Photography by Eduardo Montes-Bradley

“I’m not getting surgery and I don’t need another guru,” I was thinking to myself. “But my back is broken and it’s not gonna get better by itself.”

I was injured during aikido training in Fukuoka, Japan. Years of practice had gotten my body to its peak level of performance, and there I was at 23 with a medical diagnosis for a traumatic pars fracture and a recommendation for spinal fusion surgery.

My alternatives? The doctor didn’t give me any. I was in a foreign country on a limited budget. I knew deep down inside that I was too young to have a fused spine and that there was no way I’d ever compete at the same level again if I agreed to the surgery, which promised me less range of motion and more pain. The prospect of a year of post-operative physical therapy or speculative alternative treatments didn’t inspire me either.

But my back hurt. A lot. I couldn’t train; I could barely get to work. I needed somebody I could trust who understood the problem medically and knew how to make it better without cutting me open and soldering my spine together. The problem was I didn’t know anyone like that…


Photo: Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

Robin Truxel, owner of truPilates Studio

Diagnosis: torn plantar fascia

As a physical therapist and a Pilates instructor, I’ve spent a long time studying and understanding the body, so if a practitioner gives me a run of the mill, standard treatment, I’m not generally impressed.

I tore my plantar fascia during marathon training about five years ago. The race was in Death Valley and I’d already paid for the registration fee and the plane tickets. I had a weekend in Las Vegas planned for after the race and friends from California coming to meet me, so I just told myself to push through the pain. Plus, I was 32 and thought I was invincible.


Photo: Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

If you do six treatments with someone and it’s not getting better, then you need to find something different.

I still remember the injury like it was yesterday. I was doing two-mile repeats on Grady Avenue. I felt something in my heel tear. It wasn’t the worst pain I’d felt by any means, more of a strange sensation, but it was enough to make me slow down for the rest of the workout. The next day I felt better so I kept going.

I ended up powering through a serious injury. Needless to say I ran a very slow and painful marathon. When I got home, I was pretty wrecked. I thought I could take a week off and return to normal training but ended up being unable to run for eight frustratingly long months.

I knew Sam from the wellness community, and he’d treated me for some smaller issues before. We worked for a couple of months on my foot, solving each problem as it surfaced, tracking the injury back through my arch and my achilles, up through the knee and upper leg into the pelvis. After I healed, I ran the fastest marathon of my life (3:37) and qualified for Boston.

What I like about Sam is he’s not the kind of person who gets his training and stops learning. He’s always striving to be better, researching and pushing himself and he’s also open and honest. If you do six treatments with someone and it’s not getting better, then you need to find something different.



Photo: Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

Gordon Emery, owner of Charlottesville Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Diagnosis: lateral epicondylitis and elbow locking

I was training jiu-jitsu with a friend a few years ago and got caught in arm lock that was so fast I couldn’t tap out. The result was a loud crack and a lot of pain in my elbow. My body and its performance are very important to my job, teaching jiu-jitsu on a daily basis. I need to keep healthy and be able to do this for a long time.

I’ve had a great masseuse for six years and she did some reiki on it. When I left her studio it would feel good, but it would swell up anytime I put stress on it. I had another chiropractor work on it and that didn’t seem to help either. To be honest, I was really skeptical of chiropractors. You’ll go see them and they’ll tell you to come in twice a week for the rest of your life.

Photo: Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

 Jiu-jitsu is a game about solving problems, physically and mentally. You have to adapt to protect yourself. The mind and body are as resilient as you believe them to be.

Injuries are a part of every sport and martial art. When you experience an injury, it can be devastating. Jiu-jitsu is a game about solving problems, physically and mentally. You have to adapt to protect yourself. The mind and body are as resilient as you believe them to be. With the right mind frame and methods you can heal.

Sam is one of my students and when he noticed my injury he offered to look at it. All I really knew at the time was that after training the whole elbow would swell up to the point that I had no range of motion. He started out by scraping the scar tissue with the Graston technique and then he would use active release technique on the muscles in the joint. I would go away with the range of motion back and it would feel good enough that I’d train afterward, but then it would swell up again. We were determined to figure out the problem.

Sam worked out a series of exercises for me and the elbow got better. He figured out a way to press in on the radial bone as I rotated it that worked the joint back into shape. I watched Sam to see what he was doing, so I could replicate it on my own. I’ve always been a good healer but I’ve a few injuries in my life that I knew I couldn’t get past without help.

A tattoo can affect physical, psychological, and spiritual change in the person who endured it.I got the tattoo I have on my forearm after the elbow healed. It’s a Polynesian design and a reminder of what it means to be a warrior. Healing is always part of that story.


Photo: Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

Vanessa Schnable, director of personal training and group exercise at acac Fitness and Wellness Centers

Diagnosis: low back pain, sciatica, knee tendonitis

After my pregnancy, my pelvis was twisted and I had bad sciatica. I run 15 miles a week on average and teach up to 10 different classes, everything from kettlebells to water aerobics. Because I’m so active, when one thing breaks down, another thing will break down.

The first time I saw him, I realized it was a lot more than just an adjustment because of the conversation we ended up having. He knows what I do for work and he understands the stress levels of being a mother. He is very good at researching and giving you exercises to do at home. You’re not just going in there and getting your back cracked. I had tendonitis in my knee for a little bit but he fixed that in like three visits, whereas I know people who have taken the steroids and done all that stuff for a similar injury. These days I joke that Sam’s my primary care doctor because he’s the only one I’ll make time to go see.

Photo: Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

When you work with Sam, you’re learning ways to prevent injuries and heal them. You become more aware of how your body works.

In my job, I come into contact with a lot of people who are committed athletes. What I’ve noticed is that people who work with their bodies think they’re invincible. It’s a no pain/no gain type of thing. We’re always trying to push through the pain and doing the same kinds of things over and over again. If you modify incorrectly, you end up hurting yourself. I’m guilty of it. I just never want to stop what I’m doing. When you work with Sam, you’re learning ways to prevent injuries and heal them. You become more aware of how your body works.


Photo: Kristen Finn.

Dr. Samuel S. Spillman, owner of Balanced Chiropractic and Physical Therapy

Diagnosis: traumatic pars fracture

A friend of mine in the aikido dojo recommended that I go see a doctor who served as the chiropractor for Japan’s women’s judo team. I didn’t know anything about chiropractors at the time except that they were back specialists. The office was clean and clinical and so was the doctor. What I remember most is that he asked me a hundred questions, most of which had nothing to do with my back.

Before I left, he told me I wasn’t sleeping enough or eating well and that I had to do that better if I wanted to heal. He worked on my back, gave me exercises to practice, and a list of positions to avoid. I was back on the mat in a week. A light bulb came on.

I came home from Japan six months later and I have spent the rest of my life training as a chiropractic doctor and martial artist. I’ve learned a lot since I started my practice, but the most important thing grew out of my first visit to a chiropractic doctor: You have to ask a lot of questions to get to the bottom of physical injury, because injuries are often the result of a lifetime of experiences and habits.

Throughout our lives we ask different things of our bodies, whether it’s pushing ourselves to the limit of our capacities as athletes, prioritizing our health as parents so we can care for our children, or managing our bodies as we age. A serious unexpected injury can come our way at any time.

I’ve designed my practice at Balanced Chiropractic and Physical Therapy around the idea that trust is the first step on the road to healing. When you have have a problem you can’t solve on your own, I want to be the person you call.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Sam Spillman and Balanced Chiropractic and Physical Therapy.