Wednesday, August 03, 2011

"If you can't drive with a broken back, at least you can polish the fenders." --Billy Joel

My back has been killing me off and on for about four months. This was disheartening, because I've always been blessed with a good back...never "thrown it out," never had spine problems. It's never been a very flexible back, but it's always been strong. I worked in the warehouse at Walmart with no problems, lifting all sorts of heavy things.

Anyway, my back started hurting again earlier this week, a steady dull ache that neither massage nor heat nor Aleve would lessen. The ache increased until it was worse than I'd ever experienced in my back...sudden movements brought tears to my eyes and sneezing made me swear in pain. This morning, I decided something had to be done.

I've never been to a chiropractor before. In the first place, I've never really needed one, and in the second place, that thing they do, when they swing your head around backwards to fix your neck or something? That scares me.

But I was willing to brave the skeletal torture if it would bring some sort of relief. I found a chiropractor in town with a great initial exam fee and good student rates (Align Your Health Chiropractic...good deal) and made an appointment.

When I went in, the nice lady took my paperwork and led me into a room with a long cushioned table. We shall call this table The Great Obscene Undulator. There were a few knobs and switches on the side, and I felt like Frankenstein's monster for a moment as I laid down. The lady explained that the table would massage and loosen up my back a little bit, so I could just relax. Then she threw the switch and left.

Now, the machine I was laying on "massaged and loosened up my back" by forcing me to do MTV-esque body rolls. It would move up and down my back, from my neck to my bum. (I'm trying to figure out a way to make this clear without being able to demonstrate it...words are failing me. If what I'm saying doesn't make sense, watch this. This is what the machine was making me do.) But it wasn't one long body roll over and was lots of small ones as the machine moved up and down my back. So I was doing "body rolls" with my shoulders, and then my stomach, and then my pelvis, and then my stomach, and shoulders, etc. I felt ridiculous. But it really did loosen me up a little bit. (If they had a disco ball and alcohol, who knows how loosened up their patients would get...)

Anyway, the doctor came in and took me to another table. I mentioned that I'd never been to a chiropractor before and I wasn't quite sure what to expect, and he said there was nothing to be nervous about and had me lay on my stomach. He began pressing on various spots on my back in a medical, investigative way, asking me about the nature and duration of my pain. Our conversation went something like this:

Dr: So you've been having this pain since May?
Me: Yeah, off and on. But it's been at its worst the last couple of days.
Dr: Have you had any trauma...a fall or banging your back into something?
Me: No, not really. Back in May I was in a play where I put a lot of strain on my back, falling and carrying heavy luggage.
Dr: Because it feels like you've popped a rib out of your spine, and you've got a lot of tension in the--
Me: Excuse me, what did you say I've done?
Dr: Popped a rib out of your spine.
(long pause)
Me: That sounds...terrifying. Do ribs that?
Dr: (laughing) They can. It's really not terrifying. We've just got to pop it back into place.

And then he did. And it was painful. But not as painful as sitting around with the pain has been. He massaged my neck a little, and re-aligned that, and then had me sit up while he, with a life-size spine replica, explained exactly what was going on in my aching back. And now I'm going to explain it to you, because 1) I want your pity and 2) the human body is crazy and interesting.

Apparently, your ribs aren't somehow deeply inserted into your spinal cord like I'd always assumed. They're held in place by muscles and ligaments. Occasionally, sudden strain or a fall can cause a rib to sort of "come loose" from its mooring. It doesn't necessarily pop OUT of your back like I was originally envisioning (I haven't been wandering around with a stray bone poking out of my flesh or something). It falls "down," sort of against the rib below it, smooshing the muscles and nerves that are supposed to separate the two ribs. The popped out rib also causes a lot of strain on the muscle that was holding it up before, and the muscle starts spasming in an effort to "pull" the rib back into place. But the muscle isn't quite strong enough, so the rib stays in its fallen position until someone manually pops it back into place.

But here's the other thing. The doctor explained that if you go in to get it fixed within a week or two of it happening, the muscles are still pretty strong and able to "hold" the rib in place again. But if it happened a while ago, the muscle that has been trying to hold the rib up and pull it back into place just gives up, and starts to atrophy. So you can pop the rib back into place, but it will probably pop back out in the next few days, and you have to go back. And then it will pop out again, and you have to go back. And so forth, until the muscle is strong enough to hold the rib up on its own.

And given the fact that this injury originally came about in MAY, that latter situation is MY situation. I'm pretty impressed with myself for having gone three months with a RIB POPPED OUT OF PLACE, though. Hooray for a few more weeks of pain.

Anyway, I was told not to do anything that would twist my back in any way and to come back on Friday.

You never realize how much you twist your back in an average day until you're told not to.


Beckah said...

Um, that is terrifying. But really crazy cool. I hope your muscles become strong enough to hold up that rib soon. Go muscles!

Word verification: terabb - an absolutely terrifying situation

Anonymous said...

What? Your Uncle Don in Utah never laid you down and pulled your arms around and made you hug yourself until you crack? Or perhaps you've just blocked that memory ...

I think you need to share the disco ball idea with the chiropractor; that, and some music. Maybe some mood lighting. The alcohol would probably help the relaxation, but somehow I don't think he'd buy it.

Hope this isn't going to impact your ability to camp and otherwise play when you come to CA!

Love you, and take care!


word verification - laxersa: The connecting tertiary ligament between the clautoneous rib and the intergalactic muscle.

Anna Alyse said...

yeah. i had three of these and didnt know until I was in my second trimester- all the new weight exposed my pain. I went to a chiropractor too but didnt trust him and so I suffered through it. Maybe I should go back.... BUT now that I've had my baby the pain is gone, for now... and thanks for explaining it because my doctor never did.

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