from back pain at various times in her life, experiencing several types of treatment including surgery. Her dissatisfaction with the outcome led her to consider alternative approaches to the treatment of back pain.
Ms. Gokhale was inspired by her travels to countries where back pain is essentially non-existent despite the fact that people may be sedentary, overweight, or old. She believes that these cultures have retained a posture that protects the body from back pain. She also believes that in America, our failure to maintain a protective posture is due to the breakdown of inter-generational teaching of good posture, as well as the influence of the fashion industry and clothing styles.
The book begins with an introduction to explain her approach to treating back pain. Interspersed with the text are numerous, sometimes distracting, testimonials from people who have benefited from her method. The book is 8.5-inch x 11-inch format and includes photographs throughout which are both interesting to look at and illustrative of the narrative.
Her method consists of eight lessons, each having its own chapter. Each lesson has three sections, an introduction, instructions with accompanying pictures of what to do and what not to do, and a discussion of signs of improvement or troubleshooting. She guides the reader through a process of intellectually understanding the exercise first, seeing the exercise with a guide—in this case the book—and then ultimately feeling the movements unconsciously. This is not an exercise program but a method of regaining what Ms. Gokhale believes is proper posture by incorporating the movements into the activities of everyday living. She describes many benefits including eradicating back and neck pain, improving how one deals with stress, reducing muscle and joint pains, preventing muscle and joint degeneration, increasing energy, preventing osteoporosis, and gaining up to an inch in height among others.
A supplementary exercise program is advised, since correcting posture alone will not provide the core muscle strength or cardiovascular benefits felt to be necessary for good health.
This reviewer found some of the lessons easy to understand and perform, while others were more difficult. They are not intuitive in the sense that exercises such as sit-ups or pushups would be. There is a learning curve involved, and the reader should expect to try some of the lessons several times before they begin to feel natural.
The one negative outcome the author describes is that as a result of the change in posture, clothes may not fit the same as they did prior to developing the new posture.
No special equipment is required although Ms. Gokhale does sell a chair cushion to make the exercises easier to perform.
As a pain physician, I have seen many patients with back pain, and there are numerous treatments to be offered since often we do not know the cause of back pain—thus we cannot always predict effective treatment. People receive surgeries, injections, physical therapy, and medications. Many patients who suffer from back pain become frustrated with the failure of the treatments to help, and even the possibility that some treatments will make the pain worse. Billions of dollars are spent each year on the millions of Americans suffering from back pain.
Whether Ms. Gokhale’s hypothesis that back pain is the result of poor posture is correct is not likely to be proven. The appeal of her program is that it is incorporated into daily living and thus does not require taking time out from a busy day to perform the exercises. The program is non-invasive and unlikely to do any harm.
It is empowering for the patient to be in control of the treatment, especially since benefits are expected to manifest very early. The Gokhale method will appeal particularly to those who are unsatisfied by traditional medical practices. Still, it requires a dedication to learning the techniques and remembering to use them.
Patients suffering from severe back pain should first see a physician to make sure there is not a serious problem such as a fracture or infection causing the pain, in which case the treatment would be best handled by a physician. The author suggests that anyone with a herniated low back disc should use the book’s lessons with the guidance of a medical professional.
Esther Gokhale provides additional resources including optional exercises, some basic anatomy diagrams, a glossary, a short bibliography, an index, and a section with a brief summary of the eight lessons. Additionally she offers a free audio guide download. She provides a website for her wellness center as well as an email address.