Zak’s story

Story · 2 min read · 24 Jan 2023

Zak’s story

Hear Zak’s experience of back pain, how he busted key myths and learnt skills to relax, meditate and move freely again

By Prof Helen Slater

Zak is 21, works as an electrician, and plays competitive volleyball.

Zak had experienced back pain for quite a while. He had scans on his back, saw the report and the words ‘degeneration’…”Just actually seeing the physical image…and then sports doctors and physios telling me, yeah, that won’t improve and you just gotta manage it. And I really didn’t like hearing the word ‘manage’.”

“I thought I was pretty injured when I got scans of my lower back.”


Zak was convinced he “…wasn’t gonna be recovering from this and I just didn’t really see a way of how this was gonna improve and I didn’t really know what to think at the time.”

He went down an unhelpful path, believing that the back scans meant his back pain would be permanent, and that he needed to look for a career change and stop playing volleyball.

He isolated himself from his mates. “I didn’t see them that much, which was not that good.”

He thought the right thing to do was to protect his spine. “I would definitely sort restrict some of my movements.” Sometimes he didn’t even realize he was doing it: “It was just my body sort of reacting to things.”

Zak was referred to a Specialist Physiotherapist who “…engaged with me quite a lot, showing me my scans and of reassuring me that I’m not permanently injured.” Understanding that the scans did not mean permanent damage and that it was safe to move was the key to his recovery.

With support, Zak slowly built up to doing new things, strengthening in the gym and gaining confidence in his body. He learnt ways to relax his body using mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises that lowered his body’s anxiety towards pain.

“The best your body can be is free moving.” Zak continues to work as an electrician and play volleyball.