I was in pain for 21 years until I found ‘Bob and Brad’

Living in New York City, I have seen many physical therapists, chiropractors, and acupuncturists. But two hilarious Midwesterners I found online have given me the most helpful advice in two decades.

Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck are physical therapists known simply as “Bob and Brad” and post pain relief videos on YouTube for more than 4 million subscribers. They have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, but I was able to meet them in person after they offered to film some demos.

My co-producer and I drove an hour through the cornfields and wind farms of Minnesota to find his anonymous studio in the town of Winona.

Upon entering, we found two chatty boys who immediately endeared themselves. Schrupp started posting videos 10 years ago when he ran his own practice and wanted to offer patients exercises to follow at home.

“I remember being really surprised because I had blogged at one point and it didn’t get any reads,” Schrupp said of his foray into the Web. “So, I put a video up on YouTube, and within a day it had like 10 views, and I thought that was amazing!”

Heineck, who used to work for Schrupp, joined, and their friendship sets them apart on a platform full of “pain experts.” They can record a video in 10 minutes in one take without a script. Each video begins with an off-key ’80s-style jingle that reads, “Bob and Brad are the most famous physical therapists on the internet,” after which Heineck quickly quantifies, “Only in our opinion, of course.”

They say their goal is to help alleviate suffering. In 2016, people in the US spent more money (an estimated $134.5 billion) on back and neck pain than on 154 other conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and dementia, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“A lot of people don’t have insurance or are in an area where they can’t get to a doctor or therapist,” Heineck said. “And they may just need a little bit of information to point them in the right direction.”

If you live with chronic aches and pains, this activity may provide relief.

Both of them are asked about back pain and sciatica most often, followed by shoulder and knee pain, but I appreciated the video that helps eliminate hand strain for tired texting. For our visit, they filmed a video on sleeping positions for people with nighttime difficulties and then addressed my chronic upper back pain directly.

Over a decade ago, I was diagnosed with kyphosis, a rounding of the upper spine. Lest you think I’m an amateur, I have hundreds of dollars worth of shoulder massagers, massage balls, ice creams, and heat wraps. I have my own transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit, and I’ve even come up with a wrap that mimics someone massaging your shoulders. (Is not the same.)

The advice I wish I had learned a long time ago

First, Schrupp and Heineck asked me to lean back as far as I could, and they quickly noticed that the muscles along the top of my spine didn’t flex or move, they were cement posts. In the video above, they demonstrate how to use a rubber ball called a back pod to loosen those trigger points. I had long relied on small, hard sports balls to do the same thing, but sustained pressure from a wider surface loosened the tension without increasing the pain. For me, the pain always led to tension the next day.

Then came another demo, along with the advice that helped me the most: “One of the things we’re famous for is that we don’t want you to exercise once a day,” Schrupp said. “Thinking you’re going to make a big change by doing something once a day is unlikely. You’re more likely to make a change if you can do it eight times a day or nine times a day and doing it is part of your habit.”

Hodge has a stretching and pulling band near his desk.  She says that she wishes there was more space in the office to stretch out.

Schrupp said this idea isn’t original, and he’s quick to point out how much he talks to other experts, turning these conversations into a podcast.

The first time I saw this advice in action was when I saw Schrupp do chin-ups in a car with a sock rolled up behind his head. He was working on his posture all day.

I underwent physical therapy for years, but I told myself that I had to do all the exercises right when I woke up, which, of course, I often skipped. But doing a few things here and there throughout the day is more doable, Schrupp and Heineck said, and releases more tension.

back from minnesota

I realize that the painful poor posture I have developed over decades will not go away in a few months. But these moments of relief give me hope. Moving around from time to time reminds your body of what it’s supposed to do naturally, while also bringing blood flow and warming up your muscles. I knew I was right when I heard CNN’s Brianna Keilar, who lives with fibromyalgia, offer the same advice.

Visits to my physical therapist are still key, and Schrupp and Heineck agree. It took me a while to find a good therapist. Mine gave me exercises that I had never tried before and pointed out that he had been doing the previous ones with his shoulders too high for too long. I’m not sure I was able to get that information from the internet.

But when I walk out of the therapy office, I have my Reddit channels, yoga routines, and “Bob and Brad” at my fingertips.

“I think a lot of our followers, our subscribers, are active people and they’re looking for education,” Heineck said. “And when you have control over your body in terms of pain control, that’s very powerful.”

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