I’ve often thought it good for a practitioner of any health discipline to experience to some degree or another what their practice members experience in terms of injuries/health concerns – with limitations, of course. I wouldn’t wish a heart attack on a cardiologist or cancer on an oncologist. However, navigating what our practice members navigate can be both eye opening when using allopathic medicine, and helps us to generate true empathy when we think of NMSK issues like lower back pain.

Well, given my “experience” beginning the morning of June 3rd, I wish I could have reconsidered my thoughts on “experiencing” what our practice members might. The morning began as every Friday morning has for the last 10+ years – Friday is my “day off” from the practice, and I use my time to do all the things that I can to lessen the load for the weekend – laundry, grocery shopping, running errands and the like.

Like a Freight Train it Came:

As I was getting ready, doing what I have done thousands of times before, I suddenly experienced the most severe back pain and muscle spasms that I have ever experienced in my life – it literally took my breath away and buckled my knees. I can’t point to any trigger or cause (and how many times have we as practitioners heard this during our history taking?), but nevertheless, it was incapacitating, and frankly left me with an initial sense of helplessness. I did some stretching, used some heat, and got a treatment from my wife before leaving for the morning. Through the course of the day, things loosened a little, and I was able to accomplish all that I needed to. At this point, I could find positions of “relative comfort,” and I was treated again, used ice and rested.

Like a Bad Dream:

I was able to sleep through the night, and woke initially feeling better overall – until I went to slightly bend over the sink, to which I yelled “here it comes,” referring to the oncoming wave of muscle spasms that made the spasms of Friday seem like a walk in the park. I immediately struggled back to bed, shuffling though wave after wave of spasm to heat my back. Later that morning, I was able to fold myself into the SUV to receive my third treatment. We were hosting a long-planned dinner party that evening (why do these things always happen at the most inconvenient times?), so I helped my wife prep as best I could, rested when we were finished and then had my fourth treatment before the party. I don’t know if it was the enjoyment of the gathering, but I felt quite well for most the evening, but things definitely were tightening up after sitting for nearly 2 hours strait. That night, things were manageable, and I enjoyed another decent night’s sleep.

The Third Day is Often the Worst…

Sunday arrived as  the most difficult morning yet – it was excruciating to get out of bed, walk, move, you name it – everything hurt badly. Without getting into specifics, I have had two minor surgical procedures in my life, and while both were quite painful for a few days, neither came close to matching this – this was my proverbial 9-10/10 on the pain scale and completely debilitating. Again, I used some heat to loosen up a little, then off to the clinic for another treatment -my 5th in 3 days. Seeking any sense of relief, I even used a pregnancy pelvic stability belt we had in the clinic! It was at this point I started to fear the worst – was this a blown disc? How was I possibly going to work Monday? How long was it going to be before I started to feel some consistent relief? It was definitely the most frustrating day, despite a 6th treatment that evening.

A Little Light at the End of the Tunnel:

Thankfully Monday morning came with a bit of a reprieve – it was better than Sunday morning. Maybe enough healing had taken place, hopefully it wasn’t a disc after all (I was convinced it was). Possibly it was because I heated my back before even getting out of bed? Regardless, I was actually able to dress with a measure of comfort, but I still had to drive my daughter’s small SUV to work, because I couldn’t get into my car! Monday consisted of two treatments again (did I mention I’m fortunate to be married to a great woman, but also a great Chiropractor), and I was pleasantly surprised to get through my shift at the office – but not without great difficulty. Monday evening was actually reasonably comfortable, and I thought I was on a good trajectory.

Like a Sequel to a Terrible Original:

Then came Tuesday morning – not as bad as Sunday morning, but 50% worse than Monday – and mentally frustrating for sure. The day brought the same routine – heat, two treatments and rest, but with encouraging improvement – I had periods of being completely pain free in the afternoon! Wednesday morning was the best morning yet, with relative ease in movement at work, while still using the pelvic support. That afternoon the belt came off, and other than some transient stiffness while prepping dinner, I felt the best I’d felt in days. The best news, however, was I was able to drive my own car!

Like the End of a Roller Coaster (did I mention I don’t do roller coasters?):

This brings us to today (Thursday). As I write this, I am still aware my back it not what is needs to be – I’m not going to the gym for a few days yet for certain, but do plan on mowing the lawn tomorrow. I guess this is how I am gauging my recovery – what activities do I think I am capable of to encourage movement, but not cause any setbacks. Regardless, what is incredible is I am at about a 2-3/10 if I’m sitting for more than 5 minutes, a 0-1/10 if I am moving, but I am still getting occasional short/moderately painful, random muscle spasms. It’s amazing what the back, body, nervous system can do when you are under regular care to begin with. It’s also amazing that even if under regular care (I get treated weekly), how these things can still happen.

Some Interesting Takeaways:

So this story isn’t complete without some lessons learned, both as a patient and a practitioner. In fact, the above is just the context for a few lessons:

  1. Sudden onset of symptoms, even severe, can and do seemingly come from out of “nowhere.” For me personally, I can say we did stain our fence the week prior and I had been dealing with some additional stress, with an already fuller than I would like stress bucket. That would lead to lesson 1a – stress plays a far bigger role in the overall health of our mind, body and nervous system than allopathic medicine gives it credit for.
  2. Do not assume things will “go away” on their own. I certainly did not, however, this is something we do hear frequently in our office. I said to my wife almost immediately after getting my first treatment – “how can people live with this at all, hoping it would go away?” However, for a multitude of reasons, people do think that way. The real lesson here is that when you get care immediately, you can hope for a quicker recovery – I’m sitting at a solid 80% better less than a week after wondering if I could get out of bed. That fact is amazing, considering most new practice members take at least 3-6 weeks to get to the same recovery level.
  3. Lesson 2 relates closely to 3 (in terms of recovery time), when I say being under regular care has certainly played a massive role in my shorter than anticipated recovery – one of my first thoughts beyond work on Monday was “how was this going to affect holidays?”. I use the analogy of cars a lot with my practice members – a well maintained vehicle runs better than one that isn’t. Maintenance doesn’t prevent all needed repairs, but they typically are much easier to perform and less expensive too.
  4. Do not hesitate to “throw the kitchen sink” at severe cases. I was treated twice daily with laser, soft tissue therapy, heat, McKenzie exercises and of course adjusting (Activator and Thompson Drop). I rarely see hot discs/severe pelvis injuries in my practice, and so I typically only see new patients twice per week initially. From my own desperation to feel and function better, I will not hesitate to recommend daily, or even twice daily treatments for these types of cases.
  5. Healing is not linear. Despite intellectually knowing this, I have never experienced it first person. Practice members and practitioners alike should not expect healing to move in one direction – I had many ups and downs in single days, from nearly pain-free to being unable to comfortably move. While I have of course seen this with many new practice members, and even warn them there will be ups and downs along the path to recovery – it was very frustrating to experience. This makes me a better practitioner for the experience.

I thought this back pain blog would be helpful for both practice members and practitioners alike – I hope it was. Thank you for taking the time to read it.