The Video and Text That Floored Me

A few days ago, I received a gleeful text and video from a client that just about floored me. The video showed Vinod Weerasinghe, a 19-year old Sri Lankan golfer, practicing his swing and hitting a golf ball 330 yards with a club head speed of 122 MPH (by the way, the average speed/velocity of a tour pro is 113 MPH). Why did that floor me? Eighteen months ago, Vinod was suffering excruciating back pain and facing career-ending disc-fusion surgery when, with some trepidation, I agreed to take him on as a rehab client.

“To think I couldn’t even walk from to the fridge…”

“To think I couldn’t even walk from my room to the fridge in March 2019,” Vinod said in his text. “That swing of 122 MPH is without speed training. Just my strength exercises and ELDOA prescribed by Dan. And of course, Shane’s guidance for the swing.”

Now, people who know me know that I don’t talk publicly about my clients. There are two reasons for that. First, it is a violation of HIPAA regulations governing patient privacy, and second, I consider it a breach of confidentiality and trust.  But I asked Vinod if I could share his story because I think it holds an important lesson about back pain and what it really takes to treat it. I wrote about him in my blog post of November 25, 2019, titled, “No Surgery for This 18-Year Old Golfer.”

I will never forget the day I learned about Vinod. I was sitting in a classroom in Montreal taking a course from the great French osteopath Guy VOYER, when a WhatsApp message from Shane Gillespie, one of the country’s top golf coaches, suddenly popped up on my phone. He asked me to take a look at an MRI of one of his college players and let him know if I thought I could help rehab him. When we spoke, Shane told me that two different orthopedic surgeons had already told Vinod that he needed immediate surgery to fuse his L4-L5 vertebrae. But I had worked with another of Shane’s golfers a few years earlier—curiously enough, also from Sri Lanka—who spent a month in Fort Lauderdale while I rehabbed him from a serious L4-L5 disc pathology. (He went on to represent Sri Lanka in the 2016 Summer Olympics.)

That Sinking Feeling: Can I Do This?

I was gratified by Shane’s confidence in me, but a sinking feeling gripped me after studying the MRI, and I decided to show it to Dr. VOYER. The look on his face did nothing to shore up my confidence. He said we had a 50/50 chance of avoiding surgery. Then my gut started speaking to me—a little voice asking, “Do you really want this pressure again?”  I had just come off a rehab project with one of the world’s greatest golfers that consumed my life and my energies for two-and-a-half years, and, to be honest, I was just plain burned out.  But my passion is for helping people, and the challenge was calling my name. Even though I felt deep-down that Vinod would probably need surgery, I believed that at the very least I could get him stronger and prepare him for the surgery, which would give him a better outcome.  I knew fully well that fusing the spine of an 18-year old wannabe professional golfer would probably end his golf career.  So I agreed to take Vinod as a client, and he packed his bags and took a very painful flight from Memphis, where he attended school, to South Florida. 

I could barely believe my eyes when Vinod walked into my studio, a scrawny 18-year old man-child who didn’t even have enough muscle to support his spine. He literally was crooked in every way: scoliosis, forward head posture, rounded shoulders.  He was in terrible pain, and I remember that he had to make his bed on the floor of his hotel room just to get any sleep. I can recall saying to myself initially, “What the “f” did you get yourself into, Hellman?”  But we got right down to work. 

First Priority: End the Back Pain

On Vinod’s first trip to Fort Lauderdale, our only focus was to get him out of pain. That was it. I told him to forget golf for the time being because we need to decrease the back pain, get the pressure off the nerve and slowly start building muscle.  Besides manual therapy, his initial program was very basic.  It involved some segmental strength-building exercises, but mainly myofascial stretching and a lot, a lot, A LOT of ELDOA

When Vinod and I were saying our goodbyes as he was leaving for the airport, I told him, “Listen, I have no idea which direction this is going to go.  You may still need surgery, but at least you will have some muscle to help you get through the rehab process.”  Little did I know that Vinod is literally the hardest-working client I have ever had.  He followed my program to a T and started noticing benefits in a very short time. 

Hard Work Pays Off

Vinod flew to Fort Lauderdale three more times. I would update his programs by manually working on him and adjusting his program on the fly depending on what I had to work with.  It was amazing how hard he worked.  He never missed a day.  I only gave him Sundays off, and he stuck to the plan like a seasoned veteran.  Soon he was back seeing his swing coach, Shane, again—and I thank God for Shane and his deep appreciation for body mechanics, injury risks and proper conditioning.  Shane is one of the best swing coaches I have ever worked with, and we worked as a team to change Vinod’s swing to protect his back. 

My Bright Red Line: No Speed Training and No Weights

The last time I saw Vinod was January of this year. He rarely, if ever, has any back pain or other symptoms any more, and he has stuck to his program religiously.  Vinod was one of the first athletes who totally bought into the fact that it is in the immediate post-workout, post-golf and post-practice period that you have the opportune time to remodel the body. This is when myofascial stretching and ELDOA turn into the greatest longevity tools on the planet.  The program he took with him when he left my studio for the last time was more golf-specific, but it differed from most programs in one crucial way: I told him to never train for speed.  I wanted him to stay away from heavy weights and definitely never do any type of plyometric or speed training.

It’s All About the Client

I have kept up with Vinod since our last meeting and knew he was doing well, but I had no idea how well until he surprised me with that video and those triumphant words.

Vinod is the kind of client who reminds a therapist like me of why I chose this profession—diligent, courageous, hard-working and unfailingly pleasant. It was a great day when I agreed to take him on as a client. 

It is a wonderful feeling to help a person in a time of need. Thank you, Vinod, for being such a great client and for reminding me why I chose this career path.  I wish you all the success you deserve—and that’s a lot.

Golf physical therapy at H3 by Dan Hellman
Dan Hellman and Sri Lankan golfer Vinod Weerasinghe

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