Take care of yourself

Five or six years ago, my back went out.

I’d had occasional issues with it in the past, where it would be sore, or tweak a bit and I’d maybe need to pop a couple of Advil and an ice pack or heating pack and take it easy for a while. The soreness may sometimes have lasted a day or two.

But this was entirely different. This was disabling, bringing me to tears from worse pain that I’d ever felt before and having to take mincing steps as I hobbled around the house, unable to go anywhere without bracing my hands or arms against something.

The transitions were the worst part. As bad as it was doing any one thing–standing, sitting, walking, lying down–even worse was getting from one of those stages to the other.

Jackie, my wife, got me to a chiropractor our friend recommended. As a side note, chiropractors have taken a lot of shit over the years for how legitimate a medical practice it is. I’d heard enough about the topic that I wasn’t sure what to think going in, but the ol’ “any port in a storm” situation was here in a big, bad way. And I’ll tell you this: I couldn’t walk under my own power going into the chiropractor’s office, and I could–if just barely–coming out of it, after that one visit.
I’m not going to wade into the debate over it, but suffice to say I couldn’t be sure I was a skeptic going in, but I was certainly on the fence about whether or not a chiropractor could help. But after just that first appointment, I was sold.

I saw her over a couple of years, the appointments gradually easing off from a few a week to two and then finally one. Then Jackie’s knee went out, and she had to start seeing a physiotherapist for it. She’s a teacher, and they have pretty fantastic health coverage, but my chiropractor and her physiotherapist combined was proving too much for even that coverage, so we started paying out of pocket for it, which isn’t cheap. Given that, and that my back had been fine for some time by that point, I stopped seeing the chiropractor so that Jackie’s treatments could take precedence.

Then cut to a couple of weekends ago. I was sitting in the recliner in the living room, stood up, and was immediately hit by my back going out again.

It wasn’t as bad as it was years ago, but it was a similar situation: Couldn’t get around without holding onto things, painful to do anything but more painful to transfer from one position into another to sit or lie down or stand up, etc.

It eased off enough that I could get around less painfully, but I still called my doctor for an appointment and saw him the next day after work, which I managed carefully. He concluded that while I hadn’t herniated any spine discs (good to hear, being an option I hadn’t considered), my the lower three discs had “mechanically misaligned” and turned to the right. From the base of my skull, my spine went straight down to my lower back, where it veered in a curve to the right, then back into my tailbone. Which would explain both the pain and my higher left shoulder when I stood still: I literally couldn’t stand up straight, and the left side of my torso was tightened up to compensate for the right side being screwed.

He said what would have to happen is that those discs would have to straighten out again, and then the muscles around them (traumatized, of course) would need to heal and get back to normal. And only then, he said in response to my question, could they be strengthened.

But here’s the catch: He said that yes, I could stand to lose some weight, and yes, building up core strength is a good idea, but that doing so even extensively may not prevent this from happening again. He has a friend whose back suddenly went out thirty years ago. Once he healed, he began working on his core strength intensely, and he still does. But despite that, every five or six years, his back goes out again. The way it was explained to me was that there are simply some people who have backs that go out, and that no matter what you do to condition yourself to change that, it’s still going to happen.

I’m still determined to make a lifestyle change from this, mind you. I’m already actively working on losing weight (loooong overdue), and I’ve sworn to Jackie–who of course is having to work overtime at home to offset all the work (and anything involving bending) that I can’t do–that I will start working on strengthening my core as well. No, all of that may not prevent my back going out around 2024 (give or take), but it should happen anyway, and hopefully will at least help me recover faster if/when it does.

All of which is to say: Take care of yourself. I’m… how to put it delicately… no shining example of the way a person should eat or exercise *ahem*, but I’m finally going to start doing something about it. And I fully realize that I should’ve been doing so for my entire life, I’m just more a sedentary/snacky creature than an active conscientious eater, and that’s dominated a ton of choices made over the decades. But I’ve got to change that, for myself as a whole and for incidents like putting my back out less badly/hopefully less often, to say nothing about being a better example for my daughter.

A couple of quick notes in conclusion: 1) My discs straightened themselves out on their own later the day I saw my doctor so I’m already into the unclenching/healing the surrounding muscles, 2) he puts GPs, physiotherapists and chiropractors on the same level of competence and usefulness to treat this kind of issue (so don’t just blindly go with the anti-chiropractor movement; keep your mind open and try things, because you never know what may work for you), and 3) I learned the hard way that despite how good my back will eventually feel again, I should keep seeing the chiropractor, even if it’s only something like once a month. Maybe doing so would have avoided this ever happening again. An ounce of prevention, and all that.

I’m finally getting the signals loud and clear, body. And I’m finally going to start acting on them.