Strength Reclaimed: Dara Strader’s Journey out of Chronic Pain

Dr. Rita Roy: Hi, everyone. My name is Dr. Rita Roy, CEO at the National Spine Health Foundation, and I’m your host for the Get Back to It podcast, where we tell real stories of healing and recovery. What does it mean to get back to it? It means overcoming spinal conditions through treatments that work in order to return to the people and activities you love, whatever that looks like for you.

It means getting back to your life. We’re here to share the success stories of those who did just that. And some of these stories, you’re not going to believe

at the get back to it podcast. Our goal is to tell stories of spinal champions who’ve been able to achieve a better quality of life through spinal health care In today’s episode i’m delighted to be speaking with Naz Kabbani From the United Kingdom who played soccer at an extremely competitive level, beginning at the early age of six years old and began having back issues throughout his soccer career.

As a result of working with athletic trainers, he was able to manage his back pain. And continue playing soccer. Currently, he works at a tech investment firm and enjoys playing soccer twice a week. He uses the tools given to him as a young boy by his athletic trainers, whenever the symptoms would show up.

Now that you know what to expect, let’s get back to it and dive right into Naz’s story.

Naz began playing soccer at a competitive level when he was six. His back problems began when he started rapidly growing around 11 years old. 

Naz Kabbani: Yeah. Um, my back problems persisted throughout my childhood for a couple of reasons, actually. Um, one was that I found out that I had flat feet, um, through kind of seeing athletic trainers and them diagnosing it.

And this caused my hips to rotate slightly inwards, um, leading to knots and extreme tightness in the lower back, especially in certain areas. And the second one was I had one leg a few centimeters longer than the other, um, which caused further stress on certain areas in the lower back. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Naz worked consistently and routinely with his athletic trainers to work on injury prevention.

Naz Kabbani: Yeah, exactly. Um, they helped me, uh, both incorporate strength and core training, um, whilst also if I did get injured, help with reactive treatments, uh, such as ultrasound and soft tissue therapy to help. Okay. of remedy the injuries when they did occur. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Generally, Nas wouNazstruggle to play consistently without having at least one to two month long injuries per season.

So Naz, talk to me a little bit about what it was like to have those one to two month long stretches of feeling injured. Um, and how, how did that impact your life and how did you manage that? 

Naz Kabbani: Um, yeah, so great question. Um, and I think the first Kind of part, which is obvious, is the psychological aspect. Um, you know, you have to imagine, I’m obsessed with soccer.

I love playing it at all times. And being on the sidelines when I was a young boy, um, you know, 13 years old, maybe at the time, or like consistently throughout my childhood. It was tough to just watch all my friends be playing on the field and me having to sit out through injury. And it was really stressful at the time because you felt kind of out of control of your body.

Uh, you didn’t feel, you didn’t feel in control of your body at all. And so definitely the first part was psychological. And then also it was, it was, uh, physical as well. Because, um, you know, you’re injured for a month at a time, for example. And then it takes effort. To it takes a lot of work to get back to the place where you were at before you got injured in terms of fitness and You know, maybe your place in the starting 11 On the field is been taken by someone else and so then you have to work to compete to get back into that spot So it did kind of take a lot of toll like physically and emotionally.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, that that’s incredible We talk a lot about how having you know, back or neck pain Sidelines what you want to do and you literally Put on the sidelines of, of your game from your pain and that, that is, I, it’s interesting how you mentioned the psychological component because we do talk so much about that, that there’s, there’s a four times the higher incidence of, of depression with people who suffer with chronic low back pain because of these very issues of just literally not being in the game and, um, yeah, that’s hard because you do lose your And then you’ve got to get back to that level of fitness before you get back in to the game and in a competitive sport, you’ve got to earn your spot back.

And that’s, that’s tough stuff to have to go through as a kid. And, and Naz, you manage that and you ended up playing at the collegiate level. That’s pretty amazing. What was, what was that like getting to play in college? How did you, how did you get there? How did that work out? And how did you stay in the game, um, throughout your college years?

No, I, and I know you went to college in the United States and now you’re not with your familiar trainers who’ve. You know taught you the tools. Can you explain how that worked for you? 

Naz Kabbani: Yeah, definitely. I think college was also a time where my body was maturing as well So whilst I was used to my body and the way it was growing Up until the age of 18.

I think college also represented a transition in myself and my physical You know my physical being and so, um It was difficult first, um, kind of not being around my trainers and not asking them for advice, uh, when I needed it. Um, however, I do think that the trainers at UChicago really helped a lot with both the psychological and the physical part of it because the college season is really also really intense and there’s a lot of like as you know, there’s basically a lot of Uh, games in a short time frame, which puts a lot of pressure on muscles on, on the back.

And, um, so having a trainer there such as Bobby, who was my trainer back then, shout out to Bobby. Um, he did a really amazing job kind of nurturing the psychological and the emotional aspect to get me back out on the field. Because that’s ultimately where I was going to help the team win. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Right. That’s amazing.

So going back into your history a little bit, Naz, when you discovered that one leg was slightly longer than the other, how did, how did, how did your doctors make that discovery? How was that? Or was it your doctors who figured that out? Was it a coach or 

Naz Kabbani: how? Yeah. So I think, um, when, when I did get these injuries that, you know, they would try my, my physiotherapist primarily, because they, they worked with the team that I was a part of and playing with.

And so I’d go in, um, to kind of understand, okay, what’s causing the injury, what can we do to prevent it in the future? And so they do kind of standard tests to see, like, you know, What parts of the body are functioning as they should and what parts of the body are functioning as they are not functioning correctly.

And so they do these tests and then they found out that when they like extended my leg, both my legs, as long as they could go, one leg was a few centimeters, like it was noticeable that one foot was in front of the other. And so, uh, they, and luckily these people are very experienced in dealing with similar problems that soccer players have.

Um, and they’d seen it before, and so this was something that they knew caused issues in the lower back and also in the hips. And so they were able to kind of assess and then, you know, give me treatments that were relative to my injury and not, like, just any generic one. And so that really helped promote the speed of recovery and also helped it to, like, lower the damage in the future if it did happen.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, I love how you’re sharing with us that you had a personalized treatment plan for you and that’s something we talk a lot about at the foundation that there are no cookie cutter approaches to spine care, to keeping your back healthy and it’s a chain, right? So. The backbones connected to the hip bones connected to the knee bone connected to the ankle bone.

Like it’s it’s one long chain and You know, it’s it’s amazing that you learned that at an early age Because it in some ways it kind of sets you up for a lifelong of of health and wellness and thinking about You know keeping your body strong and healthy whether you’re playing soccer Competitively or you’re just enjoying life and and the things you like to do in life so so that Personalized plan for you, Naz.

Do you remember, um, what some of the tips and tricks and part of that plan was like and, and how many years did that go on for you? 

Naz Kabbani: Yeah, that’s a great question. Um, so specifically the number of years I’d say I’ve been kind of, I’ve had a personalized plan to keep me from. Getting injured for the past 10 years and how old are you now?

I am 23 right now 

Dr. Rita Roy: So more than almost half of 

Naz Kabbani: your life, yeah, exactly I mean all these problems originally started when I began growing And so, you know if I wanted to push myself and my body to the limits and so it needed a kind of a personalized plan to help me but I’d say one thing that I I could control was just my persistence and to stick with the plan.

So obviously there would be injuries and there would be setbacks. But I do think that kind of staying, you know, listening to the experts and like understanding that, you know, it may not be, you may not see like the immediate improvements in the, like the next few months. However, over the years, if you keep on persisting with the right exercises and the right preventative measures, It does actually compound and and result in a really nice effect, which, you know, luckily I’m bearing the bearing the fruits of my labor.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, but that’s just such a level of maturity that you have to learn at a young age because You know what, what you’re saying, you know, it’s sort of like you put a penny in the bank every day and, and then you build, you know, you built that annuity and it’s like that with healthcare, it’s, you don’t see immediate results.

We live in a culture that wants immediate results. We want to see the immediate, you know, result of our, of our action and. That’s not how health is, right? That’s not how our bodies are. And kids just don’t necessarily have the patience to, to say, why, you know, why am I doing this? This isn’t helping anyway, right?

Naz Kabbani: Yeah, exactly. And I think, I think one thing to add there is, um, whilst I may demonstrate Patience and perseverance. Now it’s also really difficult and I definitely there were times where I did get injured because I didn’t follow the core and strength training advice because I was a young kid and no young kid.

I mean, me personally, I didn’t like doing all these exercises. I just wanted to get out on the field and play. And so, you know, the times where I didn’t and, you know, didn’t follow through with what I was meant to be doing in like a pre match routine to get my muscles ready, it cost me. And, you know, I learned over time through mistakes that, okay, I just need to stick to it and stay disciplined and then I’ll enjoy getting out on the field and playing.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, that’s such a metaphor for life. I mean, you think about here’s a young kid that knows he has to do something and it’s been told to do it and I don’t want to do it. And that’s not just young kids. I mean, I’m not a young kid. And I know that if I want to go out and play tennis. I’ve got to take care.

I’ve got to stretch. I’ve got to roll. I’ve got to do all the things so that I don’t get injured and I can keep doing it. And even at my age, so I think at all ages, that’s something that’s a lesson to learn. When you’re younger, you come back faster. So, you know, I’m dealing with it. Knee pain thing now, and I know it’s because I didn’t stretch and it’s taking longer to get better, but if you can learn those lessons earlier in life and stick with it, um, the consistency of the training keeps you, keeps you in shape.

You know, I think, um, uh, your story is so important, um, because so many people think that. Oh, if they go see a doctor or, or a physio or physical therapist, um, they’re going to tell them that they’re going to need surgery on their back. And at least in the United States, surgeons who we work with will tell us, and you can hear this and learn about this on our, our website and in our educational materials, is that 80 percent of the time when people have back pain, They do not need surgery or invasive intervention.

Nazs, what, what were some of the other, you mentioned, um, some of the other things that you did ultrasound therapy. Can you, can you tell us about some of those other sort of non-invasive treatments that you’ve, you’ve had? 

Naz Kabbani: Yeah, um, definitely I think, uh, to the point about the non-invasive. Um, I tend to not like people opening up my body and, and shifting things around.

Um, maybe it’s just me personally, but yeah, I just prefer to kind of heal in a natural way. And I think I’ve made that clear to. My physiotherapists and medical professionals at the time that this was, this was, this was how it was going to happen. And so, in terms of specific, um, treatments, the ultrasound therapy starting with that one, from what I was told, and I’m obviously no expert, but it helped break down the tissue, um, around the bone.

Uh, and I think a lot of problems were in my hips. At the time, which was causing stress on my back. So the idea was that by releasing some tension around the bone in the hips, um, this would also release some tension in the back. And this definitely helped, um, along with kind of complementing it with other.

strength training, and then also soft tissue therapy, which helped get to points like stress, specifically stress points in the back that would just help release a lot of tension in those areas. And I think it was a combination of both the soft tissue therapy and the, uh, even like they used to give me, um, A small ball, like almost like a lacrosse ball, and I just have to roll on it for like half an hour just to like get those like little knots in the back that are really stressful, like they’re really like literally you could feel the tightness when you like put your finger on it.

And so I think those a combination of those factors just help over time, correct the you know the correct the posture and then correct the injury basically. 

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. And what was the soft tissue therapy? Was it like massage therapies, which we call manual therapy? It’s, it’s literally just getting in there and massaging and deep tissue massage, 

Naz Kabbani: right?

Yeah, those, those were some tough, like I had to like hold the edge of the side of the bed, um, just to like actually bear it. Because sometimes you had to, there was no other choice but to stick your elbow, uh, and like. Just literally put your elbow, like they’d put their elbow on, on the, I don’t know if this is too much information, but they put your elbow on like the tightness and then like put that pressure on it and this would release it, but it would also be like really, really painful at a time because like these, these knots did not want to get loose.

Uh, and so they’d been building up for, you know, eight, nine months out of the year, uh, with no one really kind of like, I’d stretch, but you can’t, like, you can’t replace, it’s not something that you can just stretch away. And so it, there was, whilst like those half an hour periods every couple of days were, were very useful, they were also very painful 

Dr. Rita Roy: as well.

Yeah, gosh. Nowadays, they have a technique called dry needling. And the dry needling is, is a technique that uses almost like an acupuncture needle that can go into the belly of a muscle and, and cause it to release. Have you ever had dry 

Naz Kabbani: needling? Yeah, I’ve honestly, um, tried everything under the sun apart from surgery.

Uh, and so, yeah, I did do, I actually did dry needling in college. Um, for the reason that I highlighted before, which was the games were really. Compact every couple of days and it did cause muscles to get tighter. A lot quicker than they usually do because I’m used to having kind of, uh, to playing like scrimmages every week or so, but in college, this is like compacted to every couple of days.

And so my muscles would get tight and then, um, I’d have to do dry needling to kind of release the tension. And this was kind of a lot, a much quicker way of. Um, having someone instead of having someone kind of dig their elbow into the top of your thigh or 

Dr. Rita Roy: back. Yeah, that’s amazing. So, so Naz, so now, um, you’re out of college and you don’t have the built in team, physio and athletic trainers around you.

But, um, you know, playing soccer has been a lifelong passion of yours. So now you’re participating in an adult league just for fun and doing that a couple times a week. How are you feeling and how are you doing? 

Naz Kabbani: Yeah, honestly, I’m feeling really good. Um, I think over the years, um, through a lot of mistakes and a lot of successful periods, I’ve just found A lot more about myself and my body and you know what I can do and what I can’t do and what I should be doing before actually playing and so I’m able to kind of basically not need a trainer to tell me how to like, you know, prevent injuries and then also if I do feel something in the Like in the back or anything, anything elsewhere just to, um, you know, recover in a natural way and continue with this core and strength exercises that have served me well in the past.

I think that’s the point that I’ve gotten to right now. Um, touch wood, nothing, nothing serious ever happens, but, um, especially with muscle related injuries, I feel confident enough to. You know, not need to ask for anyone’s help when I’m dealing with an injury that I’ve had before. Obviously, new injuries, um, are different, but yeah, that’s the point that I’ve gotten to right now.

And it’s actually really satisfying, kind of understanding my own body. And then also just being able to play and, you know, do the necessary things before the scrimmage to actually go and enjoy myself. 

Dr. Rita Roy: And enjoy it. That’s wonderful. You know, our doctors on our, on our board and, and those who we work with will typically advise with a musculoskeletal type pain that, you know, you give it two weeks, right?

You give it two weeks, you rest, you know, what is it? Rice, rest, ice, compression, elevation. If it’s a joint, if it’s your back, you know, you sort of, you rest it, you take some over the counter, um, non steroidal anti inflammatory medications and just see if that rest gets it better. But two weeks is kind of the sort of benchmark of where, um, I’m not getting better.

There could be something here. And so the recommendation is typically like If in two weeks, you’re not seeing progress or improvement, then you may need to get some someone to take a look at what’s going on there. So that’s, that’s something that we, we usually talk about. And then the other thing I was going to say is that, you know, the treatments, the noninvasive treatments for, back pain are so good now.

The innovations that have occurred in spinal health care are really just revolutionizing how we can treat and manage, um, pain. And that, that’s a very exciting place to be. And it’s a very exciting future. A hundred million Americans suffer from Spine conditions every year. That’s a lot of people. It’s one in three people.

So how do we help people stay out of trouble? And if they have pain, how do they get get out of pain? And if what can they do to prevent pain your story highlights how important it is to learn what your body needs To stay out of injury and to stay in the game and and I love that and again You know so much of the time surgical intervention is not Necessary or required, but I think the good news about spine surgery is that modern spinal surgery has come so far in the last 15 years, you know, minimally invasive techniques.

Robotic surgery is getting people in and out faster and better. And so if there is structurally. A condition that’s damaging nerves. That’s typically when, you know, the only thing that can fix that is going in and repairing the bone. And so the surgeries that are available now in the hands of a qualified, expertly trained surgeon.

are, are really, really good outcomes and it’s good news for patients. But, but again, 80 percent of the time it’s non operative care. And so our job at the National Spine Health Foundation is to encourage people to think about prevention, learning what their specific body needs are, and then. Just do it, right?

Just just doing it. So we appreciate you telling us your story and sharing it with us. 

Naz Kabbani: Yeah, no, I think rights has been drilled into me from a very early age. Okay. Um, yeah, everyone’s different. I’m lucky enough to not have needed surgery that to this point in my life. But yeah, definitely can see why it would be needed for some people.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. And that’s it. We’re here to give people hope and knowledge to say that, you know, if it does come to that, we have advocates that you can talk to about what it’s like to go through a spine surgery and that, um, it’s going to be okay, you know, you’re going to get through it. And our bodies are.

Miracles, right? It’s just our bodies can heal. And that’s such a miracle. And we again, I just I’m so grateful that you’ve spent the time with me today to share your story and to give other people hope and inspiration that just you just got to figure out what you need to do to stay in the game of life.

And so, Naz, I hope that you get to play soccer for the rest of your life. And, um, and thank you again, congratulations and all your good work and your collegiate soccer career and, um, and now your, your new young life. You got lots, lots ahead of you, lots to look forward to. It’s been a real pleasure and honor to meet you.

Naz Kabbani: Thank you so much, Dr. Rory for hosting this. It’s been a pleasure to meet you. And it’s great to find the National Spinal Health Foundation and all the resources they have to offer online. And. Um, yeah, happy to share my story with. At

Dr. Rita Roy: the National Spine Health Foundation, something we believe in most is providing hope for recovery through sharing stories of success and expertise. It isn’t always easy to find someone to relate to, even though 100 million adults suffer from neck or low back pain. Pain each year. To hear more stories of spinal champion recovery and access educational materials about spine health, visit

If you’re interested in supporting our show financially, you can contribute at the link provided. Thank you for listening.


In this month’s episode, Dara Strader, a wife, mom, and grandmother, whose back issues began when she was injured at her job over 40 years ago. Dara has had low back pain for most of her adult life and was eventually diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and ultimately, a herniated disk. After years of pain management treatment, surgery ultimately relieved her of her pain and she’s now enjoying her exercise classes at the local YMCA 9 months later.