Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Flesh, Not Bone

There's a sports medicine facility across the street from my office. I've passed it a million times, but I've never once peered inside or made any inquiries about the services it provides. Who needs it? I thought.

Turns out I do. 

I'd hoped that my lower back stiffness would've dissipated by now, but no dice. Lingering muscle soreness and occasional twinges of pain made me think twice before attempting to twist my torso or bend over. This was not good.

So I picked up the phone and made an appointment at the place across the street. Luckily, there was an opening today, so after a long day behind a desk and a computer, I walked over to the clinic. The facility was bigger than it appeared from the exterior, and housed specialists in sports medicine, physical therapy, medical neurology, chiropractic care, and medical massage. 

The doctor who examined me poked and prodded at my back while asking questions about my exercise regimen ("CrossFit"), pain levels ("low"), type of discomfort ("extreme soreness, occasional pinching or shooting pain"). As part of the exam, my spine and pelvis got x-rayed and ultrasounded (is that a word?) to rule out certain possible conditions that I couldn't pronounce, like "ankylosing spondylitis."

And then, as the x-rays were being developed and reports were being prepared, I was escorted into a room where I lay on my stomach and got hooked up to some wires that delivered an electric current to my back muscles. It's called "electric stimulation therapy," and for the most part, it was pleasant -- like sitting in one of those massage chairs at the Brookstone store in the mall. Of course, once in a while, the electricity did some weird things to my back muscles, causing my right lat to seize up involuntarily a few times. I'd like to think it was akin to getting very, very mildly tased by a cop.

After my back muscles were sufficiently tenderized by electricity, the doctor returned and told me that my spine looked A-OK. "You have a very healthy spine, with just some osteoarthritis developing. Normal for a guy your age who exercises a lot." (My age? Damn, I'm feeling old.)

He explained that my vertebrae were just peachy, and my discs looked fine, too. "So the good news is that there's no damage to your spine. You're just suffering from a muscle tear. Do some mobility work as it heals to make sure you don't build up too much scar tissue, and take it easy for the next month or so. And we'll do an adjustment to make sure your spine is in alignment."

All I heard were the words: 
None of which were particularly awesome-sounding.

On the other hand, the spine adjustment felt fantastic. After a chiropractor contorted me into various pretzel shapes ("I'm gonna get all up in your area," he warned me beforehand), he suddenly yanked and twisted me until loud popping sounds exploded from my back. "That's supposed to happen," the chiropractor assured me. "I'm not breaking your back." Good to know.

I have to admit that I felt significantly better after the spinal adjustment, and so I made an appointment for another adjustment later this week.

Before I left, I had a very important question for the doc: "So does this mean I can't work out until this heals?"

"No, you can work out," he said. "You're a healthy, fit guy, and I'm sure you'll go work out even if I told you to take a break. But start with light weights, don't overdo it, and listen to your body. Stop if your back doesn't like what you're doing. And remember to do plenty of stretching and mobility work."

He had me at "No, you can work out." 

(But I promise I won't be an idiot.)